December 31, 2002, Freetown, Sierra Leone
We were meeting on New Year’s Eve in a dirty, one room school building. I was sitting on the platform during worship with my friend, Evangelist Tom Ferguson and the room filled up with smoke. This was Sierra Leone, West Africa so my first thought was that the building must be on fire. But, the smoke had no smell!
Tom and I thought it might be an electrical fire, so we walked around the walls examining all of the light fixtures. No electrical fires, no shorts. Next, we looked outside to see if the smoke was coming from some trash burning nearby or perhaps a heavy fog had descended? No exterior fires, no fog. As we came back in, we noticed that the smoke had gotten so thick that you could only see the feet of the people on the platform. Their heads were in a cloud. But….there was no smell to the smoke!
The inexplicable smoke came twice, but my story starts five years earlier. It actually started with an usual phone call from a Pastor friend in 1997. He and his wife were about to leave for Israel and there was a “refugee” from Sierra Leone staying at their house. The man was a “Bishop” who had been forced to flee because of a violent coup led by Muslim extremists in his country. My friend asked me to check on the guy and make sure he had whatever he needed. I’d never even heard of Sierra Leone, but of course I agreed to help.
The day they left for Israel, I stopped by to meet the man. I was tremendously honored to meet a “Bishop” from Africa and a fellow Christian who had actually suffered persecution because of his faith in Jesus Christ. He told me about the horrific, civil war that was raging in his country. The war began on March 23, 1991 when Sierra Leone’s Revolutionary United Front (RUF), in partnership with Charles Taylor, Dictator of Liberia and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), attempted to overthrow the government of Sierra Leone in an effort to gain control of the diamond rich areas of the country. Some of this was portrayed in the popular movie, “Blood Diamonds.”
Not content with just fighting against the lawful government troops, and fueled by a mixture of cheap drugs and alcohol, the rebels set out to terrorize the nation. In the signature atrocity, they would overwhelm a town or a village and line up every survivor. Often stripping the entire population naked, the soldiers would make every person draw a piece of paper that identified what body part would be chopped off with machetes that had been dulled with much use. This sick lottery resulted in tens of thousands of beheadings and mutilations. No one was spared, from the youngest infant to the oldest grandmother. They frequently “played a game” that involved guessing the sex of unborn children, determining the winner by cutting the baby from its still living mother.
The nightmarish war destroyed most of the country, causing almost 1/3 of the population to leave their national borders and killing over 50,000 people. For 11 years, the demonic soldiers randomly burned houses, amputated limbs, gouged out eyes, raped, tortured and murdered on a national scale. Bishop (we used “Bishop” as his first name) fled in early 1997 when the rebel forces overran his home area in Freetown, the Capitol of Sierra Leone, and he made his way to the U.S. as a refugee. This is the situation as he described it to me.
I was ashamed that I’d never heard of his country and knew nothing about the ongoing civil war. Deeply moved by his story, I asked Bishop if we could pray together for his family, his churches and his war torn nation. As we began to pray my eyes filled with tears out of compassion for the horrors this man had endured. Then as we continued to pray, something supernatural happened. The air became permeated with the strong smell of incense. Breaking from our prayer, I asked Bishop if he was burning incense somewhere in the house. He smelled the overwhelming fragrance too, but he assured me that he didn’t even have any incense.
The wonderful fragrance was thick and it clung to both of us for a long time. At first, we thought maybe something was burning in the house, but we found nothing that could explain it. Then I remembered that supernatural incense manifests sometimes in church that we believe is based on the following scripture:
Ps 141:2 Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. KJV
Quickly realizing that the Lord had flavored our prayers with His supernatural incense, I wrongly assumed that He was endorsing the Bishop. I left him after a few hours, determined to learn more about Sierra Leone and anxious to do whatever I could to help.
It turned out that the “Bishop” had given himself that lofty title, and he actually only had two very small churches. His primary church met in a rented, one room school house in Freetown, the Capitol city, and he had established one small rural church with its own building. We helped Bishop find a car, work and an apartment and we began to send a little money directly to his remaining associate, Pastor Sidikie, who was still in Freetown overseeing the 2 churches. Over the next few months, Mary and I also helped some of his other countrymen to come and find refuge in the United States.
Bishop and I lost touch after a while, but I became close friends with Pastor Sidikie, who was still living in Freetown and pastoring the church that met in the rented school. Most of the people I met from Sierra Leone came from the two small churches that we had adopted. Mary and I loved them all and we developed a love for their war torn Nation without ever having been there. From 1997 until the war ended in 2002, it was impossible for me to fly into Sierra Leone, but I had a tremendous desire to visit them and meet Pastor Sidikie, face to face.
On January 18, 2002, the government declared the Sierra Leone Civil War officially over. At that time, the United Nations placed the world’s largest ever group of Peace Keeping Forces in the country, in an attempt to hold things together. The peace held and I began making plans to fly over for my first visit. I asked my dear friend from South Carolina, Evangelist Tom Ferguson, to join me and he agreed. We set the target dates for our visit during Christmas and New Years of 2002.
As 2002 wound down, and the time for our trip drew nearer, I was often in prayer at our church in Virginia about the mission. One day the Lord spoke clearly to me and said, “I want you to go into the Main Sanctuary and pray for 3 hours.” This was not completely unusual, but I had a sense of anticipation in my spirit as I entered the sanctuary. I looked at my watch so I would know when my three hours was up, and I started to pray about everything I could think of concerning our trip to Sierra Leone.
When my prayer time was drawing to a conclusion, I knelt in the center aisle, looking toward the altar area, while counting down with my watch. At exactly three hours to the minute, I raised my hands and waited for SOMETHING to happen…but nothing did. Initially, I looked around to see if anything was stirring, but nothing was. I held that holy pose (kneeling with my hands raised) briefly while looking around, then I sat back on my feet and relaxed. I started to think, “I know God said to pray for three hours, but nothing seems to have come of it. Well, perhaps the Lord did something I
don’t know about?”
Still sitting on the floor, I looked at my watch and noticed it had now been three hours and ten minutes, so I was about to get up and move on with my day. Suddenly, an Angel stepped through the wall behind the altar area where I was still facing. He was about 20′ to 25′ tall and proportioned unlike any angel painting you may have ever seen. Wearing what I would describe as a leather tunic, he was massive, thick chested and covered with incredibly well developed muscle. He was an awesome being, emanating power and strength that is completely indescribable. If he had been only 5 feet tall, he would have easily weighed over 500 pounds.
The angel had a military bearing about him and he stared straight ahead, never once looking at me. Honestly, I didn’t want this particular angel to notice me. While making myself smaller on the floor, I watched him for a few moments and the Spirit of the Lord spoke to me, “I have sent my angel to go before you into Sierra Leone.” Then, with a parade ground, soldier-like move, he stepped directly backward through the wall and was gone. He never spoke to me and I’ve never seen him again.
I was still staring with my mouth open, just as you would expect and I was deeply affected and puzzled by this encounter. Oddly, I looked at my watch and wondered why he didn’t show up during the 3 hours, that the Lord had instructed me to pray? Why did he come ten minutes after I stopped praying? I know that sounds stupid, but that was my first thought. In the midst of this surreal experience, I had another thought, “If this is actually happening and that angel is going to Sierra Leone, something big is going to happen.” And I remembered what the Bible says in, Heb 1:14 Angels are merely spirits sent to serve people who are going to be saved. CEV
Now churning with excitement, I suddenly realized that the Lord had just shown me His angelic servant who He was sending as our co-laborer. Then I knew, we would be victorious, because the Lord was with us and no demonic power in Heaven or on Earth could stand against that mighty angelic warrior. After first discussing this with our church Sexton, who found me still on the sanctuary floor, I called Tom Ferguson and told him what had happened.
A few weeks later, Tom and I flew to Sierra Leone. It was a tremendous blessing to finally meet Pastor Sidikie and the others, with whom I had long corresponded. The fingerprints of war were everywhere, with many burned out buildings in evidence. The roads were still littered with abandoned cars and wrecked military vehicles. Buildings all over the city were in ruins and many of those still standing were pockmarked with bullet holes. There was no electricity and there were no hotels. We stayed in a “Guest House” with a water barrel full of mosquito larva for our shower. Drunken former rebel soldiers partied all night in the streets, right outside of our room.
We had lots of great meetings, but nothing extraordinary happened until New Year’s Eve. Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim country, but their brand of Islam is mixed with local superstition. The Muslim’s believe it is good luck to be in a Christian Church at midnight on New Year’s Eve, so most evangelical churches hold outreaches to Muslims on New Year’s Eve. Pastor Sidikie planned a special service and asked for Evangelist Tom Ferguson to preach a short, powerful salvation message just before 12:00 Midnight. We met in the rented, one room, Wilkinson Road School, where Sidikie normally led church services only on Sundays. I’ll never forget; it was Tuesday, December 31, 2002.
The service was long and typical for most of the evening. The room’s maximum capacity was perhaps 500, but I would guess that we started with fewer than 200 people. As midnight approached, people began to crowd in from the three exterior doors until we were packed out. Worship was anointed and nice, but nothing exceptional happened until the smoke began to fill the room.
I first noticed the smoke as a dim haze hanging over the crowd and putting haloes around the lights. My first thought was that this pitiful, broken down school was about to catch on fire. I grabbed Tom Ferguson and we went looking for the source of the smoke. All of the lights were single fixtures with screwed in bulbs and pull-cords, set along the walls. We examined them all and they weren’t shorted out or smoking. Then we looked all around the building outside and there was no smoke anywhere.
As we came back into the building, the music stopped and it was time for Tom to preach, so we returned to the platform. As he spoke, the smoke dissipated, so I lost interest in it. The message was good, but unexceptional. Before Tom could finish giving his alter call, people spontaneously burst out in tears, as the manifested presence of God filled the room. Instantly, that rented school house became like the Throne Room of God on Judgment Day. People were screaming and begging to be saved, diving forward in great heaps at the altar on the concrete floor, with others manifesting demons and writhing backwards trying to get away from the mighty presence. People were spontaneously healed, saved, delivered from demons and touched by the undeniable, inescapable Hand of God. It felt like Heaven to me.
Tom tried to lead the repentant, blubbering hoard in the Sinner’s prayer for salvation in JESUS and the room again began to fill with smoke, but this time it swept in a moment and it came so thickly that we could only see a few feet in front of us. Then, it finally dawned on me that the smoke had no smell and no natural source. The floor was still littered with sobbing bodies, but I went looking for my camera to try and get a picture of the smoke, which I now believed was not from this world. As I located my camera, the newly saved, former Muslims began to celebrate, with a few still trying to get their bearings. These are the images my camera captured.
Meetings continued for the next few days and nights until Tom and I flew back to the U. S. When I returned from Africa in January of 2003, I took the photographs to a photography shop for printing, and I asked for their explanation. The individual that owned the shop initially assumed I had photographed some type of party with balloons. When I explained that these were photographs of “smoke,” his mouth hung open for a bit, and then he placed the pictures under a series of higher magnifications, and was ultimately unable to explain them.
The pictures and the digital card were also examined by one of our Military’s top experts on satellite photography. He explained that digital photography uses very similar technology for the creation of imagery as satellite photography. After he completed his examination, he stood before our entire church on a Sunday morning and said, “There is no known law of photography or physics that would explain these images.” He went on to say that this was not a technical malfunction, nor was it lens dust. I mention the dust, because others have come up with photos showing a few similar “balloons” that are explicable as lens dust, or some type of lighting issue.
Ultimately, there is no natural way to explain or convince anyone of what transpired. I was there, and initially I thought it had to be some type of natural phenomenon. These were the first photographs of their kind that I had ever seen or heard of. Later, people tried to say this was a “glory cloud,” or “the great cloud of witnesses.” Some have called them “holy orbs,” but that sounds hyper-spiritual to me. My favorite potential explanation came from a friend, who pointed out the following scripture in his King James Bible,
Acts 2:19 And I will shew wonders in heaven above, and signs in the earth beneath; blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke: KJV
In the years that have followed, I’ve seen many similar photographs, including some that were taken in demonic settings. So, I can’t explain the pictures, but I can tell you what happened after they were taken. A transformation began among those in attendance at our meetings. I believe that the Glory of God came down in that dirty, rented school house on December 31, 2002 and the evidence of that has now manifested in the natural realm. Everyone who was in that outreach meeting was forever changed.
Since that time, the two small GEM churches have been in full blown revival. They have grown into a national network of 38 churches and 11 Christian schools. They also spilled over into neighboring Liberia, planting 5 churches and 3 schools there. My friend, Pastor Sidike, has gone from leading a few hundred people, to leading a national movement with 1000s of people. Sierra Leone is a predominantly Muslim country, but somehow they elected a Christian president in 1997 who is now serving his second 5 year term. Pastor Sidikie is close friends with their President and his wife. He sat next to them during the first and second inauguration, and he meets with the President every Monday for prayer.
The GEM church story is still being written. We completed two new church buildings in the first months of 2015, and 8 more are planned for this year. We are also currently building an orphanage for the children of Ebola victims. In the near future, I may tell you the story of the entire town that got saved and collectively abandoned, then destroyed, their local Mosque. And I may share the amazing story of remote Yaira, where a church now stands for what we understand is the first time in human history. You also might be interested in our frequently attacked GEM church that is planted in an area known as the West African epicenter for demonic rituals, shape-shifting and human sacrifice. There are many Glory Stories and MUCH fruit that has come after the smoke.
The “bubbles” have now appeared in photographs taken many places around the world that I have personally been. The common thread seems to be a mighty outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit in the meetings.
The photos on the previous pages are from Sierra Leone in 2002.
These are from India in 2003.
These are from Ghana in 2004.
And these are from Sierra Leone later in 2004.
They were taken by three different cameras and 3 different photographers. I have lots of others, including some taken with 35mm film, but these were the first ones I ever saw.
We’ve never made a big deal out of the “bubbles”, and I’ve never tried to convince anybody that I smelled supernatural incense or saw an angel before we went to Africa. The smoke and the photographs could ultimately have some natural explanation, but what God has done is undeniable. God has saved multiplied 1000s of former Muslims and Animists in Sierra Leone, through the ministry of those who were in the GEM meeting on New Years Eve in 2002. God has transformed previously unknown Pastor Sidikie, into a National leader with an international ministry. And it all started, Suddenly, When the Glory Came.
Friends, I believe that God came down in Freetown, Sierra Leone on December 31, 2002. And I believe that He preceded His visit by sending “His Angel” before He came. I have been an eye witness to the outpouring that followed and it continues, unabated to this day. I am NOT fascinated with inexplicable bubbles, but the Bible says signs and wonders follow those who believe. (Mark 16:20) We DO NOT run after signs and wonders. We preach the Gospel of JESUS Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever. God comes down when the Gospel is preached and He transforms individuals and nations. May the Holy Spirit of the Living God touch and transform you today. May our Risen Lord Jesus come quickly.