Sunday, May 17, 2009

liberian brothers and sisters

Last evening I had dinner with a wonderful group of people that included Bishop Larry Goodpaster and his wife Deborah of our annual conference, Mike Collins (our conference director of missions) and his wife, and a few other friends. Also present was Bishop John Innis of Liberia. I met Bishop Innis a few years ago in England, at the Oxford Institute for Methodist Theological Studies, of which I was privileged to be a member. He mentioned that he had read my books (any author loves to hear this, regardless of how truthful a statement it might be). When I realized who he was, I noted that our congregation included Liberian members. We struck up a friendship and I invited him to come to our church; that invitation materialized on the Sunday after the 2008 General Conference. Bishop Innis confirmed our young people and baptized some of them, and preached. He also had dinner with a group of our members and shared something of his pilgrimage, which is recounted in his inspiring book, By The Goodness of God. All of this followed the extraordinary General Conference speech of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and the first democratically elected president of a country on the African continent. She is also a Methodist, and is featured in the remarkable film Pray The Devil Back To Hell (highly recommended).

Bishop Innis has been in Charlotte this weekend, and today I took part in a forum that was held at Spencer Memorial UMC in Charlotte. The Spencer Memorial Church, under Rev. Emmanuel's leadership has developed a strong outreach to Liberians in Charlotte, and my wife Pam and I had worshipped there recently. The forum included a lunch of rice, collard greens, chicken and fruit. Bishop Innis took part in a lively discussion with a room full of people, all of whom were Liberians and had an intense desire to know about who things were going there. At times Bishop Innis challenged, at times he encouraged, at times he clarified, and at times he expressed gratitude.

I am grateful for our friendship with Bishop Innis and the people I know who are from Liberia. Pam and I will travel there in August; I will give the commencement address at the School of Theology. The experience is a fusion of mission of friendship, the local and the global; this surely has to do with the reality of migration in our world, with the shifting nature of the global church, and, I believe, with a biblical vision of the one body. And it all seems to be a work of grace, made possible "by the goodness of God".


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