Despite President Charles Taylor's exile in August, Liberia is awash in weapons toted by crazed teenagers on drugs—the country's Generation AK-47. And hundreds of thousands of Liberians remain displaced within the country's borders and in West Africa—more than 300,000 refugees are in the capital, Monrovia.
But the church in Liberia is beginning to bring healing to the war-ravaged land. Monrovia has started to see signs of stability in recent weeks.
"The people are happy that God has miraculously saved their lives," said Robert Cuppah of the Evangelical Church Union of Liberia, the local partner of SIM (Serving In Mission) International. "By example, we must be a people of hope, and Jesus Christ is the basis of our hope."
Christian businessman Gyude Bryant, an active layman of the Episcopal Church in Liberia, became the president on October 14. One of Bryant's top goals is for child soldiers to be "detoxified and detraumatized." Another is to establish a truth and reconciliation commission in response to gross human-rights violations during the Taylor years.
Even with an international peacekeeping force and, until recently, a small American military presence, simple survival remains the top priority for most people.
"If you have money, you can find food," said Cuppah, a pastor in Monrovia's Sinkor district. Rice, beans, split peas, and corn meal are increasingly available, but he says few can afford them.
Roughly 38 percent of the country's 3.1 million people are Christians. Along with the general population, clergy are scattered and on the run as clashes continue in rural areas, said Beyan Bakar, secretary general of the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (ael), which comprises 45 denominations and more than 3,000 local churches. Western Lofa, Cape Mount, and Bomi counties are among the areas most affected by the war.
Communication has broken down between many of the rural church leaders, their congregations, and separated family members. According to Bakar, pastors have regrouped their members at camps for displaced people, held services, and provided trauma counseling and other relief support.
Bakar urged overseas churches to help rebuild destroyed churches in rural areas, resettle pastors, and provide Bibles and Christian reference material to help train pastors.
"We would like to call on our brothers in the West to carry on a rigorous peace-building in Liberia," Bakar said. "We have lost everything."
A ship chartered by World Vision carrying $86,000 worth of blankets, soap, fuel, and other goods ran into a sandbank during a storm and sank off the coast of neighboring Sierra Leone in mid-August. No one was killed. Shortly after the incident, World Vision sent additional supplies from a warehouse in Italy.
Several churches and missions, such as those belonging to the Assemblies of God and Southern Baptists, have remained active, largely through local staff. Radio ELWA, a ministry founded by SIM in Monrovia in 1954, continues to air eight hours of Christian programming in English and 90 minutes in nine Liberian languages each day over FM and short-wave transmitters. About 2,000 displaced Liberians live on the ELWA campus, which includes a hospital.
George Warner Sr., a Liberian missionary with the United Methodist Church in Dakar, Senegal, said most Liberians in neighboring countries will head home. "People are on the edge and want to go back in," he said. "People have the spirit of forgiveness."
World Relief's John Connelly says there is a great need for the church in Liberia—a country settled by former American slaves in the 1800s—to have contact with the outside world. "For 14 years, this group feels they have been overlooked by evangelicals in the U.S., and in a sense they are correct. There are individual, local churches in the U.S. who target specific churches in Liberia, but in general, the big denominations have remained at bay," he said. "Now is the time for evangelicals to reach out to fellow believers, to encourage them through long-term development via microbusinesses and sustained livelihoods in order for families to be able to meet their own needs and to meet the needs of their local churches."
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Other recent articles on Liberia include:
Christian History Corner: Liberia's Troubled Past—and Present | The nation's history explains why the current conflict succumbs to, yet simultaneously transcends, the stereotype of African tribal wars. (Aug. 1, 2003)
Robertson Takes Flak for Gold-Mining Venture | Freedom Gold has not yet mined much in Liberia, but it is already producing critical media attention for its founder. (Jan. 21, 2002)
Weblog: Pat Robertson Alone in Support of Liberian President (July, 10, 2003)
Serving in Mission's website has information on its activities in Liberia.
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