Admit it, once in your life you’ve encountered a strange request from someone in a country not so familiar to you, asking for a pretty hefty request, whether it be money or something just as valuable. They may have popped up to you via social media or slipped a sneaky message into your emails.
For some of you, it’s an immediate decline, and you do not respond to what you know is a scam. For others, you may initially want to help, before the warning bells start to ring in your head, and you decide you want nothing to do with this person. For Utah’s Ben Taylor, the courageous man wanted to see if he could do something different from most and turn the situation around completely.
A Troubled Man in Need
50-year-old Joel Willie is an inhabitant of Liberia in West Africa. Living in one of the poorest countries in the entire world, Joel struggled daily with financial issues. How did he try to resolve it? Through the power of social media, Facebook to be precise.
Joel was desperate to get himself out his financial rut, and wave goodbye to poverty. A father of seven kids, Joel admitted his hunt for money would cause “a lot of things to run into your mind.” His thoughts eventually took him to Mark Zuckerberg’s social platform, where he would spend most days making bold requests to strangers, effectively asking them for money.
How The Story Began
April 2018 was an ordinary month for Joel Willie, he was continuing to try his luck on Facebook, but never really getting much success. In this wired-up day and age, the public are pretty susceptible to knowing when they are being scammed, and do not often respond. That was the unfortunate case for Joel, until he reached out to one particular man.
April 2018 was a typical month for the marketing manager, Ben Taylor from Utah, too. Like virtually anyone else you know, this guy was innocently scrolling through his Facebook timeline when a message popped up to him. Nothing too out of the ordinary right? Not for long.
When Ben Met Joel
So, Joel from West Africa had reached out to Ben. Then what happened? The first thing that Ben noticed about this message was that it came from someone not in his list of friends. That sparked red flag number one. After reading the request, Taylor just became even more suspicious.
The message read: “My name is Joel from Liberia, West Africa. I need some assistance from you. Business or financial assistance dat will help empower me.” This was the regular template that Joel tended to use on all the Facebook subjects he reached out to.
Ben Was Not Buying It
Not willing to let any stranger get the better of him, Ben’s immediate thought was that this was a scam, for sure. We mean, who messages a totally random person and asks them for money? However, if you thought that like most of us, Ben simply ignored Joel’s request and continued with his day as usual, you’d be seriously underestimating this guy.
It turns out that over the years, Taylor had been the subject for numerous messages just like this one. To put it simply, this was not Ben Taylor’s first scam experience. You may think this crazy, but Ben decided to give this guy a chance, knowing full well it was a scam. No, we’re not kidding.
Playing Along With It All
Ok, so Ben wasn’t going to let this random man scam him, so what did he do? Using the smart skills he had obtained after receiving several messages like this in the past, the Utah manager did something possibly no one has ever done before.
Ben Taylor offered Joel Willie a business proposal. Yes, you are reading that correctly. He provided his marketing knowledge to give some “business or financial assistance dat will help empower” this man. He knew it was a bold move, but what harm could it do?
What Was the Incentive?
If you’re feeling a little confused reading this, this may help clear things up. After almost being fooled in the past by scammers, Taylor was keen to get his own back. It became a passion of his to play games with these deceiving masterminds, and Joel was the first in line.
This is one story that gets juicier the more we learn about it. Taylor denied Joel’s initial request to send him over some used electronics and instead told the West African chancer that he owned a photography business. Of course, this was a total lie, but Joel didn’t have to know that just yet.
The Hidden Truth Behind This
So, how did the proposal come into fruition? After revealing his fictitious career, Taylor went one step further and asked Joel to send him some pictures he’d taken, perhaps of the Liberian sunset. He led the West African man to believe that he would use his almighty business skills to sell the photographs. This idea would, in turn, generate lots and lots of money, or so Joel was led to believe.
Ben Taylor’s business proposal had another secret intention. He wanted to make his story as detailed and intricate as he could, to waste as much of the scammer’s time as possible. The more time Willie was spending on this fake errand, the less time would be spent scamming other innocent people on Facebook. Was Ben Taylor a genius, or what?
Not Quite What Ben Had in Mind
So, did Joel send the pictures? You bet he did. Ben was excited to receive numerous images arrive quickly in the post. Taylor was hesitant in believing that his master plan would work at first, but Joel was well and truly getting roped into the fabricated mission. This was a huge step forward.
Observing the photos of the sun shining through some blurry palm trees, it became sudden knowledge that they didn’t quite meet the criteria of photography guru, Ben Taylor. Living in such reduced circumstances, Joel didn’t have the money to obtain a device fit for taking decent quality pictures. Cue the next installment to Taylor’s master plan.
No Stopping Him
Taylor was starting to have some fun with his trick. He wanted to make it the story as believable as possible, so admitted to Joel that the pictures just weren’t good enough to sell. He still wanted things to progress, so he made a little donation.
By this point, Taylor was too deep into his fictitious story to find a way out of it. He wanted to build the story as much as he could. That is why he shipped over a $30 camera for Joel. With his cool new gadget, Joel could get that perfect sunset shot. It would be so perfect that people would want to spend money on it.
Not Settling for Less Than Perfect
Taylor was amazed by how much the West African scammer was willing to participate in his mission, false or not. As the days passed, Joel started to send over more photographs snapped on his newly gifted device.
Did he get the shots? Unfortunately, Taylor still wasn’t convinced. The pictures were undoubtedly better in quality, but they still lacked that edge needed to generate any potential buyers. In the next part of his gripping pursuit, Taylor took on the role of Joel’s tutor.
Becoming a Photography Teacher
Ben Taylor had become so wrapped up in his plot that he took on an entirely new job title, as a photography tutor. He spent his summer working with Joel to get those photographs he’d been dreaming of. This may all have been done to waste Joel’s time, but Taylor was dedicated to wasting it.
After several lessons in getting the right lighting, the rule of thirds, and photo composition, things were starting to look up. That was all Joel needed to succeed in the mission. He took some new photos of his Liberian neighborhood that even we can’t deny, are just beautiful.
Questioning the Initial Incentive
We had our suspicions as we traveled through the story, but it comes as no surprise to learn that after the new pictures were sent, Taylor began to view the mission as more than just a simple joke. He wondered if maybe he was sending a message to a man who wasn’t even a scammer after all. He was proud of what Joel had done for him.
It was at this point that things began to change. Was Ben Taylor about to become the scammer? The West African inhabitant had done an excellent job with the photos, so it quickly became a concern of Taylor’s that all his hard work was being put to waste, and he was going to make him the new subject of a cruel joke. This sounds a little hypocritical, don’t you think?
The Start of Something Special
Well, this is some turnaround. Taylor’s conscience put an end to the deceit. After all, what kind of message would he be making against scammers if he started to follow their ways? He wanted to find a way out of this complicated project and develop a quick way to make the plan work.
This is where the magic happened. Taylor had a good look at all the inspiring pictures his Liberian business partner had sent to him and put his thinking cap on. He eventually came up with the idea that changed Joel’s life for the better.
A Booklet Full of Talent
Taylor was once a marketing manager, but not anymore. He had taken on the position as a fully-fledged photography business owner. Taylor gathered together all of Joel’s most impressive photos and published them into a booklet.
The booklet was successfully created and was even given the title “By D Grace of God.” Why this name? This quote was a frequent saying of Joel’s during his time working with Taylor. Looking at the booklet front on, it has a somewhat professional look to it, if you ask us.
The Beauty of Online Promotion
Here’s a factor of this story we’ve not mentioned yet but serves quite a significant function in it. Ben Taylor had his very own YouTube channel. It initially started as a way to let the public know about his experiences with tricking scammers, warning them what to do if it happened to them. After the project with Joel however, Ben used it for something very different.
You know what’s coming next, right? With the booming success Taylor was generating through his YouTube channel, he came up with a smart advertising idea. The Utah manager used his online platform to get Joel’s photography booklet the recognition it deserved.
Taylor’s Initial Beliefs Were Proven Wrong
You may be thinking that the mission was now complete, and the partnership of Joel Willie and Ben Taylor immediately ended after this. He had done what he said he’d do, right? On the contrary, this was just the start of their time working together.
Taylor initially admitted he thought the booklet would interest only those who were close to him, such as family and friends. He genuinely believed that he’d create just enough money to pay for the cost of printing, maybe grant Joel a little cash too, but that was it. In a huge twist of events though, the reality of what happened sparks a whole new story.
The Successes Started Flowing
Well, who would have guessed it! The booklet was a hit. It started reaching customers everywhere, as people from all across the globe wanted to get their hands on this collection of Joel’s striking images. With this popularity came huge profits.
Both Taylor and Willie were stunned to realize how much money the booklet was making them. The first profits Willie received came to $500. This amount may not seem like so much, but in Liberia that equated to around $77,500. That was more than the Liberian man would’ve ever earned in his lifetime, so it pleased him just a little. To add to his happiness, Taylor gave his 50% share of the profits to Willie, too. By the way, this story still isn’t over just yet.
Using the Money for a Greater Good
We thought it was the end of the journey for these two, and so did Taylor. That’s why it came as such a surprise for him to receive an email from Joel a few weeks after the whirlwind business venture they both underwent.
The email thrilled Taylor as he learned how his new friend had spent the money. It turns out, he wasn’t merely looking to improve his own life, but his entire community. Off his own back, the overnight photographer had equipped five Liberian schools with all the supplies the children could need. Talk about being a good Samaritan!
Everyone Wanted to Help Out
When you tell people your story, sometimes they want to help. That was indeed the case for this tale. After Taylor told his YouTube subscribers about the journey he and Joel had gone on, people everywhere wanted to show their support for this Liberian man and his community.
In one case, a man working in a restaurant in Australia was so touched by the story that he wanted to make his mark on Joel’s life. The Aussie waiter created a tip jar at work. All the cash would then be gathered up and sent straight to Liberian schoolchildren, through Taylor. Slowly but surely, Joel’s dream of living a poverty-free life was coming true before his very eyes!
The Business Duo of Dreams
By now, Ben Taylor and Joel Willie had formed a powerful friendship. The preconceptions Taylor initially had of Joel as a scammer were quickly diminished, re-classifying him as a “humanitarian in the making.” Moving forward, the two continued working together to expand their project. They became quite the philanthropists!
Together the pair would work to use their money in whatever way they could to benefit the Liberian community. This included buying children clothes, feeding hungry families and even giving out microloans to the business owners who needed to kickstart their work.
Putting Faces to Names
The friendship between Taylor and Willie reached the next level when the two agreed to meet. That’s right, in February Taylor took the trip from America to Liberia to meet his business partner for the very first time. The whole ordeal was covered on CBS News, which showed the pair exchanging kind words about one another in separate interviews.
This outing proved quite the trip. Being thousands of miles away from home, Taylor was stunned to realize how different Liberia was to the thriving USA. He was shocked at the level of poverty that existed, and even began to reflect on whether he would’ve reached out to people in the same way as Joel, had he been living there too.
The Man That Keeps on Giving
Joel Willie is the man who had nothing, and singlehandedly turned his life around to achieve everything. Today, he is taking his efforts to build his community from strength to strength. Not only is he the partner for the Pleasant Green charity helping Liberians, but he’s repeated another successful business venture.
They’ve done it again! Ben and Joel were keen to relive their initial success, so what better way to do this than create another photography booklet? The second booklet, or sequel if you will, was named “By D Grace of God: A True Story” This time, the project earned a whopping $11,158. We can’t believe how much success has followed this story.
What’s It All About?
The second booklet produced by the duo details unseen footage going on in Liberia. Not only is it educating people, but it continues to encourage members of the public to find a way to contribute to the community, whether they have any connection to it or not.
The success of the second copy proved to be even more influential than the first. We know it raked in huge amounts of cash, but did you know it sold over a thousand copies within the first few weeks of its release? Successful, we know!
A Personal Journey
Reflecting on how much he’s contributed to helping this one man, we wonder if Ben has changed the way he views others. In a recent interview which reminded Taylor of his initial desire to con the ‘scammer’ that was Joel, he shared some powerful insights.
“That’s just not me. I’ve changed. I set out to embarrass a guy. I ended up helping a guy. (…) You feel good when you help others.” This story provides us all with a powerful moral message that we shouldn’t judge people from our preconceptions, and everyone should be given a fair chance.