Bishop John K. Yambasu, Sierra Leone Area, The United Methodist Church
Bishop Arthur F. Kulah (Retired)
Bishops from our Ecumenical Partnership
Bro. Rudolph J. Merab, Conference Lay Leader
Officers and members, Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church
My wife, Mother Richlain K. Quire
Brothers and sisters in Christ:
This week, we have gathered for the 184th Session of the Liberia Annual Conference. It is a blessing and an honor to stand before you as the presiding Bishop prepared to move our annual conference into the future.
As we look beyond the distance to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, that great Wesleyan hymn comes to mind while we confer this week: “And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face; glory and thanks to Jesus give, for His Almighty Grace.” The second verse is pertinent and it goes, “Preserved by power divine to full salvation here. Again, in Jesus praise we join, and in his sight, appear.”
Today, we look at the past and extend gratitude to Retired Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, who led the Church during the turbulent years of the war and remained steadfast as a prophetic and pastoral leader. Through his leadership, the Conference continued its ministry to United Methodists who found themselves uprooted to parts of West Africa, extending the mission to Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and Ghana, providing spiritual nurture through various ministries in these countries.
In Liberia, Bishop Kulah remained vocal and worked tirelessly during the peace process and with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. His visionary leadership not only expanded the mission of the Conference beyond our borders, he was instrumental in establishing the radio station, the United Methodist University, maintaining a strong connection with our partners, and preserving a vibrant conference presence in Liberia.
We also extend warm appreciation to Retired Bishop John G. Innis who continued the progress Bishop Kulah initiated. Bishop Innis did so by enhancing human capacity through providing scholarships for many Liberians to obtain their Master and Doctorate degrees in theology and other disciplines. He worked tirelessly to move the Church in the 21st century through the establishment of mission stations, schools, clinics and health centers. I am also grateful for the opportunity provided me to pursue my graduate studies and to work with the Church at the highest level during Bishop Innis’ Episcopacy.
As I begin my Episcopacy to lead our great Church forward into this 21st century, the future that God has stored for us will be realized in our time. Together, we continue the march forward, marching and preaching, and making disciples.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the nature of my Episcopacy will be pastoral. From the inception of my ministry, I was called to be primarily a pastor who listens and one who seeks spiritual dialogue and discussion.
God has called me to be a builder in His Kingdom. He has called me to bring peace, love, and unity among His people. Jesus wants the entire Church to reflect on the prayer He offered in John 17:21 that included the desire for unity: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”
I want to be a shepherd to God’s flock and a pastoral Bishop. In the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, he prayed,
“Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood, as to understand; to be loved, as to love; for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
The future beckons. For over 184 years, The United Methodist Church has been in mission to the people of Liberia. We want to continue that mission with the support of every member of this Conference.
In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 4:4, and Romans 12:4-5, Paul described the Church as “the Body of Christ.”
In Romans 12, Paul writes, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ, we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others” (NIV).
In the words of John Wesley, “If your heart is as my heart, give me your hand.”
In this light, I extend a warm hand of fellowship to every United Methodist in this country and around the world through the connectional system and the tie of Christ’s love that binds us. Let us move forward with faith into the future, because the mission of Christ is still as urgent as it was when He first launched His own ministry and passed it on to the disciples through the Great Commission.
The urgency of Christ’s mission and ministry remains strong because we are still called upon “to proclaim Good News to the poor, proclaim freedom for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, set the captives free, and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” as Jesus himself described His ministry in Luke 4:18-19.
We cannot expect to make progress if we remain in the same mindsets with the same attitudes. We need a new paradigm shift in the Liberia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. We need young minds to move the Church forward.
My fellow United Methodists and Friends, our Episcopacy will work on ensuring that the Church continues its primary focus on missions and evangelism, education, and health, as well as, venture into new terrains that will benefit and prosper the Church.
For us to focus on the latter, this is the time to begin thinking about ways that will make the Church less dependent on others. I know we are capable and able, if we sincerely work together.
The Almighty God, our Heavenly Father has blessed us with good soil for us to sow seeds that would bring great benefits to the Church through transparent commercial economic development. Now is the time, and this is the season.
My brothers and sister in Christ, I am optimistic about the future of the United Methodist Church because Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. For a more vibrant United Methodist Church of the future, we must prioritize the following areas:
Missions and Evangelism
As a Church, Missions and Evangelism, remain the primary purpose of our work. The Department of Missions and Evangelism should function effectively not only at the conference level but also within the various districts and local churches.
I am directing the Department of Missions and Evangelism to produce satisfactory result of conversion and discipleship. This means, the work of the Department should extend throughout the fifteen counties.
I would like to initiate a ministry of spiritual counseling for pastors and their families. I would also like to encourage the Wesleyan class group where pastors can meet in small groups to pray, study the Word, encourage and strengthen one another. When pastors are spiritually strong, they will become efficient evangelists.
We need to see Wesleyan renewals taking over in our districts and churches. A church without spiritual renewal of the soul is a dead church. Our members’ spiritual growth and consciousness must be enhanced throughout the Conference.
On the district level, I am directing all District Superintendents to cultivate the ability to think creatively and adapt evidence-based practices to evangelize and increase the number of United Methodists. Districts can conduct training to empower and equip the various ministries such as the Diaconal (Deaconesses), the Children, the Aging (Elderly), the United Methodist Men, the United Methodist Women, the United Methodist Youth, and the United Methodist Young Adult Fellowship.
The Conference will be available to provide resources that districts and local churches can utilize. I urge the Department of Missions and Evangelism to visit every district quarterly to support their evangelistic and discipleship efforts. God desires for us to grow spiritually, and He has given us all we need to experience spiritual growth.
My Brothers and sisters in Christ, since the 19th century, The United Methodist Church of Liberia has been actively involved as a pioneer in the delivery of quality education in Liberia.
From the Monrovia Seminary, which became the College of West Africa to the Cape Palmas Seminary, our educational institutions have educated many of the Liberian leaders who served this country, Africa and the rest of the world.
Since the inception of United Methodist education in Liberia, the purpose has always been to proclaim Jesus as Lord of all, to let the image of God in each person become more distinct, to produce people of Gospel principles, to form people with virtue and values, to offer knowledge and skills, to increase human capacity and to empower people as they become more actualized. Our education has also been for nation building, community development, and for social transformation.
We are steadily progressing into the 21st century and the same question the Church had to address when educational institutions were first established is the same one we must address today. Education for what? In other words, what is the role of United Methodist education in the socio-economic development of Liberia? Africa? the World?
The world we now live in is connected by technology and threatened by extremism. It is a world in which our students should be able to compete with other students around the world. The boundaries that once existed have virtually vanished due to technological advancements and we must ensure that the appropriate environments do exist in our churches, schools and communities.
The education we offer should produce professionals with principles; these professionals should create an environment where development and progress are constant, where it is conducive for business while maintaining human dignity.
Almost every United Methodist local church has a school connected to it, many have become secondary schools. The General Board of Education and Ministry, working closely with the United Methodist University, must ensure that there is uniformity of quality among all United Methodist learning institutions.
It is not enough to have a few schools relishing in accolades of academic excellence while others struggle to meet basic academic standards. We must all join hands to elevate the standards of all our schools.
The General Board of Education and Ministry, the United Methodist University, and the leadership of our secondary schools must develop a relationship that will ensure quality education is evident in every United Methodist institution of learning. These institutions of learning must prepare students for college with a solid foundation that begins as early as pre-school and kindergarten.
Technical Vocation Education (TVET)
As I discussed in my inaugural address on December 31, 2016, the need for the Church to have vocation technical education institutions to meet the needs of our students and society, cannot be over-emphasized.
I am asking the General Board of Education and Ministry, the United Methodist University, and our partners, to come up with a blueprint before our next Annual Conference.
We need to quickly establish new quality technical vocation education programs in specialized areas of electricity, plumbing, carpentry, masonry, among others, to support the socio-economic development goals of Liberia.
It would even be beneficial if some of our existing secondary schools were transformed to have magnet programs, for example, science and technology, agriculture, biotechnology, among others.
Life Skills Training
I have asked my wife, Mother Richlain K. Quire, to begin her initial work with our rural United Methodist Communities. She will collaborate with the General Board of Education and Ministry to provide Life Skills trainings to rural pastors’ wives and other United Methodists that need assistance to become self-productive and contributing members of the society.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, the challenges in our health care delivery systems are enormous. We, as a Church, should continue to assist Government in providing affordable and quality healthcare delivery services to our people.
There are those who believe health is everything. I agree and believe that a healthy society is a productive society. We have all seen how the Ebola epidemic shut our social institutions down, forcing our society to come to a halt.
Jesus is a Healer who restores health to those who ask him. We must make healthcare a priority.
This means the continuous support of the Ganta United Methodist Hospital, and all our healthcare centers and clinics.
The United Methodist University through its College of Health Science should partner with the Ganta United Methodist Hospital and the Liberia Annual Conference Department of Health to provide and promote quality healthcare prevention programs throughout the Conference.
The Church must also continue to support the existing healthcare centers and clinics with qualified healthcare professionals and medical doctors, while ensuring that those districts without any healthcare facility begin to have access to health centers and clinics.
As we venture into other areas of investments to grow and prosper the Conference, it is important for us to take a look at the various assets of the Conference.
I am directing the Board of Trustees to immediately locate and catalog all conference properties. The Board of Trustees, working along with the Office of the Chancellor, will ensure that all conference properties donated and/or acquired have the appropriate legal documents. Further, all existing properties under lease are to be reviewed to ensure compliance.
We cannot overlook the need for financial sustainability. We may need to call upon our International Partners for advice concerning economic development initiatives within our Conference. Developing economic resources can take place not only on the conference level but in the various districts and local churches as well.
We must strive for economic viability. Economic viability means sustaining our Church with projected revenues from other sources outside the Church. Church’s revenue must be greater than or equal to all current and planned expenditures.
Earlier, I mentioned that the Church needs young minds for us to grow and become responsive to the concerns and cry of our brothers and sisters. One way to respond is through intentional agriculture initiatives and programs.
We are blessed as a people with rich soil. I believe the Church needs to engage in cash crops and food production. This way, we will be able to support our pastors, churches and conference, and become less reliant on aid. PASTORS SHOULD NOT BEG FOR BREAD.
We are going to revitalize the Agriculture Department of the conference. The Agriculture Department will ensure that the Conference has cash crops (coffee, cocoa, palm), and food production (animal husbandry, vegetables, and aquaculture) farms.
The specific geographical location will be based on the advice of the experts.
The conference cash crop programs will be managed under the Office called The United Methodist Rural and Agricultural Development Program (UMRADP).
UMRADP will also work on the revitalization of all local Churches and Districts Agricultural Sub-Committees; and develop programs, as well as, coordinate and provide technical support to districts, local churches and school base agricultural programs.
Again, the United Methodist University College of Agriculture and the Conference Agriculture Department should work together for the realization of these goals.
Other Programs and Initiatives
The Conference will continue to explore investment opportunities such as (credit union, insurance, housing, etc.). In these areas, many lay people will be trained in various managerial programs to manage what the Church will decide to venture into as investment for self-sustainability.
However, it is expected that those districts and churches that are currently economically viable, should begin to look at business investment opportunities that will support the church and district.
Moreover, I would like to see the Liberia United Methodist Endowment Foundation (LUMEF) which was launched by Bishop Innis, be more proactive in their support of the districts and local churches economic development initiatives.
Strengthening of our Institutions
There is an urgent need to strengthen the various institutions of the Conference. As such, there will be intentional monitoring and evaluation framework to ensure efficiency, effectiveness, relevance, accountability and sustainability throughout the conference.
We will work on the creation of a merit system within the Conference based on Christian character (spirit-filled life), education, competence and experience. It would certainly be great, if the resources were available for us to standardize the salary and benefits of all personnel, most especially, our pastors based on education, longevity and tenure.
Part of the strengthening of our organization is for us to have discussions around ways the Conference can support all districts and explore ways to decentralize administrative structures.
This week, as we convene the 184th Session of the Liberia Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, we have all gathered to hear the reports from our colleagues. I am excited, as the Bishop, to listen to the progress of the tasks assigned and how the tasks were implemented and completed with the talents, gifts and graces God has given us.
The last two verses of the hymn, “And Are We Yet Alive?” say, “What troubles have we seen, what mighty conflicts past, fightings without, and fears within, since we assembled last!” In verse 4 we read, “Yet out of all, the Lord hath brought us by his love; and still he doth his help affords, and hides our life above.”
Truly, the love of God has brought us a mighty long way. My ministry has been stable and consistent, faithful to Christ and exercising all humility, shown great respect for all.
As we look to the future, I recall the words of Paul to the Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (NIV).
John Wesley told Methodists, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.”
This is what we want to do. Please keep praying for me and my family, as I strive to do the Lord’s will in Missions and Evangelism, Education, Health, and Economic Development; And on the Spiritual Growth and Development, the Mission of the Faith, the wellbeing of the Community of Faith, and Pastoral Support and Capacity. “With God, all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).
At this convening of our 184th Annual Conference, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I hope and pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to motivate all of us to remain faithful to Christ as we strive to fulfill His mission.
May God bless us and prosper the works of our hands.