25 years ago, Joseph Kebbie was one of the thousands of Liberians who fled to Guinea at the start of the civil war.
This war would go on to claim the lives of one out of every 17 people in Liberia. Of the survivors, nearly a million people would seek refuge in the surrounding countries—a quarter of a million arriving in Guinea.
From the start, the people of Guinea opened their heart and doors to Liberian refugees. Villages, even with the little they had, provided rice, took in orphans, and offered their farmland for tents. Each Sunday, Alliance churches took a special offering to buy food for hungry and frightened refugees. Yet church leaders knew they were running out of resources and turned to CAMA for help.
Robin Dirks, current vice president of CAMA and director of Mali at the time, went to assess the situation. He wrote in the Alliance Life on August 1, 1990:
We were amazed at how the local people shared their food, homes and land with the Liberians. What rice the villagers had was being consumed so quickly that they were in danger of using up their seed rice before planting time.
At the next village, we learned that the refugees had been given a coffee plantation on which to build huts. Those people were sacrificing their cash crop for these needy brothers and sisters from across the border.
The national church leaders are doing what they can with their limited resources. These men are burdened for the refugees’ physical and spiritual needs.
Soon after, CAMA sent Eric and Beth Bosenberg and Drew and Erin Bishop to assist the church in their relief efforts. Every month a small ration of rice, lentils, and oil was distributed to 65,000 people. By 1996, there was a team of 100 people working in the program, only six of those expats.
The team would leave their homes early in the morning to distribute food. Some days they would not arrive back until 9 or 10 at night. Other days were spent in the bush, delivering food to the remotest parts of West Africa.
As the Liberian Civil War continued on, the team decided they could do more. An agricultural assistance program began in 1992 helping refugees grow their own food. The church provided clothing and household materials. They provided drinking water to areas where there was none. The team operated counseling centers. They provided recreational facilities to help ease the boredom in camps. They improved sanitation facilities. In fact, this team became so effective it became an overall strategy of the UNHCR.
For Joseph Kebbie, this story is personal:
Growing up as a boy in our hometown of Foya, Liberia life was relatively okay. My dad was heading up a church there, plus doing a bit of business to take care of us. Then the unrest started.
I was among the thousands of Liberian refugees that crossed the border into Gueckedou, Guinea. As a teenager at the time, I had to find food for my family. I had to render services to people in return for food or money that could guarantee us a meal for that day. It was a difficult time. However, it was at this crucial stage of my life that I encountered a group that had a very positive impact on my life.
With Drew Bishop, head of CAMA Services in Gueckedou, help came to my family. The team provided nutritious food to dying babies, rice, oil, beans, etc., and in some cases provided cash for refugee families.
The personal side of this story is that I got my very first job as a receptionist at the counseling center. This job took me to another level as it provided a stable income for me. Today, I work with several Christian organizations like Reach Beyond, Christianityworks, and Good News Broadcast (UK). I’m also working on setting up a youth radio program.
This is all because I had that first opportunity to publicly interact and serve others. Had it not been for CAMA’s service to humanity, I’m not sure if I would have had that first job that gave me the experience to serve others.
As Drew Bishop wrote in 1993, “This story is not over.”
Joseph Kebbie’s story is one to celebrate on World Refugee Day. It’s a reminder of the good God brings in tragedy. It’s a reminder of the good that comes from partnerships. It’s a reminder of what can happen when the body of Christ joins hands to reach the hurting.
Behind the scenes of this story, are the hundreds of individuals and organizations from the US, Canada, and Europe that gave. Even more, the Alliance family prayed and kept praying. Let us not forget, the story is not over. In another 25 years, whose story of God’s providence will we celebrate together on World Refugee Day?