Equipping Refugees to be Missionaries in Their Homeland

Updates | Stories | Lives Changed

Liberia, 1989 — Torli shoots up from his bed at four in the morning, wide awake and in a cold sweat. He hears fists pound heavily onto his door and windows. Barely breathing, he sits still in the darkness as his heart nearly beats out of his chest.

“Open up! Come out!” voices bellow from outside. “We see your car, and we know you’re in there!” A recent newspaper headline flashes in Torli’s mind: THREE REBELS DECAPITATED. They bang harder. “We’re coming inside if you don’t open!”

Shaking with fear, Torli gets out of bed and opens his front door, wondering if these will be his last moments on earth. Strong hands grip his body tightly and drag him outside. He sees seven soldiers, strapped with AK-47s, prepared to riddle his body with bullets. Although Torli isn’t a rebel, he’s been travelling frequently between his home country and America, and therefore is a suspect worthy of extermination. Shouts and accusations fill the air as the soldiers aim their guns to fire.

“You can’t kill me.” The words fall from Torli’s mouth without him meaning to. It’s as if someone’s controlling his tongue. “I work for the United States,” he continues, his chest rising and falling. “Kill me, and they’ll kill you.” He pulls out his badge to prove his words.

The soldiers’ hard expressions fall, horror painting their faces.  The men almost look more terrified than he was. Unable to carry out their execution, they settled on taking his money and then retreated. God has helped Torli escape a death many of his countrymen won’t.

A Short History of Liberia

The wars that devastated Liberia are complex, and to understand it, you have to start at the beginning. Liberia was first established as an American colony for freed slaves and free-born African Americans in 1822. But there was friction between the African Americans who resettled in Liberia and the indigenous people of the land. These Americo-Liberians became an elite minority group who dominated the government and held disproportionate political power over the indigenous people. In 1980, a military coup overthrew the government and assassinated the president. Nine years later, a rebel group launched an insurrection against the new government, leading the nation into civil wars that would shrink the Liberian economy by 90%, displace millions as refugees, and leave over 250,000 people dead.

Torli’s Story

Torli Krua was a pastor’s son born in Liberia to parents led to Christ by Baptist missionaries. As an adult, he landed a job that made him travel back and forth between his country and Boston, Massachusetts. Massachusetts also happened to be where Charles Taylor, the Liberian politician who led the rebel insurrection in 1989, was educated and had escaped from prisoned. Torli looked like a prime suspect in the new Liberian government’s eyes. With the help of the U.S. Embassy, he was able to flee the country and live in Boston. His parents came to join him.

In America, Torli and his family were heartbroken about the refugee crisis. Many Liberian refugees were unable to get work permits and struggled to support themselves and their families. “We need to start a refugee ministry,” his faither said. They wrote a letter to the agency that sent the Baptist missionaries who led Torli’s parents to the Lord, asking for support. Torli remembers the day he found his dad, sitting with his head in his hands, looking sadder than he’d ever seen him.

“Dad? What’s wrong?”

His father looked up, defeat in his eyes. “They said no,” he replied solemnly. “The missionary agency doesn’t want to support our refugee ministry because we’re not American citizens.” The idea of Liberians ministering to their own people was too novel.

So, Torli and his family started the refugee ministry on their own.

Introduction to Missions Door

Torli visited Liberia after the collapse of the government. It was eerie to have to enter his own country with the military because airports had ceased operation. He walked around his city, disturbed deeply by its transformation. So many people he knew were dead. Children were starving, no one had jobs, stores were looted, and there was no electricity. The silence in the streets made his heart ache; the church bells had stopped ringing. He will never forget the skeleton he saw sitting in a chair, presumably untouched for years. He will never forget the woman being denied to return to the states where she was educated, owned property, and lived. The wails of the infant in her arms echo in his ears till this day.

When Torli was in seminary, he wrote passionately about his refugee ministry. “During war, people look to the U.S. for freedom. They see the Statue of Liberty’s torch, but they arrive at her feet, covered in spiritual darkness. Government sponsored refugee organizations cannot give the gospel, meaning we are welcoming refugees to come to America and die.” His powerful words caught the attention of a professor who took him out for tea. Torli explained to him that through their ministry, he and his father are giving refugees the gospel and teaching them that America is not the last stop for them. Rather, they are equipping them to return to their home countries once it’s safe and bring reconciliation, economic development, and salvation to their people.

“What missionary agency are you working with?” the professor asked.

“Missionary agencies aren’t interested in working with us,” Torli explained, glumly. “They only want to send Westerners to Africa.”

“Have you heard of Missions Door?”

Torli’s Ministry Today

Torli is not only a Missions Door missionary to refugees in America, but a human rights activist for Liberians. On his own and with Missions Door, he’s planted churches in Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Providence, and Boston. He’s an advocate for refugees from more than 40 countries. He has helped pass the Liberian Refugee Fairness Act and gained recognition from congress. Many of the refugees he’s worked with have returned to their home countries as missionaries, politicians, lawyers, and more.

“There are very few American churches who are involved in refugee work, and this is because refugees are viewed through the lens of politics. Democrats are on one side, Republicans are on the other, and human beings are in the middle,” he explains. It’s especially sad when you consider that many refugees are open to hearing the gospel. In Torli’s experience, when most of them are asked how they arrived in America, they respond, “God.” But many Christians aren’t seeing that God is bringing refugees to their land, not only for their own salvation, but to be a witness of His power to lost Americans and the world. God is orchestrating evangelism and revival in our divided nation through refugee-led churches.  “No one has to go across the world anymore to reach the lost. The world has moved next door. The lost are coming to our country.”

Matthew 24 warns Christians of wars and natural disasters. This prophesy has come true, and we are seeing non-Christians arrive at our doors because of it. What should we do? According to the following chapter, we are to serve those who are most in need and through that, we’ll be serving Christ Himself. Pray that more American churches will serve refugees and use Torli’s resettlement model, helping refugees find Jesus and return to their countries as leaders. Pray that the very same refugees escaping war, natural disasters, and persecution will lead the Church. Pray also for the rights of refugees, as many are still being denied work permits.

A message from Torli:

This spring, our refugee-led missions team is visiting returned refugee missionaries in Africa as well as preaching at church conferences at American churches. This model of non political Christian approach to refugee resettlement is called “From There To Here and Back,” and we invite American to witness and participate virtually via zoom from the comfort of your church or home. We invite you to support this 21st century biblical missions opportunity and approach to revival and evangelism in the United States and globally. Specifically, the Pan African Ministry Fund at Missions Door supports refugee-led efforts that supports refugees returning to Africa.

Torli is a Liberian Missions Door missionary to Liberians. He’s as passionate about indigenous ministry as we are. You can support him at his page here, and you can support African refugees returning home as missionaries by donating to the Pan African Ministry Fund. If you’d like to support our initiative for indigenous missionaries like Torli, you can do so through our Strategic Advance Fund.

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