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Liberian president seeks help with schools, finances

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (far right) meets with Bishops John Innis (center) and Peter Weaver.
Jan. 23, 2006

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) — Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf sent United Methodist Bishop Peter D. Weaver back to the United States with three requests.

“I ask you to look at three things that might help us; although they are not strictly United Methodist preoccupations, we think you might be an instrument in getting them done,” she said. The newly inaugurated president met Jan. 18 with a delegation of United Methodists that included Weaver, president of the denomination’s Council of Bishops.

Her three areas of concern include helping Liberia build more mission schools, supporting the country’s appeal for rebuilding assistance from the United States, and supporting the country as it seeks settlement of the nation’s debt.

“Our country has had a tradition of mission schools,” she explained. In those schools —many established by the United Methodist Church — rural children “got an education, learned work ethics, learned to fear God, and were brought up in a Christian environment.”

Because of the last 14 years of civil war, those schools have been destroyed. Sirleaf said she hoped the church would take a leading role in re-establishing mission schools and getting other denominations involved as well.

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A UMNS photo by Joseph Zeogar

Bishop Joseph C. Humper talks to Liberian church leaders in Monrovia.
Sirleaf, the first woman elected a head of state in Africa, is a member of the First United Methodist Church, Monrovia, and has been supported by United Methodists in Liberia and abroad.

U.S. President George W. Bush is also a United Methodist and Sirleaf said she hopes that connection will serve Liberia well as she seeks a supplemental fund to get the country started toward rebuilding.

“I think President Bush has been immensely kind and supportive not only by sending Mrs. Bush to my inauguration, but I have had a full conversation with him and he has been so gracious and kind in talking about the U.S. supporting our government to do the right thing.”

Sirleaf wants to begin to attack some of the social issues children, youth and women face and to repair the country’s infrastructure.

“I think a kind word when you speak to him would help,” she said, smiling.

She said she thinks the United States will also be supportive at the Group of Eight economic summit on the issue of settling Liberia’s debt.

“I know there is not much you can do, but if you speak to President Bush, if you would just say this is one of our priority areas of concern.”

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A UMNS photo by Kathy L. Gilbert

United Methodist Church leaders celebrate the election of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Weaver said he would write a letter to President and Laura Bush when he returns to the United States to thank them for supporting Sirleaf by sending Mrs. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the inauguration.

“I would be happy to include your requests in my letter to him,” he said.

“We look forward to continuing to partner and being engaged in your administration,” Weaver said.

“As United Methodists, we are very proud of you — not just as a political leader but as a spiritual faith leader, as a leader of women, as a leader of those who are often voiceless in this world.”

Weaver ended the conversation by asking Sirleaf if she would be open to speaking at the 2008 United Methodist General Conference.

Laughing, she answered, “Bishop, I wish everyone requested appointments that well in advance. Of course I would consider the invitation.”

Weaver joined in the laughter, saying, “Well, we just wanted to get at the head of the line.”

The delegation met for more than an hour with the president. In addition to Weaver, other members included Liberian Bishop John Innis and his wife, Irene; the Rev. Dick and Gwen Oliver, New Mexico; the Rev. Deane and Ruth Williams, Ohio; the Rev. John S.M. Russell, superintendent of the Monrovia District; Rudolph J. Merab, lay leader in the Liberia Annual Conference; Tami Hultman and Reed Kramer, journalists with; the Rev. Konah Parker and Joseph Zeogar, Liberian Conference communicators; and Kathy Gilbert, United Methodist Communications.

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or

Audio Interview with President Johnson Sirleaf
“I have the sensitivity of being a woman and a mother.”
“We have a lost generation.”
“The role of the church is profound.”
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