The Road to Hell – and back

By Wilson K Vai, Lutheran Global Village, Liberia

It is like someone having gone to hell just for a visit. At times I can't recall how I got there. I have suffered beyond words. I thought of taking my own life. My life was of little value and I kept worrying, just worrying, all day long.

Fear and sorrow always grips my heart whenever I think of the story of my life. Really, my life has been a painful journey full of incredible happenings – until God connected me to AFA.

Probably 33 years of age now, Wilson has been the chief link between Liberian Lutheran refugee communities and the outside world for many years. While most refugees had never seen a computer, Wilson learned all about the internet, the modern world at a higher education facility at Conakry, Guinea.
Wilson could have a high position by now in Liberia and influential aid organisations would love to have him, groups like Save The Children Fund. But no, Wilson serves his own people who need him every day. His personal ambitions don’t matter – like wanting to study theology and become a pastor. We have talked about it for years but there’s no time for that at the moment. He wears no robes and has no high position in the church. But he is The Key to so much.
Wilson has had no father figure in his life and does not come through as particularly impressive – except in his spirit. His spirit is ‘not of this world’: it’s all service, obedience, sacrifice, self-giving, walking the extra mile – all for Christ and his Liberian people who, without him, may have been in a terrible place today. No Hall of Fame will ever mention his name and no church may ever honour him but he is a saint of the first order. His story moves me to tears.
— A brief profile of Wilson K Vai

I was born around 1982 in Shankpallai, a remote town in Northern Liberia. My parents didn’t have money to educate me, so they sent me to live with my uncle at Camp Jackson Naama, the US-built, big army base. But as the rebels advanced I went back to my parents. However this didn’t help. One morning, all of a sudden, while my parents were out, guns blazing, the rebels arrived in town and burnt down everything. The woman next door quickly grabbed me and fled to neighbouring Guinea, with me in tow. This probably saved my life but a few months later she fell sick and died because of the poor living conditions. Now I had nothing – no family, no friends, no one at all, struggling beyond endurance merely to survive, one day at a time. And I was just a big kid.

A businessman named Mamadee Bambam began helping me. Later he asked me to become a Muslim. I didn’t agree, so he cut off his support. I always remembered our Lutheran church back home and that gave me some comfort.

After many years wandering from place to place, camp to camp, I finished up at Laine Refugee Camp, Guinea. Initially we were looked after well here also by Lutheran World Service, but then, suddenly, all aid stopped in late 2006 and we were abandoned. So I started to advocate for my people and to appeal for help. I knew what to do because I had received a good education as the result of an UN scholarship.

Just like a miracle, a letter came from Australia from what now is AFA.That was in 2007. Pastor Fricke with some friends wanted to help me to migrate to Australia. In fact, Grace Lutheran Church in Toowoomba filed an application to the Australian government offering to sponsor me. Bernie Pohlner in particular worked so hard on this. But God had other ideas. I got knocked back. I was so upset and shocked.

But AFA kept working with us and started to support us at Laine Camp. And we spread that aid around. We shared the financial support with our brothers in Nzerekore City and found another Lutheran community in another refugee camp (Kouankan). Here people were equally dispirited and forgotten. They too had nothing and received no aid from anyone.

I advocated more and more – for our suffering Liberian women in particular. They were the ones who began to train many people in the three communities mentioned starting up courses in soap making, tailoring, baking, the English language and others.You see, all the younger women were war children, with many for 15 years on the run, a generation that did not have parents to teach them anything. Nor did they know their own country. I remember e. g. the 15 sewing machines AFA provided we still have today!

I didn’t really want to go home to Liberia because of terrible memories and I had no one left alive there – no one to welcome me, care for me or listen to me. On the other hand, we lived in exile in a Muslim land and no one felt at home here. Daily we felt the discrimination.

Eventually AFA convinced us to go home. They bought land for us – a large area in the middle of nowhere. Now a new passion and new hope filled out hearts. Wonderfully, that’s how it came to the establishment of LGV (Lutheran Global village) in Bong County, Liberia. It was AFA that brought us so much joy and happiness. Now I have a bigger hope - for my whole country, for my kinsmen and for all nations that they may be all united in peace and love.

Tragic Family History

Poverty destroys the human spirit. I didn’t have the chance to grow up in a family. To start with, there were too many of us. Food was not enough for all, and there was no money for education. I know little of my family. My parents disappeared and died during the war as I found out later. I don’t even know my birthday. I believe I was born in 1982, maybe February. Many refugees don’t know their birthdays. But I know some things about my siblings, their names if little else: Nyanpu, Kollie, John, Annie, Marion, Blessing, Sibley and Nepala. Kollie and John died in the heat of the war, between 1990 and 1997, and I only heard about that in 2012. I lost track of most of them. My uncle Peter Vai, who    was the pillar of the wider family, was killed in the war as well. His wife was raped and she turned blind and died after a few years. His four children are with us in LGV. I really have had little peace of mind because of    all this terror.

The unspeakable horrors of War

As war images flood my mind I remember fleeing my town, Shankpallai. I saw lots of bodies. People were crying for mercy but the rebels just killed most of them both young and old. I remembered a teacher at the elementary school who died that day with some of his children. Even before that I had seen a lot of bodies trucked from the battle field. Some of them were soldiers, others civilians. So many unspeakable stories.

Betrayed by ‘the Lutheran World’

I made our plight known to the Lutheran World (Lutheran World Service, Lutheran World Federation) with more than just a few emails. From the decaying refugee camps in Guinea we sent lots and lots of emails all around the world. What hurt memost was the response to a hand written letter I had sent to Lutheran Immigration for Refugee Service in America. I mentioned that we needed help, we had famine, our people were not far from dying. In response they asked us to go to UNHCR in Guinea, the United Nations office, to request help. This was devastating to me! Can you imagine a Christian group recommending their brethren to go to Muslims to seek help? Don’t they know how they discriminate against us? A hen will not go to the fox to seek help. I IMMEDIATELY STOPPED WRITING TO THE ‘LUTHERAN WORLD’.

In all, I had sent hundreds of letters to many Christian groups. The only email to which I received a favorable response was the one I sent to the LCA in Australia. The LCA didn’t know what to do but a secretary privately passed it on to Pastor August. She knew about AFA. I feel that the humanitarian aid ministry often lies in the hands of the wrong people. Is it any wonder that, to us, you of AFA are our heroes