During the years I pastored Clarkesville Baptist Church in Northeast Georgia, I met Olu Menjay, a young Liberian who made it out of war-torn Liberia with the help of a Southern Baptist missionary, the Rev. John Mark Carpenter. I traveled to Liberia with Olu in 1995 and have been involved in work there through the years. The following is an excerpt from a book I am writing on Liberia with hopes of using sales of the book to fund Liberian mission projects.

 

On Christmas Eve 1989, an alliance composed of Americo–Liberians, Mano and Gio people, and others opposed to Doe’s dictatorship united in the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPLF). They invaded from the Ivory Coast under the leadership of Charles Taylor, a corrupt former civil servant under Doe, and Liberia’s 13–year civil war began.

Like tens of thousands of people in Monrovia and the surrounding areas, Olu became separated from his family as the fighting and violence increased. People had to seek refuge wherever they could. Every day was a challenge for families to find food, water, shelter, and to avoid the rebels who could kill, rob and rape at will.

 Olu first sought refuge at the Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary, about 12 miles outside of Monrovia. He had been there many times with his father so he knew many of the teachers there. He stayed for several weeks until the fighting moved too close. He hitchhiked further north to Roberts International Airport and hid in the Harbel region, named for the founder of the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company, Harvey S. Firestone and his wife Idabelle.

In March of 1990, Olu decided to take his chances. Leaving Liberia seemed to be a better risk than staying. Hungry and tired, he gathered letters from friends who were hoping to reach family members in the diaspora and began walking toward the Sierra Leone border. He carried his only possession, a bag, on his head Liberian style.

As expected, the border was being guarded by NPFL soldiers who were commanded by Charles Taylor. As a rebel soldier searched his bag, the letters Olu had been asked to carry were found. The rebels immediately turned hostile and accused Olu of being an accomplice for the government of Samuel Doe.

 They stripped him of his clothes and told him the penalty for his crime was death. Another Liberian had also been sentenced to die. Olu watched as the soldiers shot him without mercy. He did not know the crime the young man had been charged with, but Olu was certain he had not done anything worthy of death. Just before Olu’s execution was to be carried out, one of the commanders of the NPFL came up and halted the proceedings. He looked at Olu and said, “Identify yourself! Why are you being interrogated?”

 “My name is Olu Menjay. I have been arrested because in my bag they found letters I am carrying across the boarder to family members of my friends.”

 The commander repeated his name, “Menjay?” Olu said, “Yes.” “Are you related to Harrison Menjay?” asked the commander.

 Olu was afraid to answer, realizing his answer might determine whether he lived or died. Olu said with fear, “Yes, I am just going to tell the truth here. He is my father.”

 “Where is your father?” the commander asked, sounding somewhat concerned. Olu responded, “I don’t know where he is. I haven’t seen him for several months now.”

 In reply the commander’s tone of voice suddenly changed. “When I was a teenager in Nimba I did not have enough money to go to school but your father gave me a scholarship so I could go to the Baptist school.”

 The commander gave orders for the men to give Olu back his clothes. The same man who had been giving orders to execute anyone suspected of collaborating with the enemy suddenly displayed mercy. The commander gave Olu ten dollars and a hot Coke to drink and told him he was allowed to cross the border.

 As Olu put his clothes back on, he thought about his father and his father’s good name, a name that had just saved his life. “That taught me what a good name can do for you,” Olu says.

 Proverbs 22:1 says, “A good name is more desirable than great riches: to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” (NIV)

 After crossing over into the Ivory Coast, Olu survived as a refugee by working on farms and doing relief work. During his time there, he remembered the missionary friends from the United States who had worked with his father as a co–laborer in planting Baptist churches in Liberia, in particular the Rev. John Mark Carpenter and his wife Betty.

 Eventually, Olu was able to call the Carpenters and tell them his plight. He also wrote them letters. They stayed in touch with one another during the two years Olu lived as a refugee in the Ivory Coast. Rev. Carpenter knew Olu to be a young man of promise and wanted to help him. Rev. Carpenter wrote a letter to his former college classmate, Dr. H.M. Fulbright, president of Truett McConnell College, requesting that he grant Olu a scholarship to the college, which he did.

On Jan. 2, 1991, he left the Ivory Coast where he had been a refugee of the Liberian civil war for two years, just three days before he was to begin college in a country he had never seen.

 As he left, his country was still being torn apart. Liberia had lost much of her good name. Olu left with great hope that one day he could return and help his country regain some of what she had lost.

 

Olu went on to graduate from Mercer University and Duke Divinity School. Today Rev. Olu Menjay is helping Liberia regain her good name. He is the principal of Ricks Institute, a grade school for children grades K-12. Visit the school at www.ricksonline.org.

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The Rev. Michael Helms is pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Moultrie.



 

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