MONROVIA, Liberia (BP)–After more than a year of bloody civil war, Liberians still remain highly religious. Liberian Baptist Theological Seminary students, for example, begged to reopen the school soon after things calmed down.
The Liberian who serves as seminary president, Lincoln Brownell, said most people believe Jesus kept them alive during a rebel insurgence that ousted Charles Taylor from his seat as Liberia’s president.
While Taylor has left the country, many still carry arms. Areas outside of the capital, Monrovia, still are not safe. More than 12,000 United Nations peacekeeping soldiers patrol the streets, now being buttressed by an additional 3,000 soldiers.
The city is a shell of what it used to be. Most buildings have mortar damage and gaping holes replace door frames. Churches were not spared from the same fate; most were looted and are missing roofs.
Despite the desperate times, Brownell sees a vast opportunity for the seminary students and Liberian Baptist churches. As far as the Liberian Baptist Convention can tell, about 75 percent of their churches are operating.
“Sunday church attendance is up,” Brownell said. “And right now, I would estimate about 45 percent of our population (3.3 million) claim Jesus Christ.”
However, Brownell is quick to point out that things are far from normal in Liberia. There is no way to know how the churches up-country have fared. They are still in rebel territory where various factions have yet to be disarmed.
More than 500,000 people are still displaced by the war. One of the camps for the internally displaced peoples is at a Baptist school, Ricks Institute. More than 50,000 refugees are camping out on the 1,000-acre plot, providing ministry opportunities for seminary students and local pastors.
Bill Bullington, the International Mission Board’s regional leader for West Africa, visited this war-torn country to evaluate Baptist work. Currently, there are no IMB missionaries working in Liberia.
Bullington was impressed with Brownell’s students and their commitment to missions.
“Students have done mission projects in the interior and [at] refugee camps during their vacation time,” Bullington said. “Some of these students are looking at missions assignments within Liberia and beyond. I was impressed by their dedication.”
Brownell said the missions heart of his students and pastors is the fruit of seeds planted by Southern Baptist workers through the International Mission Board over the years.
“The military war is over, but we still have silent weapons. Survival and economic hardship continue to impoverish Liberians,” Brownell said. “But, one prime example of peace shines as students and graduates of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary continue to evangelize, pastor and carry out mission work through the local churches around Liberia.”