The United Methodist Church in Liberia has launched a foundation in an effort to become more self-supporting and effective in ministering to the people of the war-torn African country.
Bishop John Innis announced the start of the Liberia United Methodist Empowerment Foundation during the regional annual conference gathering in February. Innis is the leader of the United Methodist Church’s Liberia Annual Conference. He succeeded Bishop Arthur F. Kulah, who retired at the end of last year.
The foundation’s goal is to collect US$750,000 and invest it in the United States. The income will provide “a catalyst to make the Liberia United Methodist Church self-sustainable through diversified ministry, prayer, pastoral support and education in all fields of study,” Innis said. “This would enhance the development and growth of the conference, health care, agriculture, evangelism, communications and other areas.”
Innis started the foundation by donating $1,000 himself. He then challenged every pastor to contribute $10 a year and every layperson to contribute $5 a year. More than $2,900 was collected in the first offering.
The bishop is calling upon United Methodist annual conferences, churches and individuals around the world to join in the effort to rebuild Liberia. He is inviting U.S. congregations to enter into partnerships with congregations or missions in Liberia.
At least one U.S. annual conference representative, Mike Krost of Chillicothe, Ill., was among those attending the Liberian meeting. Krost, lay leader of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, traveled around the country and saw many opportunities for partnerships between U.S. congregations and the Liberian church.
Needs include building a new wall to enclose the Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Home; repairing and roofing a wing of Ganta Methodist Hospital that was burned; and reconstructing several churches, schools, mission stations and homes.
Krost had received the invitation to visit Liberia when Kulah spoke to the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference session at Collinsville, Ill., June 13. When Kulah asked Krost to attend the Liberia Annual Conference gathering, church members at the Illinois Great Rivers session quickly voted the lay leader to be their official representative.
As part of the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ “Hope for the Children of Africa” appeal, the Illinois Area collected more than $110,000 in supplies to assist Liberia in rebuilding and also sent more than $168,000 in donations.
Initially, Krost said he felt some trepidation about a trip because Liberia was in the middle of recovering from 12 years of war and he had no idea what he might encounter. More than 250,000 people had been killed during what Liberians call “the crisis.”
When he arrived on Feb. 5 in Liberia, Krost found that the country was at peace. He also encountered “a United Methodist Church that was very well respected in government circles and among the people,” he said. At the military checkpoints around the country, guards usually waved Krost’s church vehicle through.
The United Methodist Church has 139,400 lay members in Liberia, according to the 1999 General Minutes, and the country has a population of about 3 million. The church is growing despite the crisis, Krost said.
However, he saw evidence of the years of unrest everywhere. Vehicles that had been burned or stripped were in ditches along the roads. Many buildings, including those owned by the church, were without roofs, doors or windows because they had been looted and burned.
At one church, he saw a United Methodist Women’s group that teaches women to sew to earn income for their families. They need more material, thread, needles, pins, scissors, thimbles and other supplies. He visited an orphanage where many children either have shoes that are in poor condition or have no shoes at all. At Ganta Methodist Hospital, electricity is available for only about three hours a day because the generator is old and fuel is expensive. The hospital’s lab only has two microscopes.
When Krost visited with families, he found that many homes contain several children under age 13 who are orphans and have been “adopted” by church members. The donations and supplies from Illinois arrived in November and have been put to use to alleviate the suffering of children and the poor across the country.
Krost was the first Illinois Area representative to visit Liberia since the crisis began in the late 1980s. He said travel was safe, and it is possible for Volunteer in Mission teams to go to Liberia.
He learned a group from Indiana is going to Ganta Methodist Hospital to install a satellite system, which will connect the hospital to the University of Indiana for medical staff training and consultation.
At Kakata United Methodist Church, the site of the annual conference, Krost immediately recognized the ambulance purchased and prepared by the Bloomington (Ill.) Wesley United Methodist Church. It had been shipped by the Midwest Mission Distribution Center in Springfield, Ill., to Ganta Methodist Hospital. The ambulance was surrounded by people, and a line of onlookers stretched across the church grounds.
When he drew closer, Krost saw that the hospital had temporarily converted the ambulance into a mobile medical clinic, and health care was being given to people attending the conference and living in the surrounding area. More than 100 people daily were screened and treated during the conference.
Krost was impressed. “I looked forward to the trip and to visiting the Liberia Annual Conference,” he said. “I saw the supplies, tools and equipment from Illinois, and it was in use.
“But most of all I enjoyed the people of Liberia, their faith, worship, music and hospitality,” he said. “I encourage others to have these same experiences by partnering with the churches in Liberia or by going there to work side-by-side with the people.”