Man who escaped Liberian rebel forces shares testimony as church celebrates John Wesley’s birthday
By Jessica Brodie
ORANGEBURG, S.C.—Wynston Doe isn’t able to count his blessings—for him, there have been far too many.
From miraculous checkpoint pass-throughs to facing down a gun pointed at him more than once, Doe was just a boy when rebel forces overthrew the government in Liberia, his nation of birth and the place he fled forever 20 years ago.
But even in the hardest of times, his father imprisoned and killed and his neighbors dying all around him, “Through it all, I learned to trust in Jesus.”
That’s the word offered by Doe, a Liberian American now a member of St. Andrews United Methodist Church, Orangeburg.
Doe’s testimony came June 28, at an ice cream social thrown by St. Andrews in honor of Methodism John Wesley’s 320th birthday.
A packed crowd came to enjoy birthday cake and ice cream sundaes as they heard the inspiring faith testimony of one man who escaped rebel forces in Liberia with his life—and who now has much to say about what it means to keep faith even in the most trying of times.
‘War kept coming’
Doe’s story began in 1980, when a military coup d’etat brought down the government of Liberia, where his family was employed. Just a kid then, Doe lived in a small city with his parents, four brothers and a sister, and he distinctly remembers the fear coursing through his home as his father was requested to report after the overthrow.
“My mom cooked him his favorite meal, and he promised to come back that night,” Doe recalled.
To their delight, his father returned and for the next nine years worked for the new government, enjoying relative peace.
“But war kept coming,” Doe said.
Food became scarce, and they began to stockpile cash and other provisions. His mother had passed away during this time, and some of Doe’s older brothers had moved out and started families of their own.
Then Doe’s life changed forever. As killings escalated all around him, finally the family made the decision to go into hiding‚ and eventually, to escape. Their surname, Doe, happened to be the same as the president, even though they were no relation, so he started using his mother’s maiden name, Wilson.
As they walked toward refuge, they would encounter checkpoints. But not everyone made it through.
“People were shot on the road as they walked. They killed those who didn’t pass.
Doe’s family paused to pray, and as they did, he recognized a rebel soldier he knew—a man who was fully aware he was “a Doe,” not a Wilson.
Doe’s heart pounded—what would the man do? He knew the family well, having stayed at their home for a time thanks to the generosity of Doe’s father. But times had changed, and now the man clearly had a role with the rebels.
“You! Tall man! Step out of line with your family!” the soldier ordered them.
Fear gripped him, but they did as they were told.
“Open your bags,” the soldier ordered.
Finally, he uttered the words that filled their family with relief: Let them go.
They crossed the checkpoint—alive.
But even in their new place of refuge, the danger persisted. Once, recovering from malaria, he was sitting in the sun when three men approached, one with a gun.
“Aren’t you Mr. Doe?” one asked, recognizing him from the university where Doe had taught prior to their escape.
“No, I’m Wilson. I have a doppelganger,” Doe insisted.
One day, everything changed. Armed soldiers confronted Doe’s father, discovering his identity. His father admitted he was the man they sought.
Before his arrest, he asked to pray with his children.
“He put his hand on my head,” Doe said, eyes filling with tears. “He said, ‘I want you to promise me you’ll take care of your little brother and sister henceforth.’”
It was the last time he would see his father.
Rebel forces took his life.
More close calls
Years passed, and Doe returned to his hometown with his younger siblings. Much had changed in the time they had been gone, and their house was looted and wrecked, even the ceiling.
Doe had also become a parent to his brother and sister, keeping his promise to his father to take care of his siblings like his own in spite of his young age.
He was shocked at the animosity held by his neighbors, people who used to be so friendly and who now took things that had been theirs.
One night, after a lengthy time without food, Doe was able to secure some rice from a friend, and he brought it home. His siblings rejoiced at the food, and they got so loud their cries attracted the attention of some soldiers passing by.
The soldiers knocked at their door, demanding to know what was happening.
Doe pleaded with them in their native language, seeking an alliance. One pointed his gun at Doe—then let him go.
Another time, he encountered another soldier—only to discover it was one of his own older brothers. That brother was able to warn them of an impending attack.
Eventually, they fled their nation for good, escaping first to Ghana and ultimately to the United States, which Doe has called “home” for almost 20 years.
Through it all, Doe shared, his blessings have abounded. Today they are so numerous he can’t even begin to count them.
But more than anything, he’s learned to rely on Jesus, understanding that all is ultimately made right in Jesus’s name.
‘Whole and holy’
The Rev. Ken Nelson also spoke at the birthday celebration, lifting up the work of Wesley and the impact the Methodist movement has had on places around the globe, including Liberia, where Doe was raised in the United Methodist church.
“But there are people in the world who have yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” Nelson said, urging people to remember Wesley’s call to make the world their parish, not only their local community.
“Jesus makes a difference in making people whole and holy,” Nelson shared.