Sunday, August 16, 2009

united methodism in liberia: initial impressions

Liberia has been a fascinating experience. The flight going and coming was approximately 24 hours, but we had little problem getting oriented. We stayed in Bishop Innis' residence, which is simple---but very welcoming and completely adequate. His niece, Rebecca, fixed all of our meals, liberian fare and very good. I realize that I eat servings that are much larger than the ones here at home, but that is ok, it is not hurting me!

Over nine days we have participated in the dedication of a home for the aging, attended their annual conference, where I spoke, went to the dedication of a latrine and water pump for a very remote community, attended the Baccalaureate service of the university (the Ambassador from Siera Leone spoke), led worship for the conference staff, met with some of the missionaries here, most of whom are involved in education, met with a clergywoman who works with the church's ministry to former child soldiers, spoke at the university's commencement/graduation, where i met the nation's Chief Justice (who is a graduate of Yale law school). I have met the dean of the school of theology, a woman who went to Perkins at SMU, and the old testament professor, who went to Wesley. I also interviewed a couple of Liberian missionaries with whom we have mutual friends (she is involved in disability education, he in vocational education), and spoke on their radio station. Later I talked with the director of the course of study, had a conversation with an instructor of new testament, and another with the principal of the 850 student school at Ganta (she is a graduate of Gammon), and had a meeting with a pastor who is beginning a literacy project.

I continue to be very impressed with Bishop Innis. He is a man on a mission for the well-being (really the salvation) of his people. He is a very effective leader. The church is alive and growing.

The UMC in Liberia is amazing, rebuilding after a 14 year civil war. The country has a very effective president who is United Methodist (with a banking/economics background) and her commitment is to educating the next generation and having a truth and reconciliation process. Pam and I have read her biography; while we have been here she has signed it. The Liberia Annual Conference has 180,000 members, 700 churches with about 1400 pastors (every church has a senior and associate pastor), and 146 schools. One of my particular roles will be to find support for the school of theology, which was taken over by Charles Taylor (see the recent war crimes trial, focusing on his role in Sierra Leone) and the rebels, but has returned; it has about 100 students. More than half of the pastors make approx $1 a day (of the world's six billion people, one billion live on a dollar a day, half on two dollars a day or less---this gives an idea of the level of poverty). but the people have a great spirit and a deep faith.

I will write more later. But two crucial impressions of Liberian United Methodists: they believe in God, and God speaks to them through their dreams.


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