October 13, 2017
Just when did I stop liking to fly? Did I ever actually like it?
These were a few of the odd questions I pondered as I kissed my wife, said “so long for now” to our youngest son (he’s all of 15 now so kissing him wouldn’t have been kewl—I did it anyway!) and hit the road headed back to West Africa for what I believe is the 14th time in 14 years. 14 so long for nows, 14 stolen kisses…
…or is this the 15th time. In any event, by God’s grace my journey this time began as it had several other times: With a solo drive to the Corning Incorporated hangar at the Elmira/Corning Regional airport. I say by God’s grace because I’d managed to get one of the last seats on the corporate jet that was flying down to Morristown, New Jersey so instead of a 5 hour drive to JFK, I enjoyed a 35 minute flight to Morristown in a leather-seats-only, mahogany accented jet followed by a 90 minute ride to Midtown Manhattan in an executive van and finally a 40 minute Uber from Midtown to JFK where I was standing in line to drop off my luggage before 10:30AM—a full 6 hours before my flight’s scheduled departure! (Not bad for a guy who hadn’t packed a single stitch until just hours before leaving home!)
As I write I’m actually on the 3rd plane I’ve been on since leaving home some 32 ½ hours ago. The 6 hours at JFK passed pretty quickly as did the 6 hour flight to Amsterdam. The 9 hour layover in Amsterdam, though, not so much! It’s all good, though. Within an hour of landing I’d made my way to Transfer Desk 6 to pick up my boarding passes for the rest of the trip to Liberia (they couldn’t give them to me in New York because my layover in the Netherlands is longer than 6 hours…who knew this was a thing?) and found a cozy, if not comfy, place to crash. I actually managed to get a good nap in, too. I’d planned to sleep for 5 hours and then get up and call in for the 6AM prayer call that I lead on Fridays (6AM in NY that is); instead I only managed to get about 90 minutes—and I’m sure it was one of those mouth-hanging-open, snoring-up-a-storm deals! Had I not been solo on this trip surely I’d have been photographed AND videotaped by whomever was traveling with me!
Solo. I just realized that half of my trips to Africa have been solo. A team of 1 (1 person, that is—I’m never alone though, you know that!). When I first started my sojourns to the Motherland, I would NEVER have even considered the possibility of making the trip alone. We (Min. Ricardo Rowe and I) were knowingly traveling into a war zone after all! (What were we thinking??? What were our wives thinking??? About one thing and one thing only: Obeying the will of God. Min. Rick will forever have my respect for his faithful sacrifice in following me to Africa that first time.) Since my first solo trip in July of 2008, though, it’s become apparent to me that solo is in my DNA. Don’t get me wrong, the team trips are still the best (you don’t want to experience Ducor in Liberia or Kakum and Elmina Castle in Ghana solo!). Still, I do solo pretty well. My family even gets on me about this. After 31 years of marriage, 6 kids and a grandboy, I still enjoy solo—as long as my crew isn’t too far away (just downstairs or a few minutes’ drive). That’s the hardest part about these trips (or any trip that takes me more than a few hour’s drive away from home. Once I’m wherever I am, solo is the only option until I get back.
So back to my original thought: Just when did I stop liking to fly? I guess if you force me to, I’ll admit that I still do like it. I do, however, recall when the joie de vivre that attended my long distance air travel more than 30 years ago started to wane: It was after we had kids. And then 9/11 happened. And then I became a Grandpa. My reality: I have too much to lose (or leave behind) if something were to happen to me. THE reality: But by God’s grace, something could happen to me on the drive to the airport! So, since I am called to the nations and can’t easily get to them by boat, I’m gonna be flying and from this moment on I choose to enjoy the experience…as much as I can!
Tray tables and seat backs up. We’re about to land in Freetown…then on to Monrovia.
After finally making it to bed after midnight on Tuesday (after reaching Ghana from Liberia) I was back up at 6:15AM to get washed and dressed and ready to head back to Kotoya International Airport in Accra. While getting ready I had the TV turned to BBC news and they were running real time reports on a raid in St. Denis (outside of Paris) at an apartment building where the leader of last Friday’s terrorist attack was believed to be hold up. Also in the news were reports that it was a bomb in a soda can that was detonated on the plane from Eqypt a few weeks ago. While world powers are using their resources to combat those who are (or would) carry out these heinous, cowardly acts, the people of God must recognize that we, too, have a resource: PRAYER! One thing that we MUST NOT succumb to is fear! By God’s grace we’ll be looking at this very thing on Sunday at Faith To Face. I declared in Africa and will proclaim it here at home as well: We will fear no evil (not ISIS/ISOL, not terrorists of any stripe, not Ebola, not racism) for God is with us! That truth was so settled in my spirit that I was completely at peace as I we soared 7 miles above the earth for 11 hours from Accra to NYC!
At the airport, I bid farewell to Pastors Amoah and Damptey (we got in a few more photos) and headed to immigration and another 2-3 rounds of security checks before eventually getting my at peace self on the plane.
What I wasn’t so peaceful about was the woman seated next to me. Before we took off she was sniffling and then that turned into intermittent coughing and hacking. Ugh!!! I thought to have my seat changed but I was in the perfect spot: window seat, emergency row, preferred seat. Look at the leg room, I can stretch my legs completely and my feet don’t even reach under the seat in front of me! Nope, I’m not moving; God, thank you for the shield of faith that envelopes me and protects me from any and all germs and other ickiness that might be released into the air by my fellow travelers!
The flight was great. Some turbulence but, like I said, I was so at peace I didn’t sweat it. I was too busy marveling at how God God is. Last year we’d prayed for an end to the Ebola crisis and mid-year this year we got word that Liberia had been declared Ebola free. As I landed in West Africa on 11/6, the word was out that Sierra Leone had been declared Ebola free as well (it’s one of the next places that OHM is looking to be established). On the ride back to the US I was struck (again) by how, back in 2003 when we first went to Liberia (during another crisis!), this 2015 trip was already history in the mind of God! We’ve just caught up!
Once we landed at JFK it probably took longer to walk TO Immigration than to get THROUGH Immigration. The process is significantly automated (good thing?) so I may have been in and out in less than 3 minutes. Baggage took a while longer (LOTS of people on the plane and lots of luggage). Still, the wait wasn’t too long and my two bags arrived almost unscathed. (One had was a little torn—which is why I don’t understand why some people check expensive looming luggage; have you not seen how stuff gets thrown and stacked and thrown some more?!?).
I reached the rental car lot within an hour of landing (!), got the car, spent some time on the laptop (sending the slide deck for tonight’s Bible Study Fellowship) and then was off…and into this…
I immediately decided I didn’t want to drive home! I was not going to be just 280 miles from my wife and kids, though, and spend another night apart either. So, home I drove. I had to make a few stops (just two: one for Burger King—first “processed” food I’ve had in 2 weeks—and one for snacks when I was getting tired).
I arrived just after 11PM. After 14 days, 14 thousand miles, 9 Worship Services, 2 extended trainings, 12 meetings and what I believe will be positive impact for years to come…Home.
Back in Ghana.
Thankful for another safe (albeit turbulent) from Monrovia to Accra. Grateful to the members of the OHM Ghana team who met me at the airport (again) and transported me to the hotel. From the gracious and attentive care in Liberia for the past week to the same here in Ghana, I’ve just been truly blessed. (When I went to check out of the hotel in Monrovia this afternoon and prepared to pay for my incidental—meal, laundry, etc.—I learned that OHM Liberia had taken care of everything! My room AND incidentals. So touched. So honored. So humbled.)
Even the hotel here in Accra has gotten the “let’s bless him” bug. They put me in a suite for the night! (I’ll actually only be hear for about 10 hours but still!)
The flight tomorrow is 11 1/2 hours. Getting through Immigration, Baggage and Customs at JFK usually takes another hour. Getting to the Rental Car Center and loaded up in the car, another 30 minutes. Drive home, 4 1/2 hours. Lots of time to reflect…lots to reflect upon.
“Bishop, what do you think about the visit this time?”, asked Pastor Anthony Wennie as we traveled back from Dwazon, Liberia where we’d just visited the Faith To Face Ministries property. “This visit has been a turning point”, I replied.
A turning point. After nearly 13 years coming to this, Africa’s oldest republic, I have felt, witnessed and been used to usher in a shift in the move of God in and by OHM Liberia. Pastor Wennie’s response to my reply was that he and Mother Wennie had discussed this same notion earlier this morning. I was personally blessed by their additional observation that they’ve witnessed me move to a new level of anointing. I receive it!
The visit to the site made one thing crystal clear: We have to build! I’d forgotten how large our space is! It’s been so long since we bought the property, though, that sand erosion has started to reach the concrete fence that we had erected. (I am committed to getting the work underway asap and hope you’ll help by making a donation at gofund.me/ftfmissions.)
After leaving the property we headed to town for a little shopping. Where? Waterside, where else! While I don’t get lots of clothes when I visit (used to when we were first coming), I still pick up a few items each time I come. This time the focus was on a few little people.
Thinking of focus, I enjoyed some unexpected “hang time” with K.O. (my driver) and Pastors Fayiah Harris and Willie Topoe while out and about today. As we walked around Waterside and then made our way back up Randall to the Benson/Gurley area (up steep hills in the heat of the day!—I’ve lost 10 pounds if I’ve lost an ounce this trip!), we did what guys do when they have time: We talked. We talked about everything from the differences between shopping experiences here and back in the US, to how Africans often tend to change their public lifestyles once they reach the states, to the problems with credit cards and high interest loans to why people will take incredible creativity and ingenuity and use it for identity theft and fraud rather than apply it to good works that can benefit society . We even discovered that, like in the states, there seems to be at least one person in every church in Liberia who the Lord speaks to more than he spoke to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, all the prophets and their pastor combined! 🙂 Conclusion: People are people everywhere!
On the way back to the hotel I asked my driver and the pastors who were with me if we could pull over and take a picture. Do you see why? It’s easy to forget that the western border of Liberia is the Atlantic Ocean and parts of Monrovia are beachfront. It’s beautiful…and amazing to think that 6 thousand miles northwest across that same ocean is New York, USA. Home.
The wind down has begun here in Monrovia, but not before a busy day that included two meetings and 3 worship celebrations. I was honored to be the guest speaker at the 20th church anniversary celebration at service #3. My sermon: “The wait is over; ready for war!”—spiritual war, that is. We sang, we danced, we worshipped, we celebrated. My clothes were fully drenched when I reached the hotel. I think I could have literally wrung sweat out of my suit coat, shirt and t-shirt!
Before I ministered, I presented gifts to Pastor and Mother Wennie on behalf of myself, my Lady Jai and Faith To Face Ministries.
After I preached (and, by God’s grace, I preached, do you hear me?!?) we danced for a good l’il while! There were probably 500 people in that place and we were all rejoicing. At one point the Praise Team came over and pulled me out on the dance floor and the African in this African American rose up! (Still definitely not quite African-smooth, I’m afraid!) I danced with the Praise Team and Pastor Wennie and I even paired up as the choir (and photographers!) surrounded us. What a time, what a time, what a time! (The pictures are on my camera; I’ll try to remember to post them here once I upload them.)
En route to the first service this morning, I felt impressed to share a word taken from Jude 24-25. I’d preached a related word from Eph. 3:20 back home last year: “Him that is able!” I’d almost convinced myself that I was just recalling how awesome that message was when it came to mind today and that I just wanted to share an encore here—then we walked into that first service (at Christian Worship Center with Pastor Payne) and what were they singing at that very moment? “He is able (to carry me through)!” Now mind you, we were 30 minutes behind schedule when we arrived for service. Had we been on time, not only would that song not have been being sung right when I walked in, I wouldn’t have even been thinking about sharing a message about “Him that is able” since the Lord hadn’t impressed it on my spirit until about 15 minutes before we arrived—that is, when we were already 15 minutes late. It was clearly a set up! I carried that word with me every other time I ascended a pulpit for the remainder of the day.
Tomorrow we travel to Dwazon where Faith To Face Ministries purchased property several years ago and where I am hoping we will at long last be able to build a reception center that will serve as a place for our teams to stay when coming to Liberia to serve, as a chapel for the members of Faith To Face Ministries in Liberia and as a low cost alternative to hotels for other missions groups when they come to Liberia (with the revenue being pumped right back into ministry here!). You can help! Visit our GoFundMe page at gofund.me/ftfmissions and make a donation. I’ll be returning to the States with the architect’s drawings for the project and will post them to the page (but you can donate right now!) By the way, you can always give directly via our mimistry website, too (www.faithtoface.org).