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As Liberia rebuilds, bishop urges church's continuing support

 


 

May 18, 2004

A UMNS Report By Tim Tanton*

When Liberian Bishop John Innis arrives at work in the morning, hundreds of people are waiting for him. And at the end of the day, another 50 or so people await him at his home in Monrovia, Liberia's capital.

The lines of people need help with rent, hospital bills, school costs. Their presence at the bishop's doorstep reflects the tremendous need that Liberians have for help from any source following the devastation of civil war.

"Things have completely broken down through 14 years of civil war," he said in a May interview, during a stop at United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.

Since the war's end last summer, Innis has led efforts to rebuild his west African country. His work has included making frequent trips abroad, particularly to the United States, to raise funds and to publicize the plight - and hope - of Liberians.

"The church is alive in Liberia, and we just want to praise God for that," he said. "The presence of Jesus is felt."

The United Methodist Church in Liberia has 168,300 members in about 700 local churches, he said. The church fills vital roles not only in ministering to souls but also in providing education - the church has 121 schools, ranging from elementary schools to a university - agricultural programs and health care services.

"Liberia would not have survived had it not been for the church," he said. "It is a source of hope."

The United Methodist Committee on Relief is assisting with staff and grant money. Congregations throughout the connection also are providing funds and other support.

Innis cited several positive signs, including:

  • The reopening of Ganta Hospital, which was burned down by rebel forces last year. Though much work remains in rebuilding the hospital, Ganta is once again providing health care services. The church is considering building a new hospital, and Innis also sees a need for recruiting and training more doctors and nurses.
  • A fast-growing university, which currently serves 1,000 students from Liberia, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. United Methodist University, established in 1998 in Monrovia, had its first commencement convocation last February, when 98 students received degrees.
  • The establishment of a counseling program that is helping child soldiers overcome the trauma of war and re-enter society. The church also is working with the United Nations on demobilizing and disarming rebel soldiers as the country continues moving toward peace.
  • The growth of the Liberia United Methodist Empowerment Foundation, aimed at supporting the church's work. As of February, the foundation had received more than $100,000. The fund's investments are handled by the United Methodist Foundation in Evanston, Ill.
  • The construction of a tower for a radio station to help the church spread the Gospel.

Much work remains, however, as the Liberia Annual (regional) Conference rebuilds local churches, schools, mission stations, parsonages. Continuing help is needed in the form of building materials, medicine and health care equipment, computers, agricultural tools, school supplies.

Innis said the conference's 900 pastors - most of whom draw extremely low incomes - need more support in salary and materials. The church also needs communications help; staying in touch with the district superintendents is difficult due to the lack of infrastructure.

The bishop said he was glad to see the denomination's top legislative body, the General Conference, approve a holistic strategy for doing ministry in Africa, even though no specific funding was provided.

Contributions to the work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in Liberia can be made to UMCOR Advance No. 150300, Liberia Emergency. Checks can be placed in church collection plates or mailed to the agency at 475 Riverside Dr., Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling toll free (800) 554-8583.

Details on the Liberian foundation and other ministries are available at http://gbgm-umc.org/advance, the Web site of the denomination's Board of Global Ministries.

*Tanton is United Methodist News Service's managing editor. News media can contact Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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