News Archives

Close Up: Liberian United Methodists help country recover from civil war

11/17/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

This report is the first of a weeklong series on the United Methodist Church's recovery work in Liberia. Photographs, video stories and other features are available.

A Report By Joni Goheen*

MONROVIA, Liberia (UMNS) - Fourteen years of conflict in Liberia came to an end in mid-October when Gyude Bryant became the leader of 2.7 million citizens of that West African nation.

The United Methodist Church is helping reconcile former enemies while refurnishing and reopening schools and clinics, reconstructing Ghanta United Methodist Hospital, and repairing buildings at United Methodist University in Monrovia.

"My people, the war is over," said Bryant after taking the oath of office. He is chairman of a power-sharing government that includes two rebel groups, civilian political parties and loyalists of former President Charles Taylor.

The ceremony was attended by West African leaders, heavily guarded rebels and government officials.

"If there's no peace in Liberia, there's no peace in West Africa," said President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, which has contributed the bulk of the 4,000 peacekeeping troops in Liberia.

The Liberia Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church is trying to reconcile supporters of former President Taylor with members of rebel factions and average citizens.

"If you were a war leader or belonged to a rebel faction and you come back to church, how do we receive you?" asked Edwin Clarke, Liberia Conference director of communications. "Do we ostracize you, do we throw you out and treat you like an outcast or do we receive you as a lost sheep? That's the role the church is now trying to play ¾ bringing its members back together for reconciliation."

The church must also help some 45,000 fighters, half of them children, disarm and contribute to the rebuilding of the Liberia.

Most schools and clinics run by the Liberia Annual Conference were temporarily closed during the war. The Ghanta United Methodist Hospital, about 128 miles from the capital, was damaged so badly it will take thousands of dollars and months to get it back to its pre-war state. The United Methodist Committee on Relief has established Advance Fund #150385 to aid in rebuilding the hospital.

United Methodist University and nearby First Methodist United Methodist Church in downtown Monrovia also sustained heavy damage. The school was forced to close last May. Upon returning to the school this fall, students found they were sharing facilities with displaced persons. Final exams, which were interrupted in May, are under way, and commencement ceremonies are scheduled for late December or early January.

While more than 2,000 were killed during the 2003 summer of violence, Clarke reports that only one member of the conference is confirmed dead. However, because so many people have been displaced, getting an accurate count of casualties has been difficult. Conference staff members in Monrovia have been unable to visit rural areas, so casualties and damage assessments are undetermined or incomplete.

"Conference staff worked tirelessly throughout the summer and early fall, mostly without pay," Clarke said. "Even though banks closed in May, church staffers show up daily, working without pay for more than three months, living on faith and credit from friends and street vendors. In mid-September, alternative arrangements were made so that some of the staff could begin receiving much-needed funds."

Last June, some 10,000 people were uprooted from their homes in Monrovia when Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy invaded the capital city in an effort to overthrow Taylor. Clarke and his family were among those displaced by rebel troops.

Clarke's family was forced to live with a friend in Paynesville, several miles from Monrovia, after the rebels took over their family compound. Clarke reported that rebels stole everything in the home, including furniture, rugs, clothing, mattresses and even the front door.

"All is not lost," Clarke said. "At least there is life and with life we can go on doing what we have to do without feeling any remorse or feeling any hatred that we lost our place."

It seems no one was spared from the pillage. The 50 members of New Hope United Methodist Church now sit on boards stretched across paint cans as looters stole their pews and part of their tin roof.

During the summer conflict, more than 1,000 internally displaced people in Monrovia stayed at a United Methodist high school, another 500 stayed at the central office of Liberia Annual Conference, and an unknown number were housed at United Methodist University and local churches, Clarke said. In some cases, the displaced offered to work as volunteer security guards, groundskeepers and cleaning personnel.

The denomination has been active in Liberia since the early 1800s. The Liberia Annual Conference provides an array of services, including Ghanta United Methodist Hospital, United Methodist University, a Human Rights and Peace With Justice Program, a school for deaf children, the Judith Craig Children's Village, a sanitation team, mental counseling programs and assessment teams.

Contributions for ministries in Liberia may be designated for the United Methodist Committee on Relief's Liberia Emergency, Advance #150300, and dropped in church collection plates or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. More details are available at
# # #
*Goheen is a freelance writer living in Morrison, Colo. Edwin Clarke, Liberia Annual Conference director of communications, provided information for this story.

Tomorrow: Church teams assess Liberia's needs in wake of war.

Back : News Archives 2003 Main

Contact Us

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add to your list of approved senders.