Vancouver Missionary David Waines was arrested, detained, and interrogated nearly two weeks ago for his opposition to the Liberian secret societies that attempt to assert control over that country’s government.
Just two days after returning to their Liberian hometown of Ganta, Waines was detained on his way to church July 15 by plainclothes military intelligence personnel. He was questioned regarding the content of a draft copy of their CIDA project proposal for the Hope Village. Hope Village, which Waines directs, is a Hope for the Nations (HFTN) project that houses a school, orphanages, and various agricultural projects in Ganta.
Calling the CIDA proposal a “pamphlet against the government,” military intelligence personnel questioned Waines for six hours. Their problem with the document — which Waines says outlines HFTN’s plan to help war-affected children and their families with health, education, assisting girls to stay in school longer and other training — was its stand against the secret Poro (also known as ‘Devil Bush’) and Sande societies.
In an e-mail written the following day, Waines said the objectionable part of the document states: “We have chosen to take a stand against the powerful secret Poro and Sande societies because they degrade and kill women, children and men. We will educate children about the dangers of these societies while avoiding direct clashes with the ‘Devil Bush’ (which tries to control the Government).”
Waines said he was initially released after his Liberian friends “reluctantly” agreed to a $70 bribe for the six intelligence agents. However, the next day, agents from Monrovia, the capital, arrived in Ganta and placed Waines under house arrest, ordering him to turn himself in to the highest military intelligence officials July 17 at noon. Waines was told he might be ordered to leave the country within 72 hours.
Waines and HFTN’s Liberian coordinator, Eleazar Gbengan, were both forced to turn themselves into military intelligence in Monrovia, and were imprisoned and interrogated for nearly 72 hours. While both were verbally threatened and intimidated, neither was physically harmed, Hope for the Nations General Manager Eric Frans said during an interview from the organization’s Kelowna headquarters.
Frans, who spoke to Waines by phone, said, “David is not the kind of guy you easily intimidate.” Frans reported that at one point a large, drunk general held a gun to Waines’ head, saying, “You’re afraid of guns, aren’t you?” Waines replied, “Really, not so much, no. But let me ask you a question: are you afraid of God?” Frans also reported that both men “witnessed to everybody they could get to listen” while in jail.
Both Waines and Gbengan were released Friday morning without explanation by authorities. Frans said HFTN’s main concern now is the safety of Gbengan, who has been issued a “number” of death threats from the Poro society, including one painted across a wall in Ganta. Waines believes his own safety is not a concern, Frans said.
Frans says Waines believes the Liberian government or the Poro society may be conspiring to take the 25 acres of land owned by Hope Village away from the organization. Ralph Bromley, president of HFTN, said in an e-mail that they believe there is an “enemy in the camp,” who is informing the authorities of the organization’s stand against the secret societies. This person apparently faxed copies of the CIDA document to Monrovia, he says, resulting in the Monday morning arrest of the two men.
“We are in a battle against injustice,” Bromley said. “The secret societies [Poro and Sande] are a prominent part of Liberian culture. These secret societies pressure girls into female circumcision, early pregnancies and compliance with sexual abuse. Boys are forcefully initiated into these societies and made to comply with the societies’ strategies to keep women, children and the uninitiated terrified of being sacrificed for ritualistic purposes. One of the girls in Hope Academy was ritualistically murdered last June. We will not back down from this battle.”
Bromley traveled to Ganta last July, arriving in time for the memorial service for Waywaseh Quee, the Hope Academy’s brightest student. Quee was found dead in the jungle in May of last year with her heart cut out. Frans says this is a trademark of the Poro society, which “takes the best,” believing that eating the heart or drinking the blood of an individual will give them that person’s power.