ST. KOLLIE TOWN (SKT) was the gateway to the central Liberian town of Gbarnga, the headquarters of the rebel movement. Here, barely four hours since their vehicle left the outskirts of Mount Barclay, deep inside rebel territory, James Zonn and his companion, along with other Liberians, were stopped. It was around two in the afternoon, and there seemed to be a flurry of activities going on here.
SKT, Zonn guessed, might have had no more than seventy mud houses on either side, since the dividing line of the town was the access road, directly towards the city of Gbarnga. It was reasonable that being the link to the rebels’ command center and residence of their leaders, security would be on high alert. Similarly, SKT was the home of the Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC), where modern residential houses were located. And rightly, the leaders in Gbarnga were using the lodgings as residences.
But it was apparent that James Zonn had not thought about meeting with any experience worth its name. But considering the splintered nature of the rebels, there was everything to imagine that misunderstanding, even on a trivial issue, could result in the loss of precious limbs or life. And the rebel soldiers did not let Zonn to wait further, when fifteen minutes after their arrival, what appeared as an apparent confusion brewed ahead.
There were a number of rebel soldiers, their guns at the ready, moving about in a hurry. “I can take care of that bitch,” he heard a soldier say, and then another, probably twenty, his face lined with worry, and unable to discern between life and death, said,
“If you kill me today I die and my business is finished.”
It was then that Zonn saw that the source of the contention was apparently the murder of three members of a family. Their bodies sprawled across the road, and there were still other people standing by in tears. Among the dead, Zonn learned was a woman, a Gio, who had defended her husband, who was a Sarpo.
“The woman said the man was her husband,” a young man told Zonn, as the vehicle was finally released to go, “she would not hear the soldiers’ decision that the man should be killed, and as a result she chose to die with her husband.”
“What about the third body?” Zonn’s curiosity moved him to ask. “Why did she die?” The other, his eyes downcast, said, “She was standing across the road when another soldier called her, and told her she was a Sarpo and before she could defend herself, he shot her dead.” As the vehicle hummed along, Zonn turned his attention to the road as it raced toward them. All of Liberia had become a jungle, and there was no Liberian alive who was safe. It was a hard judgment call, but whether anybody would survive the civil-war could be anybody’s guess. In fifteen minutes, Zonn felt the bus slowing down to a halt.
“This is another check point,” the other told him. It was apparent to Zonn that his informer was a frequent traveler in this part of Gbarnga, and as Zonn looked him in the face, the young man said, “Our suffering is beyond reason. We are unable to understand what crime we have committed to be treated this way.”
“Wipe your tears my friend,” Zonn urged him, when he saw his new friend in tears. “Believe in God, and pray for survival as long as the war continues.”
“Yes,” his new friend also looked into his eyes, “our treatment is beyond insanity.” Zonn felt the rush of emotion gripping him, and turning around he saw Klubor soundly asleep. He felt some urge within him, but knew that till they reached the city of Gbarnga, the various checkpoints would present another barrier after another. But then he had given everything he had, and committed it into the hands of God. For, he believed that for whatever Liberia had become, God had a way for them to stay alive. He would find it, and search for it if he did not find it the first time. Then he would lead the campaign to save lost souls back to God.
IT WAS evidently a case of having lived to fulfill his wishes, for what the Creator did for him. He knew he could not have it any other way. Death had come so close and yet, the hand of God had intervened, and it was no accident that he was alive. If for anything at all, James Zonn knew that he had had his demons destroyed, and it was time he lived true to his vows.
For now, it was nearly three years since the war ended, and it was just the period he had anticipated. What was more, the church that he was presently officiating as the lead pastor was making more progress, and sometimes he felt the blessings of God on him and it was time he concluded his aim.
As he contemplated on his past, his present and his future, there was every indication that he was among the blessed in the land that had enjoyed horror and sorrow. Who could he blame? He could blame the founding fathers of the land. And what was their crime? Why, did they neglect to remain true to the land of their adoption? Where were the schools or educational institutions that were supposed to help many of the people out of their ignorance? Wasn’t it true that when the rebels, mostly those of his countrymen, gained considerable control of the land, they killed anyone with an Identity Card? Didn’t they kill even those who shared the last name of the president of the republic whom they had been sent to eliminate? And it was true as he survived the war that his people, the very ones who were abused, rather took it upon themselves to just kill their fellow Liberians for sport. Weren’t their actions as a result of pure ignorance, since majority never had the privilege to have an education, and to know the difference between an enemy and a sympathizer?
He could argue against that because the leaders of the war were all men and women who had had valuable education. But again, he was horrified that his people, and later joined by other ethnic groups, like the Mandingos, slaughtered others at will. But supposed Liberia, the land of his birth, had been developed, and educational and other opportunities were plentiful, would it not have gone without saying that they would rather have been involved in more productive work, than joining the rebel armies, which circumstances caused their very existence? No, James Zonn, now the man of God was not trying to offer any form of justification for the crimes committed on the land by his countrymen. Yes, he was making an effort to understand the insanity that went beyond the ordinary cause of events during the fifteen years that the Liberian war lasted.
Now, across from him, Rev. Zonn watched at the figure seated before him at their Logan Town residence in Monrovia. Since the end of the war, and the formation of the new government, many things had happened, and very fast too. His beloved Klubor, sitting nearby, was mending a shirt that she very much wanted him to wear for this Sunday’s church service. Their three children, the oldest nine years old, played alongside his siblings, and the man of God felt blessed.
With his church drawing people to the Lord every Sunday, and the country recovering in a slow pace, the reverend agreed that more sacrifices were needed from all to redirect the future of Liberia. But he could not agree with those who had been clamoring for a quick recovery to the period that they had passionately called, “the good old days.” As a man of God he believed that if there was any period in the history of his country known as the “good old days,” those days were yet to come.
The events that resulted into the agony of the land were because of the mistakes of the past, yes, the same past others were calling the “good old days.” The people, he admitted, would have to develop a strong aversion to dealings and attitudes of the past when actions were taken for granted. The period when many of the people would not pay utility bills and individuals simply lived their lives for fun. It would have to change, and from that change one could say there could be some good days to come.
The man of God considered the fervor of the spirit demonstrated during the recent national elections, and admired the spirit and resourcefulness of the young people. He realized it was the same spirit the youths showed with vim during the course of the war. “If they can translate that attitude and spirit to nation building,” Rev. Zonn, mused, “there is every chance this country will enter into a period of goodness.” But the man of God didn’t believe that such a spirit could ever exist; and if it existed at all, it would not be utilized. Here, he saw his role as a man of God clearly, and in it he saw the heavy burden on his shoulders.
Rev. James Zonn had been a man of God for the last three years, and in those years, he had been able to draw many of the former child-soldiers to his church. There were some of the former child-soldiers that he recognized and many that had always stood before the congregation giving their testimonies. It was a situation that the man of God considered not only a miracle, but the kindness of God. And as a result he had commended the Liberian people for their outright forgiving spirit.
In some instances, some of the former child-soldiers had wept, and requested Rev. Zonn to call God’s anger on them so that they would die. In such instances, Rev. Zonn had made use of the Scriptures, and had opened several areas, and read God’s mercies to the frail souls of the former child-soldiers. And the reverend had on several occasions used their agonies to caution the now emerging new nation. Now was the time, Rev. Zonn had always said, whenever he had the occasion to pull the former child-soldiers from the pit of their sorrows. They had become more prone to shedding tears, and they reminded Rev. Zonn of the Scriptural admonition that in the last days, there would be mourning and the gnashing of teeth as God’s mercy drew near. Though Rev. Zonn considered the outburst of the former child-soldiers as signs of total repentance, he wished economic issues would move faster to make them self-sufficient to sustain themselves, a condition that was unknown to them for fifteen years, and therefore strange to the former child-soldiers.
Now as the man of God whispered a favorite gospel tune to himself, his eyes glowered with satisfaction, and he saw clearly the saving grace of his Creator. He felt sustained and blessed, for Liberia would continue to exist in peace and could result in prosperity, for the glory of God.