Not long after I arrived at Trinity Baptist Church in 1996, I had a big decision to make. Henry Peabody, a Liberian, had asked me in a letter to help him get out of the Buduburam Refugee Camp in Ghana and come to the United States to get an education.
I’d met Henry at the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary while in Liberia with Olu Menjay during a lull in the civil war in December of 1995. When Monrovia fell to the Rebels in April of 1996, Henry found his way back to the refugee camp. It was the one place he knew he could survive. There he found Hugo Menjay, Olu’s brother, and they lived together in a meager dwelling.
Imagine my surprise the first time I received correspondence from Henry with a return address from the Buduburam Refugee Camp asking for a few basic items to sustain him. While it cost more to send the items than they were worth, we gathered toiletries, underwear, shoes, socks, and some food and sent them across the ocean with a prayer, hoping they would get to Henry.
A few other letters came until one day he boldly asked for help to get out of the camp and come to the States for an education. Henry might never have thought that was possible had he not seen it happen for Hugo. However, when Hugo left Ghana for Liberia and got his passport to the United States, where Olu’s contacts had arranged for him to begin school at Truett McConnell College, Henry began to dream. If it could happen for Hugo, why not for him?
I remember the day I received his letter asking me for that kind of help. My first thoughts were, “That’s not possible. How can I make that happen?” Of course, the answer was that I couldn’t make it happen. However, I wasn’t able to dismiss the issue from my mind. Henry’s plight troubled me. Sure, there were thousands of people in his same situation, but Henry was the only one I personally knew.
One of the first people I verbalized this burden to was the chairman of the pulpit committee that brought me to Trinity, John M. Mobley, Sr. I trusted John’s wisdom and advice. If he had said, “That’s crazy. You should forget about it,” that would have likely been enough for me. What I didn’t expect was a $500 check from him before he left my office. It was as if God said through him, “Take a step. Get started. Trust Me.”
How do you get someone out of a refugee camp, back to his home country, assured that he will be able to get a passport to the United States during a civil war? How do you get a 26-year-old accepted to college who actually didn’t have a high school diploma because the war started before he graduated his senior year of high school? If you get him accepted to a college, how do you pay for his tuition, room, and board? If you had the money to pay for his college, how do you know that he can pass the courses? Even with all of these unanswered questions, what kept coming back to me were these words: “Take a step. Get started. Trust Me.” That kind of faith is very difficult for me.
When Henry Peabody arrived in the United States, he had little more than the clothes he was wearing. But he had hope. He had faith. He had a partial scholarship to play soccer at Truett McConnell College! And he had a roommate–Hugo Menjay! I wish I could have heard some of their conversations about how God had brought them both from the same refugee camp to the same college dorm room.
Considering all that Henry had been through in Liberia and in Ghana and the amount of time it had been since he’d been out of an academic setting, he did remarkably well. He spent a summer in South Korea as a summer missionary. He spent his Christmases with us as a part of our family. He transferred to Mercer University and graduated from there with a degree in social work. We never missed a payment for his tuition. There was always enough.
Today Henry is a social worker in Trenton, New Jersey. He is married to a Liberian and they have three children. He pastors a growing Liberian congregation in Trenton. He is leading his congregation in making a difference in their community and in the lives of the people in Liberia.
Henry now makes frequent trips to Liberia. At the writing of this article he is on his way back to help install the second of two hand pumps in the Owensgrove community, making it easier for people to draw water from the wells and to help ensure that bacteria stay out.
At Thanksgiving each year, Henry always calls. There is gratitude in his voice. However, the one he really needs to thank is no longer with us. I regret that Henry never got to meet John M. Mobley, Sr. He died not long after he gave me the $500 check. It was John’s encouragement and his generous gift that moved me to take that first step of faith.
With that first step, God opened every door. My faith grew. The seed of faith that was planted in Henry is still producing lots of fruit today.
(Tax Deductible donations for work in Liberia through the Bricks for Ricks Foundation, Inc. can be made using the “Donate Button” on this website.)
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