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Liberian educator pleads with United Methodists for help

7/2/2003 News media contact: Kathy Gilbert · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

A UMNS Report By Daniel R. Gangler*

While fighting between rebel and government troops for control of Monrovia continues, a Liberian United Methodist living in Muncie, Ind., is pleading for the church and the U.S. government to intervene.

A brief cease-fire in Liberia collapsed June 26, and thousands of Liberians, who had begun to return to their homes, are once again fleeing for safety.

Momo Fahnbuelleh, a doctoral student in education at Ball State University, brought his concern for the children of Liberia to the attention of the North Indiana Annual Conference meeting in May in West Lafayette. Since then, he has written to President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, both United Methodists, to support a U.S. intervention in Liberia. He also is waiting for a return call from U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, another United Methodist, on the same issue. Lugar, R-Ind., visited Baghdad in late June.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief reports on its Web site that "conditions for displaced people living in various types of temporary accommodation in central Monrovia (Liberia's capital) remain uncertain. There have been 23 deaths as a result of disease and hunger since the fighting resumed, according to World Vision. The need for humanitarian aid remains acute."

During a recent telephone interview, Fahnbuelleh said he believes God will move in the hearts of Americans in the church and in the federal government to help end the civil war in Liberia. He noted that the United States helped found Liberia after the Civil War as a haven for freed slaves. "The United States is like a big brother to us," he said.

According to news sources, before the drive on Monrovia, Liberia's civil war already had uprooted 1 million people within the country and sent 300,000 fleeing to neighboring countries.

Like Queen Esther pleading for her people before the king in the biblical story of Esther chapter 4, Fahnbuelleh said he feels he is pleading for the rescue of his own people from the rebels.

"God is capable, and he will intervene," he said. "I have hope now, since I have heard that a ship is being sent from Iraq to Liberia to rescue American citizens. Likewise, I hope God and the USA will come to rescue Liberia."

According to international news sources, the USS Kearsarge - said to be carrying 1,800 marines, 1,200 sailors and attack helicopters - was diverted while heading for the United States from Iraq.

The pastors and people of Normal City United Methodist Church in Muncie have played an important role in Fahnbuelleh's life during the past 15 years.

He first came to Ball State in the mid-1980s for an undergraduate degree in education and lived on the upper floor of the church's parsonage, which housed international students.

Under the care of the Rev. Donna Springer, who served the church in the 1980s, Fahnbuelleh was baptized into the United Methodist Church. He said he was drawn to Springer because of her anti-apartheid stance and her questions to him about spirituality.

Following graduation in 1989, Fahnbuelleh returned to Liberia, where he became the director of planning and research for the Monrovian city schools. To better understand how to organize schools, he became the principal of a school with more than 1,500 students in a building built for 900 students. During his tenure there, he said he witnessed rebel forces teaching his students to hate and bear arms.

"Kids fought at night and returned to school in the morning," he said. He estimated that 40 percent of the rebel forces are made up of youth between the ages 15 and 30.

When named as a political enemy by rebel forces, he returned to the United States as a political refugee. He arrived for a visit to Ball State in August 1998 and was surprised to learn that he had been granted a scholarship in 1992 to do doctoral studies in education. The letter from Ball State about the scholarship never reached him in Liberia. The university renewed his scholarship, and Fahnbuelleh returned to Ball State, where he is completing a doctoral degree in education.

He returned to Normal City Church, where the late Rev. Harold Wilson encouraged him spiritually to do something positive for the children of Liberia. Haunted by images of those children, Fahnbuelleh helped establish the Liberian Children's Education Fund.

Believing God had a plan for his life, he also began speaking in churches about the Liberian children and later became a certified lay speaker.

During a North Indiana Annual Conference session last year in West Lafayette, Fahnbuelleh answered the call to ministry offered by Indiana Area Bishop Woodie White and continues to explore his call to ordained ministry. Last October, he was appointed to serve as lay preacher of Fairview and Bellfountain United Methodist churches near Portland, Ind., and said he hopes to complete his doctoral work this fall.

The parsonage in which he lived in the 1980s is home once again, but this time Fahnbuellah's family inhabits the whole house. He lives with his wife, Satu, and their seven children and one grandchild.

According to Muncie District Superintendent David Maish, the members of the Normal City Church "played a key role in prayer and financial support which, when joined with others, brought Fahnbuellah's wife and children from Liberia to the United States."

This is a difficult time for Fahnbuelleh. He has lost contact with more than 100 relatives living in Liberia, and many of his relatives have been living in bushes and the forest since April. On June 15, Father's Day, he received word from his brother, a doctor in Liberia, that his father, 78, died of complications following a stroke. He died in a refugee camp hospital Kenema, Sierre Leone.

Despite these difficulties and losses, Fahnbuelleh said his hope for peace in Liberia has not died. He prays for a miracle and believes that one will take place through the church and intervention by the United States.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is responding to the crisis in Liberia. UMCOR/Liberia's programs have included agriculture, water/sanitation, education/training and health care. Donors for its programs have included USAID, the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, and the Norwegian and Dutch governments.

Donations can be sent to UMCOR-NGO Advance # 982353-7 at UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

For more information on UMCOR's work in Liberia see

Fahnbuelleh can be reached at (765) 286-4533 or
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*Gangler is director of communication for the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church.

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