Close Up: Liberian United Methodists help country recover from civil war
11/17/2003 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.
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 UMNS-UMC.org 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.
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.
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 Â¾ bringing its members back together
The church must also help some 45,000 fighters, half of them children, disarm and contribute to the rebuilding of the Liberia.
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.
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.
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
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
"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."
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.
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.
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
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
Tomorrow: Church teams assess Liberia's needs in wake of war.