By Chad Koenen
Sometimes things just happen for a reason. Maybe a person is in the right place at the right time to save a person’s life. Perhaps they are waiting in line at a convenience store just long enough to meet a long lost friend. Or better yet, maybe they happen to meet a district president on a mission trip in Africa, befriend the person and eventually end up making nearly annual trips from a small town in Liberia to Henning each summer.
While the last example may be a bit specific, Pastor James Kollie fits the mold as the Liberian pastor has made just about annual trips from his home in Cotton Tree, Liberia to Lutheran Island Camp.
“Ken has been my good friend and the people there, like the staff members, have been really generous to me for hosting me for 10 years,” said Pastor Kollie.
Pastor Kollie’s somewhat unconventional journey to Lutheran Island Camp began in April 2012. At the time he was a guest of the district president Don Fondow at the Minnesota North District of LCMS Tri-annual Convention in Alexandria.
“I went over with LCMS Human Care World Relief with three other people. This was right after civil war ended in Liberia,” said President Fondow. “This was kind of to assess the need there and was the first time the church leaders got together since the war ended.”
During his time in Liberia, President Fondow said the group attended a worship service in Pastor Kollie’s church where they made a unique discovery.
“We were there for a worship service and they had a Lutheran hymnal and it said property of Redeemer Lutheran Church, Grand Forks, N.D.,” said President Fondow.
It was that visit in 2004 that sparked a friendship that would span the test of time and an ocean between them.
“He stayed for one week in Liberia where we had a connection. He promised to help us out,” said Pastor Kollie.
While the trip forced Pastor Kollie to leave his four children and wife behind in Liberia, he seized the opportunity to come to America and explain how the message of God is being spread throughout the small African country he calls home. The trip also gave Pastor Kollie an opportunity to visit friends in St. Louis and further his education in the church.
He was led to Lutheran Island Camp that year after attending a convention in Alexandria, Minn. and has made the rural Henning destination a routine stop on his travels to America.
“The people are incredible people. I have enjoyed working with Marv, Ken and the district. I appreciate them so much for all of the work they do. I just enjoy the comfort and the people.”Pastor James Kollie
Even though he makes just about an annual trip back to the area it isn’t always just about rest and relaxation. Pastor Kollie usually has a list of items he needs to get completed during his trip to the United States. Some years that includes raising money for his church back home, attempting to find ways to make education more affordable for children and orphans, constructing an auditorium at a school in Liberia, and this time around, helping to complete his doctrine in ministerial studies.
In addition to helping with his congregation, Pastor Kollie’s family has also received some help as three of his children either attend school in the United States or live here.
President Fondow credited the generosity of the people in the district for helping to share the word of God with people across the region.
“Liberia has recovered somewhat from the civil war, but the infrastructure there and from what we have is a world apart,” said President Fondow. “When you look at things there, we are tremendously blessed. To whom much is given, much is required.”
Due to COVID-19, Pastor Kollie wasn’t able to make his annual trip to the United States last year, which he has made every year since 2012. This year Pastor Kollie is attempting to finish his doctoral degree at the Fort Wayne, Ind., seminary. In order to complete his degree, Pastor Kollie needed some additional funding that he hopes to secure during his recent trip to the United States. He arrived in America on Feb. 6 and will be leaving to go back to Africa on April 20.
His time in America has been spent criss crossing the upper Midwest as he seeks funding for his church back home, his doctoral studies and work he needs to do for his schooling. Despite all of this work, Pastor Kollie has still managed to find time to catch up with President Fondow, the Lutheran Island Camp staff, and several congregations throughout the region.
When he returns to Liberia, Pastor Kollie will continue his ministry at Good Shepherd church in Cotton Tree Liberia. The church membership has ballooned over the years from just 27 members when he arrived in 2002 to several hundred today.