By Laura McKillip Wood
It was the 1980s, and civil war loomed on the horizon in the African nation of Liberia. Missionaries Ken and Carolyn Vogel and their children worked with Liberian medical workers at a clinic. One day, a man appeared at the clinic carrying two tiny babies. His 2-week-old twins, a girl and a boy, were fighting for their lives. His wife had fallen into a coma shortly after giving birth. Their aunt, who had a 10-month-old of her own, had been trying to nurse them, but her milk supply could not keep up with the demands of three babies. The twins were malnourished, feverish, and on the brink of death.
Ken and Carolyn’s hearts went out to the babies and their desperate father. Believing the children’s best chance of survival lay in them caring for the babies around the clock in their home, the Vogels offered to take the twins in until their health improved. However, they feared that if the babies did not survive, the family would blame them for their deaths. They also feared the babies’ father might decide not to return.
After a conference with the Liberian workers at the clinic, the father assured them he would return and that he would always know they had done their best to care for the babies, no matter what happened. He left the children there, planning to come back to get them in several weeks.
The twins spent most of their time in the arms of Ken, Carolyn, and their four children. The couple fed the babies formula from preemie bottles, gave them medication, and cared for them 24 hours a day. The babies grew stronger, their fevers went away, and when their father returned for them, he left with two healthy babies and a three-month supply of formula. “We prayed and hoped for their survival,” the Vogels say.
Much to their surprise and joy, Ken and Carolyn soon saw this small family again. Two weeks after leaving with his babies, the father returned. This time, he brought his wife! She had emerged from her coma and was recovering. This was an answer to their prayers.
The Vogels and their children left Liberia when civil war started not long after this. Life in Liberia became dangerous; most Americans and many Liberians left the country. Leaving Liberia wasn’t easy for the Vogel family, as they had made so many connections. In the 11 years they’d been there (1976-87), they worked in several different ministries. In addition to the clinic, they taught a weekly ministry training class, led ladies’ Bible studies, taught at Liberia Christian High School (LCHS) and College, trained village health workers, and encouraged local pastors and church leaders. The family had put down roots and grown to love their Liberian neighbors.
Nevertheless, they took a ministry at Hillsboro (Missouri) Christian Church, where they served for the next 27 years. They loved the people at Hillsboro, but they missed their friends in Liberia. They knew life was difficult for those they had left behind. The Vogels stayed in touch with them, encouraging them from afar and dreaming of the day they would return. That day came after the war ended in the early 2000s. In 2007, the Vogels began taking short-term mission trips back to the country that had captured their hearts so long ago. By 2014, Liberia became the focus of their ministry under the oversight of Hillsboro Christian Church and they were splitting their time between Liberia and the United States.
During the time since the civil war ended, Liberia has slowly begun to rebuild. The Vogels see this as an opportunity “to work alongside Liberians who have a vision of living a life honoring God and helping their fellow man.” Now they work with Fair Shake Village (FSV), located in one of the population centers of Grand Bassa County, Liberia. FSV is in the final stages of building a community center.
Ken and Carolyn and their Liberian partners have set some goals for their work. They hope to establish a sustainable school for K-12, encourage local pastors, develop microenterprises, work in the deaf community, demonstrate and encourage agriculture, and help the local people address health concerns. They carry out these things within a discipleship context, encouraging and growing relationships as they work with their Liberian partners.
Witnessing the growing faith of students and co-workers in Liberia over the decades has brought the Vogels great joy. Some of their former students from LCHS have gone on to become physician assistants, teachers, principals, senators, government leaders, pastors, and other contributing members of their communities. They feel blessed and privileged to work alongside these former students, helping them train new leaders in the process.
People Making a Difference
Ken and Carolyn have seen God work in wonderful ways in and through their brothers and sisters in Liberia. Ma Beh is one example of a faithful servant. Although many Liberians left during the civil war, she and her husband, Tom, stayed. Ma Beh had been an effective high school principal before the conflict broke out. She began seeing children orphaned, going hungry, and becoming homeless in the area where they lived. She and Tom began feeding them because, as she put it, “That’s what anyone would do.”
A heartman (similar to a witch doctor) once broke into her orphanage to kidnap a girl with a disability. Children with disabilities are prime targets for such men, who want to harvest their body parts for black magic rituals. The girl’s screams brought Ma Beh running. She not only saved the girl’s life by scaring off the man, but she and Tom built a wall around their yard and topped it with razor wire. Children raised by Ma Beh grew up knowing that when the world was dangerous and no one else cared for them, Ma Beh loved them fiercely.
This formidable matriarch passed away last March, four years after her husband. She left a legacy of love in the hearts of many children. The Vogels see people who live lives of love and passion, like Ma Beh, and they thank God for the chance to work alongside them.
As for the twins, the Vogels remembered them throughout their ministry in the States. They wondered what happened to them, but they didn’t know anyone who had any information. When the Vogels returned to Liberia in 2007, they carried pictures of the family in hopes that someone would recognize them. In 2018, a clinic worker led them to the village where the family still lived. Mom, dad, and both twins were doing well! They had a joyful reunion with the father and the girl twin, who visited and talked about how their lives had turned out. The tiny babies they had worked so hard to save were now 31 years old. The girl twin said she knew God had a plan for her because he had saved her life as a baby. As the Vogels say, it was “a story 31 years in the making!”
Laura McKillip Wood, former missionary to Ukraine, now serves as the registrar at Nebraska Christian College in Papillion, Nebraska, and works as an on-call chaplain at a nearby hospital. She and her husband, Andrew, have three teenagers.