“Our congregation has been swept up into a movement of love, generosity, and forgiveness that has taken us to places we could not have imagined. Our hearts have become deeply bound to people on the other side of the globe.” Those were the words of Tom Baird, pastor of Bethel Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Alta., as he began telling the story of John Lendein and his mother, Hawa.
John Lendein was only 3 years old when he lay huddled under the bed where his father had hidden him. An angry mob of men from Bettesue and surrounding villages in Liberia had burst through the door of his home and savagely beaten his parents. Narrowly escaping with their lives, John’s parents were in the hospital three months recovering from their wounds.
The eruption of such anger was thought to be the result of two decisions John’s mother, Hawa, had made. First, she had infuriated the tribal leadership by refusing their traditional medicine and going instead to the missionary hospital a three-hour walk away. She also dared to openly share the gospel in her village. Hawa was ostracized, jailed for a time, and finally publicly rebuked at a gathering of the leadership from over 10 villages. Her husband was ordered to divorce her, send her away, and take a different wife from the tribe. He refused, declaring that he too was a Christian. Soon afterward, civil war broke out, and the village of Bettesue was decimated. John’s father was killed. Some believe he was murdered.
Many years later, John emigrated to Edmonton and was eventually joined by his wife, children, and mother. Bethel CRC became their church home. Around this time, John decided to become a benefactor to his former village, despite their treatment of his family. Working three jobs to make it possible, John began by funding the rebuilding of the village’s church. He went on to purchase soccer uniforms and shoes for the children and found other ways to enrich village life. Then John committed himself to what seemed an impossible dream—to fund the building of a school so that the parents of Bettesue would not have to choose between withholding education for their children or sending them on a dangerous two-hour walk to the nearest school.
Bethel CRC became very involved in this venture. Over six months, the congregation raised $25,000, but twice that amount was needed. One day, as a church member shared the story with business friends, one of them said, “I’ll cover the rest.”
The school was built by volunteers from the village. An “adopt a student” drive at Bethel CRC ensured that the children would be equipped with uniforms, writing instruments, and other basic school supplies for their first year. The leaders of Bettesue have asked that members of Bethel sit on the school board from a distance.
Representatives of Bettesue have also asked for Hawa’s forgiveness. They have requested that John and his mother fly to Liberia so village leaders can express their apologies and be reconciled in a public ceremony.
“When my mom and I look back at our lives here in Canada,” said John, “and see how God has saved us from the brutal civil war in Liberia and showers us with his blessings through Bethel Christian Reformed Church, we realize that there should be no place for revenge in our hearts. Instead, there should be a place for reconciliation with those who wanted us dead. Choosing reconciliation over revenge has seen us happier now than we have been for decades. This act of reconciliation, we believe, will accomplish the mission of spreading the gospel in our village more than ever before.”
Baird, like many, has been profoundly touched by this family in his midst. “I surprised myself when I found myself weeping the day I shared Hawa’s story with the congregation and introduced her to a standing ovation. I have seen few things take off the way this did after that,” he said. “God was touching hearts and working through people in a marvelous way. Though it is a small effort in the big scheme of things, it is an example for me of how Jesus’ death on the cross is making a difference in the hearts of people now, and it gives me a foretaste of things to come when he returns.”