NOTES FROM THE FIELD
In this series, those involved with CLC foreign missions profile one aspect of our overseas endeavors.
It is truly astounding how the awe-inspiring Gospel message leads to heart-warming connections that were never foreseen. As an example, I’d like to introduce a faithful pastor whom I truly admire: Jethro Wallah.
In November of 2015 I traveled to Liberia as a part-time missionary of the CLC. One of the places I visited was the remote area of Bopolu. I recall passing a place called the Bopolu Bible Mission, a church and school with several buildings that occupied a large campus, including homes for the staff.
A year later, in 2016, we traveled to Bopolu again, my contact spontaneously arranging a meeting with several church leaders. This is when I first met Jethro, who quietly listened to us explain what the CLC was all about. When Jethro spoke, it was obvious that he was the one everyone wanted to listen to. He made the point that, given their remoteness, few visitors offered them in-depth Bible teaching—something many in the region greatly desired. Most of the pastors and teachers in the area had only a limited background in the Bible.
In 2017, plans were made to provide a three-day Bible training seminar in Bopolu. It was difficult to accomplish this in such a remote area. Missionary David Koenig joined me in teaching the Word to eager students. A lot of excitement was generated by our presence. We later learned that many had not believed that we would actually show up, and were shocked that we followed through with our plans.
Jethro was quite charitable in accommodating us while we were in Bopolu. It was clear that he was a hard-working, good-natured pastor who faithfully tended to his flock and also provided leadership for various preaching stations well outside of Bopolu. His motorcycle helped him get around. He was admired by his own members, as well as by the local clergy, who looked up to him as a leader in the community.
One day, as we were returning from a preaching trip to a remote village, I spoke with Jethro about his personal interest in learning more about the CLC. He told me that he was overjoyed by what he had learned so far, but realized that he needed to proceed cautiously so that he was certain of what we taught. I commended him, telling him that I would do the same thing if I were in his shoes. As a final expression of Jethro’s kindness, he made sure that our vehicle was topped with plantains, bananas, rice, and mangos as we left. He waved farewell to us with his pleasant and infectious smile.
The following year I was unable to travel to Liberia. However, Pastor Joseph Kwiwalazu, our lead trainer in Liberia, was able to make regular trips to Bopolu to build upon this initial seminar. He took Jethro and many others through a full systematic course in Bible doctrine. I regularly received reports from Joseph, who expressed joy in Jethro’s understanding of the Bible, as well as his growing commitment to sound Lutheran teaching.
During my 2019 trip to Liberia I truly got to know Jethro well—his charming personality, his unassuming friendliness, his cheerful sense of humor, his respected influence in the Bopolu community, his appealing pastoral leadership and, most of all, his lively faith and commitment to the truth of God’s Word. Though over the age of sixty, his eager absorption of biblical truths and his bustling energy to minister to souls was obvious. Once again our Bible training there was well received, with one pastor tearfully expressing joy in learning so much from God’s Word. While Jethro was not outwardly vocal, he was obviously working behind the scenes, quietly interacting with people and expressing how he himself had grown in God’s Word.
This journey for Jethro has not been an easy one, particularly since his contact with the CLC. In 2018 a representative on the governing board for the Bopolu Bible Mission became jealous and bitter toward Jethro. To the dismay of the congregation, the board assigned a new head pastor and reassigned Jethro to be the assistant. In October of 2018, Jethro’s wife suddenly passed away and left him with four young children to raise. He later expressed to me how touched he was by the prayers and support he received from his CLC contacts in Liberia and the USA. The Lord has since provided Jethro with another faithful wife, the sister of his former wife. In November of 2019, Jethro met with me in Monrovia and experienced an accident on his way home. His three-wheeled taxi tipped over, crushing his leg and ankle. One might think that the timing of all these things would lead Jethro to question his connection to the CLC, but it has done just the opposite.
During my 2019 trip to Bopolu, Jethro and two other pastors in the area went through a colloquy, an interview to pursue becoming a pastor in fellowship with the CLC. Jethro answered our questions in a straightforward manner, backed up with Scripture passages.
Though Jethro wants to be in fellowship with the CLC, he has chosen not to make any hasty decision to do so. He realizes that once he is in fellowship with the CLC, his relationship with the Bopolu Bible Mission would end, including living in the home he is provided. He has therefore decided to build his own house adjacent to the mission campus so that he can minister to those souls who would like him to serve as their pastor. This demonstrates how bold Jethro is in witnessing to the Bopolu community his commitment to the Word of God. Pastor Joseph Kwiwalazu is continuing to instruct Jethro at this time.
Where this will go, only the Lord knows. But given how the Lord’s hand has moved things thus far, we trust that He is unfolding His incredible will before us. Pray for Jethro and the others in Bopolu who are currently being trained by Joseph as they intend to eventually become a part of the CLC efforts in
John Hein is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Fridley, Minnesota, and a part-time missionary to Liberia.