GRACEVILLE (FBW)Liberian native Shadrach Saywon says he knows God answers prayer. His answer came August 11 when God moved a mountain blocking the Gospel of Christ from being safely preached in his African homeland.
A survivor of Liberias bloody 14-year civil war, Shadrach responded when national news sources reported the mid-August exile of former president Charles Taylor to Nigeria. Reports of three U.S. warships in the water beyond Liberias coast gave Saywon added hope that he will soon return in safety and share Jesus with his nation.
"We thank God for the current developments and that people will be able to move about freely and buy food," Saywon told Florida Baptist Witness in an Aug. 11 interview. "We are hopeful."
The political situation in Liberia remains volatile. Taylors second in command, Moses Blah, succeeded him as president. The 56-year-old former Libyan guerilla is credited with launching the 1989 uprising that put Taylor in office and ultimately causing a bloody civil war resulting in the deaths of more than 100,000 people.
Blah reportedly will relinquish power in October to a transitional government which Liberians hope will lead to peace, according to an Aug. 11 Associated Press report. Time will determine whether Blah will leave peacefully or forcibly retain power using tactics he learned as Taylors vice president.
Regardless of whether peace is restored soon to Liberia, Saywon, 32, plans to return to his homeland in December. While Saywon left Liberia alone in 1997 to come to the United States, he will be returning with his wife, Gertrude, also a Liberian native, and their two-year-old daughter.
"When I came to America, I decided to go to a Bible college for the Lord to prepare me to go back and take the Gospel of Christ to my country," Saywon said in an interview in the Fall 1999 edition of Echoes, a quarterly publication of The Baptist College of Florida (BCF). With little money and few contacts, he eventually enrolled at the Graceville college in 1998.
"I am a man who wants to know the will of God, only depending on His grace to survive," Saywon said in the same interview.
Three years later, Shadrach has attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in theology. His wife will receive her diploma from BCF in December. Upon her graduation, the family will return to Liberia and operate the Willie N. Wylie Memorial Baptist Childrens Village, located about 250 miles from the nations capital of Monrovia in Jurazon District, Sineo County.
With assistance from the Holmes County Baptist Association, Saywon founded the organization to provide educational classes, medical care, food, and clothing to both children and adults. The temporary school is constructed of bamboo poles and a thatched roof. Currently, it serves more than 450 destitute residents from surrounding towns and villages. Some children walk more than two hours one-way to attend daily classes. Approximately 75 percent of the children are orphans of the brutal civil war or disease.
Saywon has personal knowledge of the suffering of these orphans he serves. Rebels attacked his village July 27, 1990, and blood flowed.
"It was a time that the mother was not able to go back in the house to pick up her child, and there was no time for the son to locate his parents," Saywon says in his personal testimony. "The town was set on fire. Everywhere you could hear only gun sounds. The devil missionaries were in control of human life, killing women and children, opening up their stomachs and taking their heads off."
Running for his life from the rebel army for four and a half months, Saywon had nothing but the clothes on his back. He survived in the bush by sleeping on sticks and eating leaves and roots. Eventually, Saywon was captured twice by the rebels, but each time he miraculously escaped execution.
"I knew my Lord was still in control of the whole situation," said Saywon, who credits God with sending confusion to the minds of the rebel officers just seconds before he was to be shot. The officers fled, and a rebel commander released him. Four years later, he was captured again while traveling to a memorial service. Saywon says soldiers ordered him to preach for them before they killed him. The power of God fell on the soldiers, recalled Saywon, and one rebel even rededicated his life to God.
His chilling memories of carnage during the civil war combined with his strong faith in Gods promises give Saywon the strength to seek support to help his countrymen become self-sufficient. Through his efforts a makeshift medical clinic has been constructed at the childrens village. Operating costs are funded through the rental of a jeep and a truck donated to the village by the Lafayette Baptist Association.
While monetary donations are necessary to get the village operational, Saywon envisions the program becoming economically self-sufficient one day. He hopes to raise $80,000 in the next few months in order to purchase two taxis, one bus, five freezers and a generator. With this equipment, he estimates the village can make an $11,000 monthly profit in U.S. currency. This money will be used to build dormitory rooms to house orphans and begin trade programs.
"These are people who need Christ, and with this project, they can have the opportunity to learn about salvation, be self-sufficient, and teach local pastors so they can teach local churches," he said. "This is a God calling. It is not my project it is a God project."
Helping Saywon realize his vision is a key project of the Holmes County Baptist Association (HCBA).
"My heart is that God has called us to be Great Commission Christians. ...We saw this as God giving us a personal opportunity to get involved in missions in Liberia," Paul Fries, HCBA director of missions, told the Witness. The association has donated approximately $20,000 to the village in addition to providing publicity and support.
Anyone interested in making a donation to the childrens village may contact HCBA at (850) 547-4079. For more information on the village, visit www.liberianministries.com.
Heather Stewart is communications director at Baptist College of Florida, Graceville.
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