Missions agency head urges help for Liberia

By Elliott Wright

NEW YORK (UMNS) – Concerned about Liberia's deteriorating situation, the top staff executive of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries is calling on the international community to establish stability in the West African country.

The Rev. R. Randy Day voiced particular concern for the loss of life and the destruction of basic institutions. He noted that, during the week of July 14, Ganta United Methodist Hospital in northern Liberia was heavily damaged by rebel forces opposed to the government of President Charles Taylor.

The destroyed facilities included a prosthesis clinic, run in cooperation with the Leahy Children of War Fund, which provided artificial limbs to young people.

"We call upon the United Nations and such organizations as the Economic Committee of West African States (ECOWAS) to speedily stabilize the situation in Liberia," Day said July 21. "We appeal to those same international bodies to bring to justice Charles Taylor, who has been indicted for crimes against humanity by a U.N. tribunal in Freetown, Sierra Leone."

U.S. Marines arrived in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, on July 21 to protect the U.S. Embassy and help evacuate foreigners.

Liberian church leaders and Taylor himself have asked for a U.S. peacekeeping force to help restore order, and President Bush has said he is watching the situation. West African states have already promised to send a force there.

Day noted that the United Methodist Church and its predecessors had been in mission in Liberia since the country was founded in 1822.

United Methodists in the United States and elsewhere join with "our brothers and sisters of the United Methodist Church in Liberia in prayer for an end to hostilities and for the healing of their nation," he said.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief, which manages extensive program of relief, rehabilitation and health ministries, had been aware for some weeks that the Ganta hospital was again in danger, Day said. The facility, built in 1926, has been a victim of periodic episodes of civil war in Liberia in the past 10 years.

"UMCOR has already identified resources that will make it possible for the church to provide some medical services in the Ganta area, if the situation stabilizes enough to allow personnel to set up temporary facilities," he said.

Six missionaries and eight other non- Liberian mission employees were airlifted out of Liberia in early June. Day said they were temporarily assigned to other health and refugee ministries in West Africa. Liberian medical staff had remained, and Day expressed relief that those at Ganta were safe and were voluntarily working in other clinics.

The hospital is part of a larger mission complex that includes primary and secondary schools, a demonstration farm, vocational training facilities, and a leprosy and tuberculosis rehabilitation unit. All the facilities except the leprosarium were severely damaged in mid-July, including the original Stone House, built from local rock by the founding missionary, George Way Harley.

American Methodist mission work dates to the start of what is today Liberia, when freed slaves from the U.S. arrived there to start a new country. Some of the original settlers were Methodist, and the first Methodist missionary arrived in the early 1830s.

The Liberian Annual Conference, headed by Bishop John Innis, is part of the United Methodist Church's West Africa Central Conference. It has about 140,000 members.

"The general board remains committed to our strong relationship with the Liberian Church and to our mission partnership with Bishop Innis," Day said.

Day urged United Methodists and friends of the church to help. Checks can be designated for Liberia Emergency Fund, Advance #150300, and dropped in church offering plates or sent to UMCOR, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115. Credit-card donations can be made by calling (800) 554-8583.

Wright is acting information officer at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.


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