Liberia

Interesting Day. After breakfast of scrambled eggs and papaya, we went to chapel. A passionate deaconess was preaching Christ’s call to be peacemakers.

After chapel we met with LCL Admin Staff and then got a Tour of Lutheran Church of Liberia ministries at the Lutheran Compound.

STAFF:
President Sumoward Harris. Done 2012.
Treasurer George
Special Assistant Peter Kpakala
Auntie Mae, Accountant
Marlane, the bishop’s secretary
James, General Secretary
Peter, Special Assistant to the Bishop

We learned that there are 300 congregations in the Lutheran Church of Liberia. They are divided into 48 parishes, comprised of around six congregations each. There are 50 pastors, so only enough pastors for each parish of six congregations. So they ordain deacons who celebrate the sacrament. All Liberian congregations have communion on the first Sunday of the month, always the most-attended Sunday. They also have evangelists who meet with small groups and do revivals to revitalize the church. Pastors here make $150/month if they are in sizable congregations. Some pastors don’t get paid much of anything.

St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, where I’m preaching Sunday is the site of the worst massacre in Liberia’s history.

During the early days of the Liberian-Civil war, thousands of Gio and Mano Liberians had traveled to Monrovia, many on foot. On their arrival to Monrovia, they took refuge in the Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Sinkor, Monrovia.

On the night of July 29, 1990, Doe’s soldiers walked along the beach to Sinkor. They entered the St. Peter’s Lutheran Church on the corner of 12th Street and Tubman Blvd, about 7:00 PM. I’m staying a few blocks away.

There were over 200 soldiers from the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), headed by an infamous Liberian named Charles Julu. That night the soldiers executed them in the church. When the soldiers were done and the screams were silenced, 600 Liberians had been slaughtered and 150 others wounded during this one night in Liberia’s History. It is reported that President Samuel Doe stood by and watched as the massacre of 600 people took place, mostly with machetes.

One cannot preach a trite sermon in such a church. A plastic gospel will just distance us. Only a theology of the cross will do. The sermon has yet to take form. We’ll see…

The staff told me there are now 15 counties. The country is growing and so is the church. The recovery is still in progress. Many churches, church schools and church hospitals were burned to the ground. Charred remains of buildings pop up as we drive around town.

As they talk I sense the trauma. There was much brutality in the war. many women were raped and killed. Family members were forced to watch. Pastor Emmanuel Jackson sitting next to me on the couch said there was tremendous temptation for many children to join the army. “At least then you would have a gun in your hand and could protect your family.”

After the war 75% voted for forgiveness over retribution. A Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established, but the results were inconclusive. Unlike the TRC in South Africa led by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Liberian TRC, led by a lawyer, never required perpetrators to face their accusers. They were interviewed privately, but they lied and downplayed their crimes. Today soldiers who committed atrocities are motorcycle taxis along the main road, Tubman. as I walk down the street, people are cautious. Women do not make eye contact.

When I asked, “What now defines you, your work?” the Bishop answered, “Peace-building. We have nothing if we do not have peace.” This work is not theoretical. It is not an over-spiritualized peaceful, easy feelin’. This is a life and death effort to rebuild the very fabric of a society. The church has an important role. Liberia is a country of former child soldiers who have seen horrific things. “If we don’t show them another way to make a living, they will return to their former life.” Economic development and education are absolutely critical.

This facility was home to the Lutheran World Federation Trauma Center after the war. Now it houses a host of other ministries which we set out to see.

We first visited the Director of Women’s Ministries. They grow women spiritually through retreats. They appear to be self funded through a farming coop.

Pastor Weegie is the Program Director for their Trauma, Healing and Reconciliation Program. They continue the work of healing after the atrocities of the war. Lots of work helping people cope and put their lives back together.

We learned about their Urban Ministry Department, led by Pastor and Evangelist Emmanuel Stevens. He works with young men in the city, at risk, tempted by gangs. He also works with prostitutes, helping them find a better life. There are a lot of raped women putting their lives back together. This ministry grew out of a ministry at St. Peter’s, helping kids orphaned by the war. They work closely with a vocational school.

Joseph Binda leads LDS: The Lutheran Development Service of Liberia. Helping people and families become economically sustainable is life and death. You can’t address spiritual needs without addressing physical ones. Maslow.

Moses runs the LCL HIV/AIDS and STD Control Program. Moses had to run out so Philip walked us through it. He was passionate and articulated a clear mission, core values and goals. The infection rate is down considerably, to 1.5%. Their work is around encouraging the use of condoms (quite controversial), encouraging HIV testing (you can’t prevent or heal if you don’t know), and helping people already infected to get care.

I haven’t finished writing up my reflections about The Central African Republic, but to foreshadow, I’m enjoying being in a place where the church is growing, and amazed that these growing churches, don’t spend a lot of energy training for worship. Worship happens with incredible vibrancy. They spending their time caring for people at every level of need. They make no apologies for social ministry or social justice.

For lunch we walked over to the Bangladeshi restaurant next to the Lutheran Center. Curried rice with fish. Excellent. Mango juice. Ate with Pastor Emmanuel and two of his brothers Francis and Clah, and Pr Emmanuel Stevens.

After lunch we visited St. Andrews Lutheran Church and School. Great kids. They met Emmanuel and I at the door of the church and a girl welcomes us with bouquets of flowers. Then Emmanuel and I walked down the aisle together with flowers. Weird. :-)

Then St. Matthews Lutheran, the fastest growing church . Their choir was praying and fasting. Thy sang for us. Outstanding. Then Trinity Lutheran, a tribal church. Older folks, but they too sang and danced. Internet too slow to load video, but incredible choir.

For dinner we headed to a place we read about on the airplane: Jamal’s. http://iguide.travel/Monrovia/Eating Jamal is a Lebanese dude who has a restaurant here, but he lives in the Heights of Houston. We visited with him at length. His wife is an emergency doc at Ben Taub. Go and figure. Great food. Get the Masshawi.

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About michaelrinehart

Bishop of the Texas Louisiana Gulf Coast Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
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