Tony dipped his bucket into the river’s half-mud water, first nudging a bloated corpse out of his way and into the slow-moving current. He heard a creaking noise to his right, and turned to see a bedraggled man pushing a wheelbarrow. He already knew what was in it.
Dozens of times, Tony and his wife had watched as war-tattered refugees brought their lifeless babies to the river, surrendering them to the drifting graveyard. He often thought the devil must be dancing on the water.
Tony and Beth Weedor had ministered many times in the small Liberian village where they now sought shelter from murderous soldiers on all sides of their country’s civil war. They had barely escaped from the capital city of Monrovia, carrying their one-year-old baby, Abigail, down streets and alleys where hundreds died in frenzied gun battles.
In early 1990, with the army of President Samuel Doe fighting rebels trying to overthrow his regime, there was no safe refuge anywhere in Liberia. After three months in the village, the Weedor family trudged eastward toward the Ivory Coast.
“When we crossed into Cote d’Ivoire,” Tony recalls, “I took off what was left of my shoes, put Abigail on my shoulders, and said to Beth, ‘I will never ever return to this country again!’”
From Islam to Christ
Soon after Tony’s family arrived at an Ivory Coast refugee camp, he helped establish five churches in the area. In God’s providence, an alumnus of Denver Seminary heard the native Liberian preach and arranged for him to immigrate to America to attend the seminary—tuition-free. Tony graduated with a Master of Divinity in 1997.
Tony was raised Muslim but saved through the ministry of American missionaries; now he brings many out of the Muslim religion and into salvation in Jesus Christ. (Although he says the greatest danger to the church in Liberia “is not militant Islam but nominal Christianity.”)
Tony eventually repented of his vow and has returned to Africa many times, helping build churches in Ethiopia and Liberia, and preaching the gospel to war-ravaged, impoverished people. He explains: “I heard and read about the hurts, the pain, the uncertainty, and the spread and influence of the prosperity gospel.”
Basic gospel resources a rarity
In February 2013, Tony and several other ministers held a conference for Liberian pastors in Bomi Hills, Liberia, 40-plus miles from Monrovia. About 2000 pastors, wives and pastoral trainees attended the gathering that was sponsored by International Bible Conferences (IBC). Hundreds more came either because of hunger for the gospel or simply out of curiosity. The conference team brought boxes of books and Bibles provided by The Gospel Coalition-International Outreach (TGC-IO) as part of its Theological Famine Relief program.
One conference teacher, Dan McGhee, pastor of Harvest Bible Church-Detroit West, quickly realized that many attending church leaders lacked even a Bible with study helps.
“At the first conference two years ago, most pastors in attendance received a study Bible,” Dan says. “[This time] we were able to bring a case of ESV Global Study Bibles provided by International Outreach; we gave these to the pastors who did not receive a study Bible at the previous conference.”
The team also brought a case of The God Who Is There by D. A. Carson, and presented those to pastors who helped set up the conference.
Most Liberian pastors are fortunate to have a King James Bible and a one-volume Bible commentary. Tony Weedor says they are “desperate for reading materials,” so the Bibles and books are priceless resources.
The killing stopped; the hatred remained
Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia’s two civil wars extinguished the lives of nearly 300,000 of its 3.5 million people. The nation remains one of the poorest in the world, with an unemployment rate of about 80 percent. Electricity and running water are non-existent in most places.
“The shooting and killing have stopped,” Tony says. “But the hate is still there among various tribal groups. Trust is an issue among Liberians since the end of the war. Forgiveness and reconciliation must be taught and lived by Christians.”
It is no wonder that Bibles and evangelical material are rare in Liberia. Along with study Bibles, sermon and seminar tapes are always in demand. And Tony counts off a long list of teaching resources needed: reconciliation, forgiveness, marriage, sex, Christian living, theology, divorce, devotional works, pastoral theology, the family, youth, worldview development, ethics, education, health, and leadership.
Sex education from a Christian perspective is especially needed. Tony says “The only major recreation in Liberia for young people is sex.” Pastors need help learning to minister to those living with AIDS or other consequences of sex outside of God’s plan.
Further support for Liberia
Dan McGhee says his church wants to continue its partnership with churches in Liberia, and plans to conduct a youth outreach in February, 2014 and to establish a resource center in Monrovia to equip pastors and churches with theologically sound materials. In 2015 they hope to take part in another pastoral conference, this time ministering to 5000 pastors and their wives.
“We are thankful to TCG-IO,” Dan says, “for their part in blessing and strengthening Liberian pastors.”
Tony Weedor, who once proclaimed he would never return to his home country, continues to bring Christ’s love and healing to Liberia and other African nations. He believes that prayer and the support of TGC-IO and others are helping Liberia to recover from its devastating civil wars by finding true peace in Christ.