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Liberian pastor calls for country to end violence, return to God

WASHINGTON (BP)–The pastor of Libera’s most prominent Baptist church has issued a call for his countrymen to denounce the violence that has gripped the country since the 1980 assassination of President William Tolbert.

Olayee Collins, the pastor of Providence Baptist Church, spoke to thousands of people at a peace rally in Monrovia recently and called on the Liberian government to denounce every form of violence wherever it may occur and return the nation to God.

Speaking for the Christian community to the crowd, estimated at more than 40,000, Collins called on the government to look beyond its interests and consider the interests of the Liberian people.

“God’s plan concerning Liberia is not evil,” Collins said, “but a good future with hope. Liberia’s future is not in the hands of the United Nations or those Liberians living abroad but in God’s hand.”

For Baptists in Liberia it is an especially painful situation. Freed slaves from the United States, who were Baptists, landed in Monrovia in 1822, and established the first Baptist church, Providence Baptist Church. The charter for the republic was signed at Providence as was the constitution of the independent Republic of Liberia in 1847.

But since 1980 Tolbert, the country’s president and a Baptist, was assassinated in a military coup, Liberia has been torn apart by war which continues even after Charles Taylor won a free election in 1997.

Tolbert served as president of the Baptist World Alliance from 1965-70. From Tolbert to Taylor there have been many leaders, all of whom have links to the Baptist community.

Collins, who spoke on the topic “Is There a Future for Liberia?” said Liberia can have change without self-destructing and undergoing a humanitarian crisis.

Thousands of Liberians have been killed in the civil war and many more live as refugees along the Liberian borders with Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea and other countries.

Collins described the present generation of leaders as ones “who do not love their country but rather themselves who will do anything to get what they want even if they have to destroy Liberia.” However, he used the biblical example of the prophet Jeremiah whom God sent to captive Babylon to proclaim a message of hope to assure the Liberian crowd that God is working something good in Liberia.

The current government of Liberia faces sanctions from the United Nations because of its involvement in wars in Sierra Leone and recent news reports indicate that in certain parts of Liberia there has been intense fighting among tribal and political fractions.

Last November, former President Jimmy Carter closed down the work of the Carter Center in Liberia because of prevailing conditions and the actions of the government that Carter said “have made it increasingly difficult for the center and others to be effective in supporting democracy, human rights and the rule of law.”

The Liberia Council of Churches has joined with several other Liberians and foreign residents to reject the sanctions that have been imposed by the Security Council of the United Nations.

They say the sanctions will further exacerbate the suffering of the Liberian people and affect the nation socially, psychologically, economically and spiritually.

The Baptist World Alliance has maintained its ties to the country with recent visits there, the last one being in 1999. A BWA team plans to visit Liberia in November.

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  • Wendy Ryan