Reach Out and Touch Faith


Rewind back to 1987 for a second. The clip-clopping beat in the background is Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus and I was very deeply rooted in my Pentecostal faith at First Assembly of God in Ft.Wayne, Ind. My weekends were filled with dancing at the Seventh Level nightclub, bible in hand , and of course two or three church services. The furthest my mind drifted was to bible college in Minneapolis MN, where I was to be trained as an Assembly of God youth minister.  Yes people, me, a minister.

Now fast-forward 14 years. The smells and sounds of a busy African metropolitan city fill my brain after I’m whisked  from the airport and transported to Congo Town by our driver Kweku Ochampo. Kweku later introduced us to his father, Joseph, also a taxi driver. Both have big smiles that beam from their faces and have fabulous laughs. I feel better when I’m around them. Joseph and David are men of faith, of varying degrees, as most Liberians are. You see Jesus everywhere here, if not in spirit in bumper sticker form. Jesus stickers are on everything: cars, storefronts, trashcans, rocks, cell phones and the occasional church. Faith is a huge part of Liberian culture and has given many people strength and hope in the darkest of times.

Joseph happens to be the pastor of a small pentecostal assembly on the outskirts of Monrovia, Church of Pentecost. One day he turned to me and asked if I would deliver the sermon to his small congregation. How could I resist, it was a blast from the past. I stayed up late the night before thumbing though a borrowed bible trying to pick out verses that I could agree with, it took some effort.

The church was inviting and had great energy. Even if they understood one-tenth of what came out of my american mouth they made me feel at home. From making a handmade dress for Luisa Ryan (our monitoring and evaluation project specialist) to dancing together as an offering to God this was and is Liberia.

I ended up back where I started, with the basic concept of love. If we don’t have this, we have nothing.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

I feel pretty good about where I’m at these days, not satisfied, but good.

Special thanks to Newhouse Prof. Steve Davis for the audio.

About Ken Harper

I'm an Asst. Professor in the Multimedia, Photography & Design Dept. at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.