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Liberia Winter 2014

Undisclosed Location January 31 - February 10, 2014

This is a Christian Liberal Arts college that offers degrees in several disciplines, including a theology and pastoral studies track. The Pastoral Studies Department offers programs that equip students to engage in pastoral ministry, women’s ministries, and biblical exposition. Each program combines extensive biblical training with practical skills. Dynamic classroom teaching from experienced instructors and a hands-on internship gives students an understanding of what pastoral ministry looks like in today’s world. The students come from Liberia and surrounding countries, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea.

Follow along as teachers in the field offer their experiences as they share theological training with local church leaders.

Field Notes   Liberia Winter 2014

Feb  11th,  2014We Leave This Treasure

by Tom Brown  

It is February 12th today, the day Ethan, Dan and I begin our long trek home. Ethan and I will return to the arctic winter of Minnesota and Ohio respectively; Dan will return to Korea where he resides with his wife and children,  pastoring an international church in the city of Busan. Our team is small, a mere three, but a seasoned teacher and skilled traveler in each. It has been a  privilege and an honor to serve the Liberian students at Liberian International Christian College in Ganta City, Nimba County—, and an equal privilege serving with with two excellent teachers as Ethan and Dan. 

Ethan is our team leader. Ethan is a thoughtful man, weighing every choice of words spoken by himself and from others, carefully and wisely. Well read and informed in the significant current events of the global world before us, Ethan delivered a leadership of steady stability to our team of three. Ethan taught Pastoral Leadership at the college. Among the many positive and professional virtues in Ethan’s skills to meet the culture of Liberian pastors; skills worthy of emulation, is his constant self reflection and ready adaptation to modify his communication to meet better the specific needs of the Liberian students before him. Such a skill seems especially professional to the Training Leaders International challenge among varied cultures. 

Dan, a veteran teacher with TLI, having taught at Uganda African Renewal Christian University in 2012, and now serving as pastor of an international church in Busan, Korea, Dan brought a levity and humor to a culture that endeared Liberians, both students and people, in every place. Humor in a cross-cultural setting is alway risky. But Dan has an ability, perhaps a gift, to put a smile on the face of young or old, man or woman, child or adult, rich or poor, and in so doing bridge a communication gap that melts away cultural barriers and opens a fellowship of common humanity among a people made in the image of God. And as the the desired skills of Ethan, at the heart of Dan is an intense passion to be the Christ-like example, guard the good deposit of gospel faith, finish well the race set before him—of course Dan is the kid among the team so his “finish” is a new marathon yet to be fully run. Dan is off to quite a solid start with a sense of responsible stewardship always before him. 

 If I were to capture the power of our small team of teachers, teachers representing Training Leaders International, Liberian International Christian College, the noble people of Liberia, and most of all, the servant ministry of God in the gospel likeness of Jesus Christ, perhaps that power may be captured in the wisdom of Solomon:

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up … a cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10, 12). 

 May God grant his grace through these “three strands” to work: through us where faithful, in spite of us where clumsy, and powerfully where His sovereign hand of grace may touch gospel eternity.    


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Feb  10th,  2014Sunday Roadtrip

For The Lord’s Day yesterday we drove two hours down the coast to Buchanan. We traveled through some of the vast Firestone rubber plantations in Harbel, then Eastward on 100km of new Chinese-built highway, through some of the poorest areas of Liberia. There were one or two Rubber collecting stations/settlements that looked like outposts of 19th cent colonialism. in-between was jungle punctuated with scattered groupings of thatched huts, subsistence farming, and desperate poverty. Peering into these bits of a world unchanged for millennia, while whizzing past on a Chinese highway … pretty surreal. 

We wanted to visit Buchanan to see a young LICC grad there in his church, and to visit with a leaders of the United Liberian Inland Church. The music of course was awesome as only African’s can do it. Tom preached the sermon, then we had lunch with the Pastors and leaders and discussed ministry, pastor training, and church planting. 

During the service they were praying over a young pastor and his wife they were sending out to a little village around one of the rubber stations we had passed that morning. The village had been asking for a Bible teaching church, and the church in Buchanan was sending out one of their young pastors. Pretty neat to be there witnessing what we are praying and working for all the time: the natural/Supernatural multiplication of faithful churches. 

Back in Monrovia, I was wakened at 4:30 by a rooster who was proud to be the first. Already awake, I listened in the dark to several mosques wail out the call to prayer. This was followed by some crazy Pentacostal, screaming, praying and shouting at the devil out in the street below me. He went on for 20 minutes. Just before dawn, a young man stood in front of his little business across the street chanting along with some kind of curse-breaking song he was playing (loudly) on his stereo, “…evil-eye! evil-eye! go back to where you came from!” (repeat for 15 minutes) 

So Africa remains full of blessing and hope, potential and challenge. I’m looking forward to returning soon.



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Feb  8th,  2014Finishing Upward

We finished up classes yesterday and I was very humbled by the students response. They are a blessing to serve. We had a dinner tonight with the faculty and staff and a good time of reflection on the week and prayer for the students and their future, and the future of this nation. 

It is hard to imagine what all this nation has been through. We think of “the suffering caused by war” in abstract analytical terms, or war refugees only as faces on the news. It’s not abstract when those who were devastated are the students in your class. It becomes pretty real when my student tells me of picking up his 4 children (under 6) and running 60 miles to Sierra Leone with no food or water for 3 days knowing they could/should die any day.

But it is good to let the imagination run with the possibilities of what the rebuilding of lives, economies, and churches could look like. That’s called vision. And there is plenty of that at LICC. But far from being abstract, or fanciful it is grounded in reality, and in the hard work of doing it. We are able to see that reality, living and working in the students lives in front of us. We see the graduates serving in churches, planting new ones. They are in the communities, starting businesses. Hoping. Working. 

They are a blessing to serve.

This morning we are rally driving back to Monrovia! We leave for home on Tuesday. Thank you for your prayers and support.


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Feb  5th,  2014Thinking Better Through the Eyes of a Liberian

by Tom Brown

I am an American. I am not apologetic about being an American but I do realize a certain bias when it comes to seeing great possibilities in the aftermath of a war-torn country whose infrastructure is in disarray, even existing in relative primitive chaos. Such is the country of Liberia.

I was born into an orderly society built on approximately 300 years of largely unobstructed progress. That orderly society also has a way of shaping my sense of possibility for the advance of theological education in America for we have great schools, many well educated professors, good transportation, economic stability, possible mobility, and ready financial provision. But to advance theological education in Liberia seems so impossible to my western eyes because they have none of these things. That is until I met Dr. Buor.

Dr. Bour is a highly educated Liberian, having gained his Ph.D from Loyola University in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, after having been trained at Western Theological Seminary of Holland, Michigan, having earned his Masters of Theology degree. Dr. Bour is President of Liberia International Christian College, the very college where Ethan Larson, Dan Collins and myself are currently teaching.

As Dr. Bour and I continued to walk through the local market, I experienced rough dirt roads, the smell of rotting and decomposing garbage, visibly open raw sewage. I noticed buildings arranged in disorder with rusting roofs. In the nearby village I watched unclothed children joyfully playing in the dirt pathways as their parents ground grain to make bread cakes, and pumped water to care for their families. And behind all this is the hidden reality of a people who will die before their time from Typhoid, Cholera, Malaria, and a whole host of other diseases.

As Dr. Buor and I continued to walk I was shown a medical clinic. Dr. Bour told me that the clinic was established by a missionary in 1915 and since that day thousands of lives have been saved.

Dr. Bour helped us purchase an unlocked cell phone with a SIM card along with minutes at 5 cents per minute by which we could call the US. He told me that after the recent war you could not buy a cell phone for less than $150.00. And next week all the generators that produce electricity will be replaced by direct electrical wiring. In the eyes of Dr. Bour, these things shout of amazing progress that compels continual hope in a new society.

Dr. Bour then walked me down the business district introducing me to shop owners, accountants, technical workers and teachers, all having graduated from Liberia International Christian College. Thus my bias was checked as I saw progress through the eyes of a Liberian of West Africa. And I could not help but realize that my bias was largely shaped by the prevailing American context of only 300 years of human progress. What I failed to remember was the message of Jesus as He feed of the 5000: Where God ordains the task, Jesus takes what we have, not what we think we need, takes it to Himself and makes it sufficient for the task He ordained.

Dr. Bour wrote a book of the task God ordained. The title of the book is: No More War: Rebuilding Liberia through Faith, Determination and Education. And at the heart of this is a biblical and theological education. Ethan, Dan and I thank God for being a part of this biblical and theological education through the ministry of Training Leaders International.


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Feb  5th,  2014Back in Africa.

It has been over a year since I was last in Africa and I am glad to be back.  Since my last trip to Uganda in 2012 my family and I have moved to South Korea.  Needless to say getting to west Africa from South Korea is no easy journey,  but my experience has been well worth it.  Immediately upon arrival I was aware that there were big differences between Liberia and Uganda.  Liberia is still very much in recovery from years of civil war.  The roads are spotty and electricity is equally so.  We spent our first night in Monrovia at a guest house on the grounds of a church and Christian school.  I slept much better than I had anticipated and the next morning we were on our way to Ganta city in Nimba County.  Little did we know the trip that awaited us.  The ride to Ganta ended up being a pot hole, dust bowl, rocking and rolling good time.  By the time we reached our destination, some 6 hours later we were all covered in dust.  Tom looked like he belonged on the penny. 

 I am joined on this wonderful trip by Ethan Larson, our trip leader, and Tom Brown, a fellow Uganda trip member.  Both of these men serve with TLI fulltime and are experienced travelers and teachers.   As the junior member of this team I count it a joy and privilege to learn from such “aged” and learned men.   Even though I am a pastor and a university English instructor, I was still very much nervous leading up to the first day.  There is always a sense of trepidation that accompanies teaching in a foreign setting.  All that worry and fear melted away though as I found the students to be welcoming and eager to learn.  I have been tasked with the nearly impossible task of teaching church history in one week.   At first there was a desire to make sure that I made it to a certain point, but now the destination has been replaced by the journey.  The students here are so eager and involved which makes sometimes makes us linger on a point, but invariably leads to wonderful discussion and engagement.   I will find it hard to leave when the time comes, but meeting Dr. Bour, the president and founder of the school, I am so confident that not only the students but Ganta city and Liberia as a whole are in good hands.

In closing I would ask that you continue to pray for what God is doing here in Liberia.  The country has  come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.  Pray for the students of Liberia International Christian College.  Pray that God would bless their efforts and use their gifts for the advancement of the Kingdom and the good of the people of Liberia.  Thank you.  

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