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6/10/97 Liberian Baptists seeking to ‘help people recover’

WASHINGTON (BP)–Baptist leaders in Liberia “have a mind to work to evangelize and help their people recover” from monumental losses suffered in the country’s long civil war, said Emmett Dunn, youth director of the Baptist World Alliance.
Dunn, himself a Liberian, who recently returned from a visit to his country, said the Liberian Baptist Missionary and Education Convention (LBMEC) is struggling for survival because the churches have no money with which to support it or their pastors. Nevertheless, Dunn said, Liberian Baptists maintain their goal of doubling their approximately 230 churches by 2000.
“Church attendance is on the rise, with some churches moving to two or three services each Sunday,” Dunn said. Most of those in church, he said, have no employment.
Most of the pastors are young seminary students or graduates who, Dunn said, “are doing very well but need basic training in leadership and administrative skills.”
The Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary has reopened with 97 students and is operating from the Southern Baptist missionary compound in Congo Town, Monrovia.
The seminary’s downtown Monrovia campus was burned during April 1996 violence from the warring lords, while the main campus in Paynesville is still occupied by a Ghanaian contingent of Africa peace-keeping troops. With a lack of funds and staff, however, the seminary’s future also is uncertain, Dunn said.
The convention has made a small restart of its educational ministry and is operating the Ricks elementary and secondary school, among several disrupted by the strife. Ricks’ enrollment stands at 656 students, but more than 250 are from camps for displaced Liberians. African peace-keeping troops still occupy a part of their Ricks campus and displaced people live in the dormitories.
“The excellent staff serves out of dedication,” Dunn said, “because the tuition money cannot meet the staff payroll or buy supplies, and the LBMEC cannot help.”
To aid the reconstruction of churches, shelters, health facilities and other projects, the LBMEC has started the Baptist Relief and Development Agency. “This signals a new chapter in the life of the convention,” Dunn said, reflecting the determination of Baptists to move on in ministry in the wake of war.
Saddened by what he saw, especially in Monrovia, Dunn described the nation’s capital as “now a place of basic survival,” with no public electrical system, no running water, limited transportation, non-functioning government and medical institutions. “One would wonder if there is any tomorrow or any light at the end of the tunnel,” Dunn said.
Yet after visiting his country and seeing the spirits of the people, “I, for one, believe hope is in sight,” Dunn said.
He described the new Baptist House in Monrovia, built in a time of such economic hardship, as “a shining testimony to what God can do.” The new building houses the offices of the LBMEC, the Woman’s Missionary Union, Sunday School Convention and Baptist Men.
Because more work was needed to prepare for elections, which Dunn had hoped to witness during his visit, the BWA worker said he believes elections still will take place. He said he is also encouraged that almost all of the former warring soldiers in Liberia have been disarmed.
Liberian Baptists are thankful to Baptists around the world and the Baptist World Alliance, Dunn said, explaining, “Without the help they received from the BWA over the years, the convention would not have survived.”
BWA General Secretary Denton Lotz, underscoring BWA’s commitment to helping Liberian Baptists, said a small BWA subgroup has met to determine priorities and how together with Liberian Baptist leaders to be “a positive force for the democratic rebuilding of Liberia.”
“We rejoice at the new leadership and continued growth of the church during tragic times … a sign of God’s grace and the power of the gospel,” Lotz said.
Baptist World Aid (BWAid), BWA’s relief and development ministry, has a funding goal of $100,000 for Liberia. Already $15,000 has been sent to Liberian Baptists for food, medical assistance and other needs and more funds are on the way.
Gifts for Liberia may be sent to Baptist World Aid, Baptist World Alliance, 6733 Curran Street, McLean, VA 22101, USA. Informational contacts are Paul Montacute or Lee Hickman at (703) 790-8980; fax, (703) 893-5160; e-mail, [email protected]

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  • Wendy Ryan