Let me relate to you a story about a man I met in Monrovia. Augustine was 15 years old when the war in Liberia came to Monrovia. He was selling produce in the market place when he was caught in the cross fire between rebel troops and the “Economic Community of West African States” peace keeping force ECOWAS. When the machine guns opened fire across the market place, everyone ran. Gus didn’t notice that he had been shot; all he could think about was getting home. Blood full of adrenaline, heart pumping fast at full speed, dodging abandoned produce stalls, he made his way out of the market and down the familiar back streets to the relative safety of his father’s house.

Relaxing slightly he slumped himself down in the couch and began to tell his family of his narrow escape. Before he had finished speaking, he could hear his father in the next room saying “Who is bleeding? Someone is bleeding. There is blood on the floor.” Gus started to check his brothers and sisters; everyone seemed okay. Then he looked down at his shoe. It was torn and there was blood seeping out. Attempt-ing to remove his shoe, he realized that it was completely ripped apart and his sock was soaked red in his blood. Augustine’s ankle cap was completely torn off, held only by the skin. It was unsalvageable. Now Gus was gripped by the pain that the shock had protected him from, and he was thinking about the disabled beggars he had seen limp-ing and crawling around Monrovia. Was
this to be his destiny? Would he become one of those men that all the children threw stones at and made fun of?

A few days went by and his ankle seemed to be healing. He could walk without too much pain. Gus’ family were poor, and everyone had to contribute, so he was sent back out to work. Not feeling safe to return to his place in the market, Gus thought he would try his luck carrying bags down at Free Port, Monrovia’s sea link. He saw one woman trying to board a ship bound for Nigeria; she was pregnant and had two large suitcases. Gus offered to carry them for her and she accepted. Those two bags must have been carrying lead; they both weighed a ton. His arms nearly fell off, and the pain from his ankle was shooting right up his leg. He helped the woman all the way to her room and dropped the suit cases inside the doorway. He put out his hand to be paid. The woman just looked mournfully at him and said “My son, please forgive me. I have nothing.” Exhausted and disap-pointed, still catching his breath, he just said “What?” He left his hand out to receive so the woman opened a tin and put into Gus’ hand one teaspoon of powdered milk and two lumps of sugar. For a moment he stared at his hand in disbelief then he put his hand to his mouth and swallowed before turning and leaving.

Making his way back along the deck of the ship, he saw that the gangplank was full of people boarding. There was not room for him to leave. He began to push his way into the people, but the captain was furious. “Wait,” he said, “until everyone boards. The ship will not leave until tomorrow morning.” Gus sighed, feeling a little defeated. He found a spot under the stairs and sat down. An unusual peace came over him, peace like he had not known before. He felt safe, secure and, oh so sleepy. . . .Gus woke up feeling so re-freshed. “That,” he said, “was the best sleep I’ve had in months!” The horn of the ship startled him. Jumping up, he ran out onto the deck. It was crowded with people waving. He pushed his way to the railing and saw that the ship was several hundred meters from shore. The next four days the ship was at sea making its way to Nigeria. Gus slept outside on the deck. He often saw the pregnant woman come and go, so he begged her for food, but she gave him nothing. That’s what he had for four days: nothing.

Upon arrival, Gus was weak with hunger and worse, his an-kle had become seriously infected. He had no legal papers and he didn’t know a single soul. Being young and part of a large crowd, he managed to avoid the officials. So he found his way out into the city of Lagos. (Lagos, Nigeria is re-ported to be one of the most dangerous cities on Earth. This Liberian youth was afraid). Gus began to sell his clothes and shoes just to get something to eat. By chance or grace of God, one man befriended him and took him to his home. One of this man’s sisters was a nurse, and she cared for Gus’ leg which had become swollen right up to the knee. After a time, they moved Gus out of the city to a rural village. These people were spirit worshipers of a kind that Gus had not encountered before, and his Liberian accent made it dif-ficult for him to fit in.

One day after a few months the man who befriended Gus went away on a journey and left him with the other villagers. There was murmuring in the local dialect that Gus could not understand, and he began to feel uneasy. One night he was rudely awoken by loud knocking at the door. The man who shared the room with him told him to answer the door, but Gus was afraid so he refused. The knocking continued and grew impatient and angry. Gus could hear men outside talk-ing between themselves. The man in his room demanded that Gus open the door. Fearfully he obeyed. Two men burst in and attacked him. The man in his room joined them. They were going to kill him and eat him as part of their occult practices.

Then a spiritual force entered Gus, and he was taken to an-other reality for a few moments. When he was returned, he found himself in the combat with these three men and over-powering them. They left him in the room alone. The door was open. Gus fled. He ran and ran and ran, away from the village, through the fields and into the forest wearing only a pair of sleeping shorts, his feet bare. He lived for three days in the forest, creeping out only to steal corn from the fields. He was noticed by some people and by chance or grace of God, a good man took him in, giving him food, clothing and money enough to travel back to Lagos. On arrival in Lagos, he was again lonely and afraid. Gus reasoned that there was some degree of safety in a nightclub since he saw the secu-rity guards so he went into one and stayed there until closing time early in the morning. When it became obvious that he was alone and had nowhere to go, the manager decided to allow him to sleep inside the building. The next day he was offered breakfast, which he eagerly accepted. The manager said to him “Well, we have given you lodging and food, what can you do in the way of repayment?” Gus shrugged. He had no money, and he had never worked in a night club before. “I can rap!” he said enthusiastically. So Augustine became a rap singer in a night club in Lagos, Nigeria.

Six months later people from the national television associa-tion happened to be in his nightclub. They mentioned that they were looking for a cameraman for the national broad-cast studio. Gus had always had an interest in movie cam-eras, but didn’t really have any experience. “I’m a camera-man,” he told them. “Just give me a go, and I’ll prove my-self.” He was accepted and by chance or grace of God the old cameraman did not leave for two weeks so Gus was able to observe everything he did.

Six months later, the national television association was moved from Lagos to the political capital called Abuja. Only the better half of the staff were selected to go; Gus was among these. Gus began to acquire some money and was thinking about his parents who he had not been in contact with for about a year and a half. How they must be grieved over his absence, not knowing his fate, perhaps presuming him dead. (There was not really any phone or mail contact available to Liberia at this stage of the war. Phone & elec-tricity lines were cut and looted by Charles Taylor’s troops along with just about everything else.) Augustine began to journey towards Liberia. He entered neighboring Benin then onto Togo and further to Ghana before reaching the Ivory Coast. Here his money was almost extinguished so he decided to look for work. The Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) is a French speaking nation so Augustine spent nine months studying French before he decided that he could no longer afford to continue. He remained in Côte d’Ivoire for two years.

Gus met up with a couple of fellows who wanted to travel to Dakar, Senegal. They didn’t have enough money to pur-chase a ticket but they had family that would put all three of them up. Gus agreed to pay for these two fellows so they embarked on the thirty-two hour train trip. Shortly before arriving in Dakar, those two fellows jumped off the train. Gus arrived alone. Soon he began to sell his clothes and shoes to buy food. It was not long before he became desti-tute. Then by chance or grace of God he was taken in by one Muslim man who cared for his needs and taught him the Muslim religion. He had always been a non-believer, giving no regard to any deity, now he confessed the name of Allah. It was pleasing to this family, and they were his only way of daily survival.

After a few months he met a missionary man who told him the gospel of salvation through Jesus. Gus believed and started sneaking away from the Muslim family and going to church. It was not too long before the missionary returned to America. Gus eagerly awaited a letter form him but none ever came. Gus became a little hostile in his heart towards these missionaries who lived in expensive houses and had African servants, drove cars worth more than his entire life’s earnings, preached the gospel at him, but didn’t offer him food or practical help. Jesus, however, lives in the heart of those who love him, and Gus came to love Jesus. He con-tinued going to church and didn’t ask for people to help him. He trusted Jesus and knew that God is greater than all man-kind.

Over the next year and a half he grew to love and trust Jesus deeply. Every few weeks it was his turn to translate the church service from French into English. Then God said to him, “Why don’t we start an English Bible study on Wednesday nights?” Gus obeyed. Bible study began with only seven people. Today it has grown to over three hun-dred, and has changed to become the Sunday English church service in Dakar. Not many remember that it began with Gus, but he doesn’t mind, he knows God has other plans for him. Gus walks out on the streets and takes young people aside. Charmed by his warm, out-going personality and genuine smile, they listen to what he has to say; he has the message of truth that leads to eternal life. God has gifted Gus with an ability to communicate the word of God in a very personal, African way that leaves you certain that the Spirit of God lives within the man. Against the advice of the missionaries, Gus maintains a very close relationship with the Muslim family who originally took him in at Dakar, and on Sundays he visits to read the Bible with them. Gus has been reunited with his parents. One day he just turned up on their doorstep. His mother says with a big smile on her face, “My son will always come back.”

Picture a tall, dark, African man, twenty three years old, with very short curly black hair, a line of facial hair running down his jaw line and across his chin with a thin mustache. It’s a handsome face with eyes that smile. He is going about his business at his mother’s house, a small abode made from pieces of tin banged together. He has a rhythm in his step. You can see him brushing his teeth. He takes a bucket of water; he’s singing softly to his Jesus. He disappears behind the wall of an unfinished house to take his shower. You can hear him more clearly; Now he sings “If you see me smil-ing, I’ve got him on my mind. If you see me laughing, I’ve got him on my mind. I’ve got Jesus on my mind.” He has finished his shower and emerges, well-dressed, his smile reveals his white, white teeth. He sits down on a wooden bench, one leg either side and begins to drum a rhythm with his hands, still singing. His sisters begin to hum along with the tune; children start to clap in time. People come out of their houses to listen to the sweet sound. Some join in the song. The sisters pick up the harmony, and all are worship-ping Jesus.

This is Augustine.