Church leaders find cause for hope in Liberia
8/14/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
For related coverage, see UMNS story #404.
By Elliott Wright*NEW
YORK (UMNS) - Mission leaders of the United Methodist Church are
expressing cautious optimism that the transfer of political power in
Liberia will be a prelude to peace in the war-torn West Africa nation,
where the church has some 140,000 members.
"We hope and pray that
the decision of President Charles Taylor to leave Liberia will open the
way to end the agonizing civil war," said Bishop Joel N. Martinez of
San Antonio, president, and the Rev. R. Randy Day, top staff executive,
of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.
call upon all United Methodists to continue to pray for stability in
Liberia," they said in a joint statement. "We join Bishop John Innis of
Liberia in his recent appeal for peace and reconciliation in his
Taylor, who has been accused of "crimes against
humanity" by a United Nations panel, handed over the reins of government
to Vice President Moses Blah on Aug. 11 and went into exile in Nigeria.
His removal was backed by an organization of West African governments
and by the United States.
Later in the week, a force of U.S.
Marines moved into the capital city to support the West African
peacekeepers already there. As they moved in Aug. 14, the rebel forces
that had laid siege to the city began withdrawing.
have been fighting the Taylor-Blah administration for years, resulting
in thousands of civilian casualties in recent weeks. Civil war has been a
periodic reality in Liberia since the 1980s.
Martinez and Day
said they appreciated "the international pressure from West African
nations and the United States that forced Mr. Taylor to step aside." An
earlier statement asked for international effort to force his hand and
to bring Taylor to justice.
"We are cautious in our expectations
because it is not yet clear how the new president, Mr. Blah, will deal
with the insurgents," the Martinez-Day statement said. "We hope for
truth in suggestions that a new, more neutral government will be set up
"In the meantime, our Liberian brothers and sisters
long for peace. Many of them are suffering at home while others are in
refugee camps, particularly in Ghana.
The United Methodist
Committee on Relief is prepared to resume the work it had been doing
inside Liberia and to continue assisting refugees. Also, United
Methodist mission personnel evacuated from Liberia earlier are posted to
several places just outside the country where they provide ministry and
humanitarian aid. One such place is the Buduburam Refugee Camp in
Ghana, set up by churches and humanitarian organizations.
Mission workers there reported that new arrivals from Monrovia, the Liberian capital, in June increased already bad conditions.
and Day urged support for UMCOR's Liberian Emergency effort through the
Advance, the "second mile" mission giving program of the church, which
will provide assistance both inside the country and to refugees. The
Advance number is 150300, and contributions can be dropped in church
collection plates or sent to UMCOR at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New
York, NY 10115.
On Aug. 12, a container of supplies for Liberia
was ready for shipment at UMCOR's Sager Brown Depot in Louisiana. The
Rev. Paul Dirdak, director of UMCOR, indicated that plans were being
made to open an outpatient clinic at the site of the Ganta United
Methodist Hospital in northeastern Liberia, which was looted by rebels
United Methodist mission staff in Liberia were taken in
May to safety to other West African countries and reassigned to refugee
and health ministries. Bishop Innis also was forced out of the country
and took refuge in Ghana.
In June, Innis issued an international
appeal for stabilization in his homeland and also addressed the Liberian
people on the nature of peace. "Fellow Liberians," he said, "we need
peace in our country. Peace means love in action. Therefore, we must put
away hostility and violence.
"Let us give Liberia the love it
deserves," he said. "Let us work to give Liberia its place in the world
community of nations. May we pray for our brothers and sisters in arms.
May we pray for the warlords in and outside our country so that God may
transform their hearts into productive citizens."
# # #
*Wright is acting information officer at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries in New York.
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