|A UMNS photo by Dean Snyder & Jane Malone
United Methodists gather at First United Methodist Church in Monrovia, Liberia, for annual conference.
April 19, 2005
A UMNS Commentary
By Dean Snyder and Jane Malone*
danger of visiting Liberia, as we did in February during the 2005
Liberia Annual Conference, is that a visitor might easily confuse the
context with the story.
context is a nation that has experienced more than two decades of
violence and years of political and economic devastation. It has been 14
years since Liberia, once the jewel of West Africa, has had centralized
electricity, water or sewage systems. Buildings have either been
destroyed in fighting between government troops and rebels or have
deteriorated without occupants, repairs or maintenance.
2003, when former President Charles Taylor left Liberia in exile, most
Liberians lived desperate lives, focusing daily on survival and
protecting themselves against extortion and robbery. Many were eager for
the United Nations and United States to help end decades of civil war
and random violence.
since its founding with U.S. subsidy to support the emigration of freed
slaves, Liberia has been closer to the United States than any other
African nation. Thus, Liberians could not understand why their overseas
friend would drag its feet in supporting a U.N. presence. The war killed
more than 200,000 Liberians and produced more than a million refugees.
Violence was so widespread that, when the United Nations finally
arrived, more than 100,000 young people turned over weapons as part of a
for a few affluent Liberians and those with resources from outside the
country, education and medical care have been practically nonexistent.
Almost an entire generation is now without formal schooling. It is a
sobering land to visit.
But this is only the sad context, not really the story.
real story is the Liberian people’s determination to restore their
nation to health and vitality. The real story is the commitment and
sacrifice of Liberia’s United Methodists to reopen hospitals, clinics
and schools and to regain democratic control of their government. This
is an inspiring story and a humbling one for us who have so much, need
so much less and yet share so little.
present, a transitional government, established during peace talks
following Taylor’s decision to step down as president, holds power in
Liberia. We had the good fortune to sit with transitional President
Gyude Bryant when he visited the annual conference to thank Bishop John
Innis and the United Methodist Church for their critical role in
stayed at the home of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, a member of the First
United Methodist Church of Monrovia and a leading candidate in a free
and open presidential election set for October. She and others have
organized the Unity Party, which is mobilizing a powerful community of
Liberians determined to establish an honest, accountable government
after years of corruption and abuse. Johnson Sirleaf is helping register
women and others previously excluded from the political process. She is
determined to make sure Liberia’s resources provide services and
education for ordinary people rather than lining the pockets of the
is an inspiration to observe this movement of Liberians who believe in
democracy with all their hearts, who believe government can be
accountable and who are willing to give themselves and all they have to
rebuild their government. If only a critical mass of U.S. citizens cared
this much about our political processes and the welfare of all our
citizens, especially our most marginalized.
was inspiring to watch United Methodists practicing the teachings of
Jesus in the most demonstrable ways. One of the many Liberian United
Methodist institutions damaged by warfare was Ganta Hospital.
Established in 1926, the hospital served a major section of Liberia, as
well as neighboring Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire. Its complex included
primary and secondary schools, vocational training, one of Liberia’s
best nursing schools, a demonstration farm and a leprosy and
tuberculosis care facility. Everything but the quarantine facility was
destroyed by government and rebel troops.
the support of the United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Board
of Global Ministries, United Methodists of Liberia began working to
reopen Ganta as soon as the worst of the violence ended in 2003. Local
United Methodists of the Goompa District devoted weeks to cleaning up
the damage. Finally the hospital reopened in March 2004 with one doctor
and a nurse.
annual conference, the director of Ganta Hospital reported on the
gradual re-establishment of services over the past year and said more
than half of those seeking medical help are former government and rebel
troops responsible for the hospital’s destruction. The members of annual
conference, some 1,200 Liberian United Methodists, responded quickly
with applause—happy to turn the other cheek, happy for the opportunity
to pray and care for those who had persecuted others.
our visit to the U.S. Embassy, we were disappointed to learn about
waning U.S. financial support, as well as technical assistance, for the
redevelopment of Liberia. There is no public health strategy, and no
plan to redirect into renewed central electrification the funds being
paid to foreign interests to fuel generators as a temporary source of
electrical power. Meanwhile, businesses such as a well-known U.S.-based
tire manufacturer are trying to take advantage of Liberia’s
vulnerability by cutting long-term sweetheart deals with the
have done this before. In the 1980s, the United States supported
antidemocratic governments in Liberia in exchange for placing military
installations there. Some Liberians fear we will again choose military
and economic expediency over supporting the development of democratic
institutions there. We pray that, this time, we will choose to support
our sisters and brothers of Liberia in their longing for
and Malone are a United Methodist couple in the Washington area. Snyder
is pastor of Foundry United Methodist Church and former editor of
UMConnection, the newspaper of the Baltimore-Washington Annual
Conference. Malone is a laywoman.
News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.