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Name: John Mark
Interests: Bible, Languages, History, Cultures, Ethnomusicology, Cryptozoology, Gardening
Expertise: Jack of all trades, master of none
Occupation: Ministry Program Coordinator
Industry: Missionary/Humanitarian Work
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|It is hard to believe how much has happened in the last month! On Wednesday evening, June 30th, I arrived in Liberia. After a day of planning and recouping from the flight, I headed up with my dad and two sisters to Voinjama on the northern border of Liberia, where I had lived while working with Samaritan’s Purse. After a 10 hour car ride over bumpy roads, we were glad to finally arrive at the Fellowship of Faith guesthouse. We spent the next two days visiting some of the villages where I had worked previously with my former Community Health Evangelism (CHE) staff. |
On Sunday I had the privilege of worshiping with a group of about 20 Mandingo believers in a village called Nassadu. A few years ago even the town chief and imam (Islamic leader) if this village accepted Christ, although both had since left due to social pressures. A local pastor from Voinjama and Ansu (CHE trainer and good friend of mine), have been visiting this group almost every Sunday to lead them in worship and teaching. It was exciting for me to visit with this group, who Lord willing will soon be members of the first Mandingo church ever.
On Monday my father and I taught a one-day workshop in Voinjama for pastors and the CHE trainers on the topic of Folk Religion and Spiritual Warfare. I addressed the difference between religion that tries to manipulate God with rituals and keeping taboos, and Biblical Christianity that comes to God in humble supplication. I also taught on the priesthood of the believer, and how because of our position in Christ we do not need to seek the aid of “spiritual middle-men” like the witchdoctors. My father also taught on the importance of using the Truth of the Word of God to combat the lies and deceptions of Satan. The teaching was well received and many of the participants remarked about how their churches have been struggling with those very issues. We encouraged them to take the notes and handouts and teach the same material to their congregations.
Later that week after a brief rest in Monrovia my father, little brother Jared, and I traveled to Cape Mount county. We made similar visits to villages where the CHE program had run, and on Friday facilitated the same workshop for CHE trainers and church leaders working to reach the Vai people. On Sunday I also had the privilege to preach at a church plant that had recently been established as a result of the CHE program. I spoke from Acts 3-4 on the topic “Boldness is the Face of Persecution”.
After returning from Cape Mount I spent my last few days of the trip in Monrovia. At the request of one of the Muslim Background Believers there we taught the material one last time for a group of church leaders working with Muslim outreach. I also had some good meetings with missionaries and Samaritan’s Purse staff about the need for more intentional follow-up with the new believers in the villages, and our future role in Liberia.
The flight back to the US was long but uneventful. Sara surprised me by meeting me at the Charlotte airport. After almost three weeks apart I don’t think there were two happier people in the world that day!
After returning on Saturday, on Monday I jumped into a two-week Bible translation course at Bob Jones University. It was very intense, but quite beneficial in helping me bring together all my studies in culture, linguistics, and the Biblical languages. I hope to use these skills one day to translate the Word of God into the Mandingo language.
Thanks so much for your prayers and partnership with me on this trip. It was exciting to be back in Liberia doing ministry, and I can see that God is clearly working there. I look forward to returning again with Sara to do long-term ministry together. The challenges are great, but our God is greater!
|As you know, my heart has been burdened for the people of Liberia for many years. I was blessed to be able to work with Samaritan’s Purse in Liberia for three and a half years after college and saw the Lord do some amazing things during that time through the Community Health Evangelism (CHE) program. Villages that had never before heard the gospel now have fellowships of believers meeting, even in Muslim dominated areas. Since returning to the US I have had the privilege to marry my wonderful wife Sara, and receive further ministry training in the hope of returning to Liberia again long-term. In the mean time I have been able to stay in contact with some of my friends and coworkers in Liberia. I have been impressed by the faithfulness of the Muslim-Background Believers who continue to share the gospel with their people despite high personal cost.|
Our new home church here in Greenville, Southside Fellowship, has been involved with Liberia for several years. They have a special commitment to the Vai, who are an unreached Muslim people group. Their primary means of reaching the Vai is through sponsoring a CHE program in Cape Mount County. I was involved with the initial training of the Vai CHE staff while I was working with Samaritan’s Purse.
In a little over a month I am planning to visit Liberia for a short missions trip. I will be leaving June 29th and returning July 17th. My primary goals for this trip are to encourage and further equip the Liberian CHE workers, and to evaluate the effectiveness of the CHE program in starting new churches. I plan to visit the CHE teams working with the Vai in Cape Mount and the Mandingo in Lofa County. There I hope to visit some of the training sites, and worship with the churches being started in the villages. I also plan to conduct a training workshop to equip the CHE staff to evaluate and confront animistic practices in their culture (i.e. witchcraft) from a Biblical perspective. Finally, during my time there I would like to begin preparations for Sara and myself to return to Liberia long-term, by meeting with Liberian church leaders and missionaries to discuss our hope to reach the Mandingo people through leadership development, radio programs, and Bible translation.
If any of you out there would be interested in supporting me through your prayers and/or finances, I would appreciate it very much. I'll be sure to report to you about the outcome of the trip when I return.
|I talked with Ansu again this weekend about what has been going on between the Loma and Mandingos. He said that it was his impression that this violent behavior was caused for the most part by non-native Guinean Mandingos. Unfortunately though I learned that the district commissioner of Quardu-Gboni, (whom I know) was implicated in the recent events and is in the Selega jail awaiting trial. I was told that he had received the phone call from Konia with the false information about the mosque being destroyed, and spread this information without proper investigation. He was arrested when he would not divulge the name of the person from Konia who called him. |
The good news is that most of the Quardu-Gboni Mandingo have come out to strongly condemn the actions of the trouble makers. In the villages of Quardu-Gboni as far as I know, the Loma and Mandingo are still living together peacefully. When I was working with Samaritan's Purse in Quardu-Gboni, we helped the Loma and Mandingo come together through community development projects. In Samadu, the Mandingo people worked to help the Loma build a bridge and clear the road to their village of Kpakumai. They are now working together to build a school for both communities with the help of PLAN International. People from Marvinkonnehdu and Selega also worked together to build community swamp rice farms with the aid of Samaritan's Purse. From the news I heard today, many of the Mandingo people in Voinjama have been going to the Loma people's houses to apologize for the actions of their brothers. The two groups have even been working together to clean the town. Slowly things are returning to normal.
|Last Friday I received a call from my father in Liberia informing me about some bad news from Lofa County. Details were scarce, but the word was that fighting was taking place between the Christians and the Muslims and that several people had been killed and that churches and mosques were burned. As soon as I got home I tried calling my friends in Voinjama but could not get through. Finally the next morning I was able to reach my friend Ansu. This is what he told me...|
Apparently a Christian girl in Konia was killed and her body was found near the mosque. The Lomas (a predominately animistic and Christian ethnic group) began questioning the Mandingos about the killing and things were tense, but they got the situation under control. Then a false rumor spread to Voinjama that the mosque in Konia (a town about an hour down the road from Voinjama) had been burned. So a bunch of Muslim youth began to attack Christian's houses and churches. The Free Pentecostal church was looted, and the Catholic compound was burned. About 20 people were injured and four killed. The UN eventually stepped in and the situation was put under control now. However, the atmosphere remain tense. Many people left the town and fled across the border to Guinea. No one I know was hurt, although Ansu's house was vandalized and some mattresses and personal effects were stolen. He said he was seized by the mob and they were threatening to kill him because he had left the Islamic faith, but a Loma man intervened and when the mob turned their attention to him, Ansu was able to escape. Ansu's met his wife and children as they were heading to Guinea. Most of the SP staff still in Voinjama have been taking shelter in the FOF building. He told me that through all this the Christians did not retaliate, and even turned back a group of Lomas from neighboring Lawalazu who were coming to fight the Muslim Mandingos. We need to pray that the Christians would be able to forgive those who did these terrible things, and that those who carried out these unprovoked acts of violence would be convicted and repent.
I am also thinking and praying about what can be done to bring more resolution to the underlying Loma/Mandingo conflict in the region. Unfortunately, they have turned this into a religious conflict, when the underlying issue is really control of land and resources. Oral histories tell us that the Loma and Mandingo in Lofa are really one people divided by language and culture. They are both apparently descendants of one man from the same ancestral town of Musadu in Guinea. Unfortunately the adoption of Islam by the Mandingos has caused many of them to feel superior to the Loma "kaflis" (infidels), further widening the divide between them. Thankfully the SP Community Health Evangelism program has helped to foster peace-building between the Mandingos and Lomas in such places as Samadu and Kpakumai, but so far there seems to have been little done to address this problem from a Christian perspective in Voinjama. The believers in Lofa County need our prayers more than ever.
|So I realize that I have been terrible at keeping up with this blog. It's not that nothing exciting has been happening in my life. At the beginning of July I finished up my linguistics studies in Dallas. Shortly after that, on June 12th, I became a married man! In addition to finishing up her Master's in Social Work and working almost full time, Sara planned and pulled off the most amazing wedding ever. I know I am probably a bit prejudiced, but others agreed that it was one of the best weddings they had ever been to. It was held outdoors in a botanical garden in Madison, Wisconsin. The weather was just perfect. And Sara looked absolutely stunning. I feel so very blessed to be married to her! |
It was great to see my family again, who had flown in from Africa earlier that week. My sisters Melodie and Heidi did a great job as bridesmaids. Melodie also made some delicious cheesecake for the reception afterwards and helped Heidi to get the great pictures you see here.
Mike Webster and Greg Vruggink, buddies of mine from Cedarville University, served as groomsmen, along with my brother Nathan, who was the best man. It was great being with them again.
The reception afterwards was also very nice. It was held in the church of some of our friends. We had spend most of the day before at the church setting up tables and preparing the decorations and food. It was great to see how it all came together. We loved seeing so many of our friends and family all in one place, although it was hard not being able to spend much time with any one person.
We spent the next week after the wedding visiting friends and family. We even had another reception in Minneapolis for people who had not been able to make it to the wedding. Soon after that we were off on our honeymoon! Thanks to the generosity of Sara's friend's and relatives, we were able to enjoy free ticket and timeshare condo in Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean. It was the picture perfect tropical island honeymoon.
We spent a lot of time on our honeymoon relaxing, and recovering from the last few stressful weeks. But we did spend some time doing touristy things. Sara and I both really enjoyed the snorkeling there. We could snorkel right off the beach from where we were staying and saw some cool fish, including a nurse shark (which is not dangerous). The best snorkeling we did though was when we took a half-day excursion on a tour boat. We saw some amazing coral reefs which had all kinds of brightly colored fish. We even saw a six-foot moray eel! I had seen a lot of these fish before in aquariums, but it was a whole new experience to be swimming among them. Before we stopped for lunch, we visited a sandbar known as "Stingray City". Here, tons of stingrays wait around for people to feed them. They are extremely docile. After feeding them, they will even let you pick them up out of the water! That was definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.
Another day we rented a scooter and explored the island. It is quite small. You can drive across it in less than an hour.
The day we were exploring the island we went to a beautiful botanical park. Besides all the beautiful plants there, they had these iguanas just wandering around everywhere. One of the smaller islands is home to the endangered Blue Iguana, and at the park there they have a captive breeding program going on to help boost their numbers. It is the funniest thing to see these huge lizards eating leaves and fruit.
We ate out almost every night on our honeymoon. There are some great restaurants there, even if they are quite pricey. The last night we went to this fancy ocean-side place called "The Wharf". We had a delicious steak and lobster dinner, and were serenaded by a live harp player. One interesting thing about this restaurant is that every night at nine o'clock they feed the dozens tarpon that come in the evening looking for handouts. These are huge fish, 3-5 feet long. Sara and I both had a chance to use tongs to pick up some of the "bait" and hang it over the water for the tarpon to jump up and grab.
God is so good in providing for such a beautiful honeymoon for us. I am in constant awe of His grace. I anticipate a lot more adventures for Sara and I in the future, but doubt we will ever again have a chance to visit a place like Grand Cayman. What a great way to start off our marriage!