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Liberian bishop welcomes news of U.S. aid package

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

NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS story #545. A photograph and video piece are available with this story.

By Tim Tanton*

WASHINGTON (UMNS) - The approval of a $440 million U.S. aid package for Liberia is a gift for the people of that war-torn African country, a United Methodist bishop says.

"I feel very, very happy about it," said Bishop John Innis, who leads his denomination's Liberia Annual (regional) Conference. "This is an indication that the U.S. means well for peace in Liberia. … It is just a gift that has come to the people of Liberia."

Innis was in Washington for the Nov. 2-7 Council of Bishops meeting. Mark Harrison, a staff executive with the denomination's Board of Church and Society, told the bishops Nov. 5 that the aid had been approved by Congress.

The money will be used for humanitarian relief, reconstruction and peacekeeping, Harrison said. The board lobbied for the aid to Liberia, which was included in an $87.5 billion package requested by President Bush for U.S. military and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He noted that Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also emerging from periods of conflict. "We have got to work to get Congress to pay attention to Africa and also to get reconstruction (funds) to those countries as well."

Liberia has been wracked by a series of civil wars in recent years. The nation's capital, Monrovia, has been at peace since August. The peace deal among the warring factions required the abdication of President Charles Taylor, a former warlord under indictment for war crimes by a U.N.-sanctioned tribunal.

Innis said he is grateful to Congress, President Bush and the "entire citizenry of America" for helping Liberia.

"The U.S. government should continue to do whatever is possible to make sure the peace holds, so the boys and girls can go to school, so the people's lives can improve," Innis said. The people need food and restored services, while homes, schools and hospitals must be rebuilt, he said.

"I am very glad, too, that our church has done so much in this direction," Innis continued. The United Methodist Church is providing relief as well as support with reconciliation and healing.

So far, Liberia has received $30,000 from the United Methodist Committee on Relief, and the bishop said he has raised another $39,000 through speaking engagements in the United States. "I'm sure there are more funds coming."

When Liberian United Methodists gather for their annual conference in February, peace and reconciliation will be a major focus, the bishop said. "The church is a healing community, so we have to heal the wounds."

The church has a role to play in building unity in the country, he said. The people should overcome tribal differences and stand together for the development of Liberia, he said. "Disarm our hearts and minds and work together," he said, "because in union, success is sure."

Liberia has 168,300 United Methodists, spread across 600 churches. The annual conference also operates United Methodist University in Monrovia, with about 1,000 students.

Innis said the church is "picking up" in the wake of the war. "People are worshipping God, and even during troubling times, our people never forgot that God is going to give them peace."

He asks that United Methodists continue funding support for the church. Many pastors lost homes during the war, and schools and churches were damaged, he said.

United Methodists can support Liberia's recovery by making contributions to UMCOR's Liberia Emergency, Advance #150300. Checks can be dropped in church offerings or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donors can go online to or call (800) 554-8583.

Said Innis: "I appeal to all to help us rebuild and give hope to the … people of Liberia."

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*Tanton is United Methodist News Service's managing editor.

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