Coming Full Circle

June 06, 2014

Civil War, PTSD, and the Grace of God in the life of Yallah Kawala (M.A.B.C., ’04) 

Yallah Kawala came to Westminster Theological Seminary after leaving his home country, Liberia and attending Crown College for three years. During his time at Westminster, he struggled mightily with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) due to the Liberian civil war. By the grace of God and with the help of his professors and classmates, he was able to overcome his deepest struggles. The Liberian civil war ended in 2003, and he is now in his home country counseling his fellow countrymen dealing with the same PTSD from which he suffered. Yallah Kawala’s story is one of trial and triumph, marked by Christ’s care.

Yallah Kawala came to Westminster for the counseling program and its partnership with the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. He felt the desire to counsel and was considering various schools. Through the recommendation of a friend, he began to consider CCEF and Westminster. “I was in need of support, and God provided support when someone recommended CCEF, and I decided, by God’s intervention, to go.” The support to attend CCEF, and then Westminster, sent him on a path to healing from his own trauma.

When Yallah came to Glenside, PA, he was still dealing with the trauma of having spent seven years in the midst of Liberian civil war. “I came to Westminster at a time when I was really severely struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. I attempted suicide twice. It happened to be that I was trying to bury my trauma, get my degree, and leave.” However, as the professors urged students to work through their own issues before stepping out to counsel others, Yallah became fully convicted that this message was for him.

“They gave assignments that forced me to relate to the trauma that I was hiding, for I was hiding my traumatic experiences. I really want to thank God for professors like David Powlison, Mike Emlet, and Ed Welch—those are three people that were there for me whenever I needed them. It was through personal counseling with Dr. Emlet that I realized that I could really get help for my problems, and that’s when the healing started.”

Yallah started first at CCEF, but then transferred to Westminster. It was through biblical studies at Westminster that he gained a richer understanding of how the Bible can relate to all of life. “Westminster really helped me get the hermeneutics.  In interpreting the Bible, how do you apply it to yourself, how do you relate to a problem? It wasn’t just about the psychology of finding help, it was about looking to Jesus to find help in every way, and that’s really what led me to freedom.”

More than the classes, however, it was the relationships with the professors and with fellow students that God used to help Yallah on the path toward healing. Drs. Powlison, Welch, and Emlet made themselves available to meet with him. He says, “They would welcome me. Sometimes I met with them when I was hiding traumatic memories, which were making me exhibit some improper behaviors, but they were rather calm and welcoming and smiling in the process of helping me pull out those memories. That gave me freedom to speak out what I needed urgently. I did that a couple of times with Mike Emlet, and it was my conversations with him that led to powerful healing.”

Also, his fellow classmates were a great encouragement to him. “In relationships with my fellow Africans, Yakubu & Esther Kutai, Joseph [Dyaji], Cephas [Tushima] and Philip [Tachin] from Nigeria—we connected so well that we still try to encourage one another. Even the Americans, Karl Fritz, Jonathan Pitts—some of them took me to their churches to share my story and through them I got some help and some support.”

After graduation, Yallah returned to his home country of Liberia. The civil war officially ended in 2003, yet he returned to find that there was still much strife and trouble and much work to do. He is currently helping to start a church plant, and his focus is on counseling those within the community who are dealing with various forms of trauma or PTSD. “The need is so huge that, after some meetings, I have to receive telephone or Skype counseling from abroad to help me, just so I don’t get carried under.”

The things that he learned while at Westminster have helped him immensely as he seeks to communicate the gospel. “My learning at Westminster was more than academic, so much experience. I was going through a serious point, so I was being counseled as well as taught to counsel. When I speak to people, I’m speaking to people that I can relate to now because I went through the war myself; I can share my experience as well as share the teaching I got in the process. The teaching helped me with my experience, and I’m trying to help them and relate to them in counseling in that process, and it’s been amazing!”

Yallah’s primary prayer is for his country. Liberia is not hostile towards Christianity, however it generally holds to a prosperity gospel that is devoid of meaning in the lives of a war-torn country. “My ultimate prayer is that people will come to know Jesus Christ on a deeper level than on the superficial level of the popular prosperity gospel which surrounds this place so much. People sometimes think that if you have enough money it will solve the problem or if you go to church that will solve the problem. But you find out that some pastors are more corrupt than even politicians on many levels because they are exploiting churches just for their personal gain. My prayer is that people would know Jesus Christ on a deeper level and that God would provide those who can provide counseling and clarity to people so they can come to Jesus on a personal and deeper level.”

Yallah also prays for more people to serve in Liberia for the great need that is there. “One of the things I’m doing is trying to get in touch with some pastors that I trust and know here that, if they went to Westminster for study, they would be willing to come back and help the people [in Liberia].” 

Yallah has written two books about his experience, Concealed by the Light, which describes his experience during the civil war, and Consoled by the Light, which describes his healing process after the war. Please keep Yallah Kawala in your prayers as he seeks to counsel people in Liberia from the whole counsel of God.