Monday, December 30, 2013

Gbarnga School of Theology (GST) on the Rise

Entrance to the GST Campus
The three prominent brown letters GST greet every visitor who enters the campus of the Gbarnga School of Theology (GST), now the College of Theology of the United Methodist University in Liberia situated in Gbarnga City, Bong County, Liberia, West Africa. The colossal size of these letters tell a different story of the campus than what a visitor sees upon arrival there: lifeless, scattered structures, overarching trees, an unkempt campus, and an empty church building.

On one of my numerous visits, my visiting American friend asked me, midway into the campus, “Where is the campus?”

“This is it,” I said simply. As usual, and wanting me to feel good, my guest said “It is a great campus!”

The New GST Library to be named in
 honored of the Late Rev. Paul Saundar
All things considered, the statement of my friend about the greatness of the GST was very true. After 14 years of civil conflict, at which time the campus facilities where used and vandalized by the various warring factions and the peacekeepers, there is no way that the GST campus would have looked like its counterpart campuses around the world where there has been no war. So much for the sad GST story.

Recently, I was visiting the campus with a team of General Board of Discipleship/Discipleship Resources International and General Board of Higher Education and Ministries (GBOD/DRI & GBHEM) representatives who were there for the purpose of presenting 84 Kindle e-readers and conducting training for GST students who were receiving the items. Upon entering the GST campus, I couldn’t help but notice all the activity going on there. The construction of a huge building, which will house a modern library and administrative offices, a male dormitory that will house over 75 male students, and several hand pumps--one of which is being constructed by a Lutheran Missionary based in Totota, Bong County. So, I engaged the Dean, Rev. Dr. Yatta R. Young, on what was taking place.

The GST Males Dormitory
Established in 1959 and jointly run by the Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church in Liberia, GST remained the theological education lifeline of these churches, especially the United Methodist Church in Liberia. Though the partnership ended in 2000 when GST became a college of the United Methodist University, almost all of the clergy of the UMC Liberia passed through GST. The massive impact of the war on it facilities has has not kept the UMC Liberia from continuing to provide theological education to Liberians.

“We will ensure that GST is returned to its prewar status and beyond,” Dean Young declared in an interview with the West African Writers, an online magazine. She indicated that the Library Project is funded by United Methodists at home and abroad. “The largest portion of the funds; over US$20,000.00 came from Ms. Diane Shumaker of Kansas City, Missouri,” Dean Young affirmed. “The library, when completed, will move beyond the traditional library concept to introducing an e-library in order to enhance the e-reader technology which our partners at the GBOD/GBHEM are now making available to our students.  It will serve as a hallmark of new theological education in Liberia.”

The library will be dedicated in February 2014 during the session of the Liberia Annual Conference in Gbarnga City, Bong County. The library will be named in honor of the late Paul Sunder, the first leader of the Gbarnga School of Theology.

On the question of the dormitory that is now under renovation, Dean Young said, “It has been the dream of my administration to ensure that the male students are housed in order to remove the rental cost which is a major setback for most of the students in Gbarnga City, where GST is located. The dormitory is one of the facilities that gives GST the quality educational image it had in the prewar days,” the Dean asserted. According to the College of Theology Dean, the renovation work cost over US$10,000.00, including a grant coming from the Myers' Park United Methodist Church in North Carolina, the USA.

The next time I visit the College of Theology of the United Methodist University based on the campus of the famous Gbarnga School of Theology (GST), life beyond the three brown colossus letters will be a lot different. Thanks to overseas partners of the United Methodist Church in Liberia, especially those in the United States of America, for the contribution to theological education.



Friday, August 2, 2013

Sharing on the “Anti-Christian” Comments of the Two Great Churchmen

Pope Francis
The world was rocked by the comments of Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and retired Archbishop Bishop Desmond Tutu of the Anglican Church in South Africa in support of Gay and Lesbian communities. In their separate comments, each clergyman supported the fact that the constituents of these communities have legitimate rights to God's Kingdom and was in no way going to serve as a barrier to any of these people in their attempt to seek entrance to God's Kingdom. Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “God should allow gay people into heaven,” while Pope Francis said, 'If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge them?”

Bishop Tutu
Surely, these comments were too hard
for any soft-headed Christian to take lightly, especially coming from Pope Francis and Bishop Tutu, two great Christians, if I may put it that way. In Liberia and in the social media (Facebook) there were several comments about the truthfulness of Bishop Tutu's Christian stance on the gay issue. “The Bishop is not a Christian,” one comment read. As I read through the various comments, I was tempted to ask whether these people were now taking the place of God, to be condemning other individuals for their failings to follow God's instruction of righteous living instead of leaving that assignment to God.

I did not see similar comments on the pronouncement of Pope Francis simply because it was not on the social media (Facebook) or not on my page. With the millions of Catholics around world and the numbers of gay sexual abuse cases haunting the Catholic Church, eggs would have been thrown at the Pope or even at television sets if his congregations were watching around the world. As a matter of fact, thank God Pope Francis made the comment on the plane after a well-attended meeting in Brazil. Had he made the statement in one of those gathering in Brazil, he would have lost more than half his audience.

I strongly think that these two outstanding men are not alone in their thoughts and beliefs. As a matter of fact, I want to share in their stance on the issue of the rights of gay and lesbian communities. There are several institutions and documentation that support these positions. I am not certain that Bishop Tutu would want sinners and their sins in heaven just as the Pope Francis would not want to interact with people who practice homosexual acts, unlike those with homosexual orientation. For example, Pope Francis stated, “There is a Catholic teaching that separates those with homosexual orientation from those who practice homosexual acts.” According to the Pope, the orientation is not sin; it is the act that is considered sinful.

Additionally and unless this discussion is held in other contexts, I am sure it is not the place of any one person to condemn another for a decision that rests purely with God. I read that Bishop Tutu's comments were in opposition to the decision of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who threatened to “chop off the heads of gays & lesbians in his country.” As if there were not too many criminal activities in that part of the African continent or on the continent as a whole, why would any leader want to kill his people just because of their choice to life? How many gallows are there for the armed robbers, drug pushers and users, sex offenders, and all the various kinds of trafficking and traffickers? Oh, maybe African leaders, especially in those countries where there are laws against gay and lesbian practice are getting kickbacks from the other criminal activities, which they are not getting from the gay and lesbian people.

"I would not worship a God who is homophobic and that is how deeply I feel about this" Bishop Tutu said in his support of gay rights, something largely shunned and frowned upon on the African continent. Yet a lot of Africans, myself included, are not made destitute by the gay and lesbian people, but rather by the individuals who preside over our nations as presidents, lawmakers, and judges. These are the people we should shun, instead of the tiniest minority whose orientation is different from ours.

As I rumble through these classic statements (my description) of these two great Christians, especially, Bishop Tutu's, I realize that individuals with different sexual orientation have a place in God's Kingdom once they are transformed by God Himself. I think the retired Archbishop Tutu's desire to be in heaven with gay people is rooted in the scriptures. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

This is where I share in Bishop Tutu's comment. If the Apostle Paul can recognize the already washed people of God with their former identity, who is the Bishop to think that gay people will not be in heaven? The logical content of the Bishop's comment gets my strongest support.

I would not have agreed with Pope Francis more if I had not read what the Scriptures said about God's position on these matters. As it is written, Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated. What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy”(Romans 9:13-16).

For example, the Pope admitted that there is “a lot written about the gay lobby in the Vatican, but I still have not seen anyone in the Vatican with an identity card saying they are gay.” The same is true about all the religious institutions (especially churches) in the world. We all go to church with some kind of sin under our sleeves or with someone we know is living sinful life. Surely, we don't stop going because of that reason. We either talk them into changing or pray for them to change; and gays and lesbians are included.

The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline states, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God's grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons” (BOD para. 161, The Nurturing Community).

Based on all these documentations and others that I cannot cite in this piece, I share in and support the stance of these two great men who in my lifetime have presided over and are still presiding over large Christian communities in the world. I strongly believe that there is room for more at the Cross of Jesus and this includes washed and transformed gay and lesbian people. As a matter of fact, the UMC Book of Discipline states that “the grace of God is available to all”; and in my judgment, that grace can only be found in God’s house, the Church.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Action or Inaction: President Sirleaf Pronouncements

The last three weeks have been hectic from the administrative point of view for the Unity Party-led government of the Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In her nationwide radio talk show, she outlined the successes of her government and admitted some of the lapses of the government; including the fight against corruption, which has not gone well in her two terms of office, though she declared it “public enemy number one.”

For one week, radio talk show hosts launched a popularity and performance rating for the president after her hour-long radio talk show, which was hosted by the government-owned radio station, ELBC, and carried on other stations. Her opponents say she has not done anything for the nation and its people after seven years in office. Some vehemently condemned her and pointed to her lack of willpower to deal with her friends in the government who were suspected of corrupt activities. Not only did they condemn her, they refused to acknowledge the little things she has done such as the roads rehabilitation, the inclusion of non-partisans in key government positions, the recruitment of young people in the administration, and the freedom with which the government and issues related to it are discussed without fear.

Those who appeared on radio talk shows to defend the government found it difficult to make any sense at all to almost all who called in. Not because they were not making sense, but because their callers or listeners had passed judgment on them before they even came to talk to them. To the extent that citizens themselves failed to act, her government was blamed for their inactions. Listening to some of the radio talk shows, I was confused about what many Liberians, myself included, wanted from the Sirleaf-led government.

I know that at one time, I traveled to Buchanan and it took me six hours to get there. Now in less than an hour and half, I can reach the Buchanan City. Travel to Gbarnga is becoming a little easier because of the road rehabilitation, even though it is being done in parts. I am not a hospital freak so I cannot say anything about the health sector, but I am sure services at the health sector have somewhat improved. So now you see why I was confused listening to the radio talk shows.

I am not legally minded, so the issue of corruption and its attending consequences I may not be able to comment on sufficiently. Some of the things I heard on most of those radio talk shows were outrageous: “She brought her friends and relatives to give them jobs for them to take our money and go back to the United States of America”; “She and her children are pillaging our resources and there will be nothing left after her twelve years in office.” Still others alluded to concessions contracts that were signed without considering the interests of the Liberian people. Then my mind started racing back to the days when such radio show hosts or callers would be picked up by plainclothes security and driven away, only to reappear with complaints of being beaten. At this point in time, no one has been arrested for what they said or wrote about the government or the President in particular.

A few years ago, the General Auditing Commission submitted several audit reports to the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Until today, the only thing we heard about those audits is that the government does not have sufficient proof or evidence to prosecute those who are accused of misapplying public funds in the administration of their duties. Though some of them resigned, others were dismissed and later found their way into other lucrative position in other entities. Better still, others were pardoned by the lead state agency responsible for bringing such people to book. I stand to be corrected: I think all audit reports are accusations on the one hand and an opinion of the auditor on how the system has malfunctioned on the other. Unless they are requested by the court as part of its proceedings to be submitted into evidence, audit reports are strictly for institutional updates.

I also know that audits are intended to check institutional systems and how well they are functioning. I remember the years of audits at the Monrovia District Young Adult Fellowship, which I served as Coordinator for ten years, there were always opinions, recommendations, and the way forward to make the financial officers' work easier for the following year. Based on this understanding, I am convinced that audit reports are not judgments on which the President or the government can send people to jail.

The second week started with the rumors that she was bringing her friend Mary Broh to the City Hall. Another round of radio talk shows gripped the airwaves ,and for once the callers were divided down the middle. Those who wanted her to the City Hall provided all the justifications for her to come in, while her opponents also provided their reasons for her to stay off City Hall. One newspaper referred to her as “Mary Broh: The Indispensable!” Frankly speaking, I don't know where I stand on the Broh issue. Whether or not she is at City Hall, I will do my part in keeping the city and my surroundings clean. If we all did just that, we would not have need for her.

In the third week and in what I suspect is the President's response to the poor rating she got on corruption, she fired two of her officials, suspended others, and made new appointments, which included the name of Mary Broh for the City Hall. I saw the sacking and suspension as a way of buying the public off the reappointment of Mary Broh to the City Hall. So while we were again arguing on radio about the timeliness of the decision on the sacked and suspended officials, Mary Broh was being endorsed by some of the folks on Capitol Hill. My source on Capitol Hill told me that there would be a standoff on the decision to bring Mary back. Division on Capitol, a long haul.

Seeing It Differently, I strongly think that it is not the President's inaction, but the processes leading to these pronouncements. For example, dismissing and suspending the officials does not in any way bring to closure the issues at stake, including corruption. Our over zealous activists are calling for prosecution without knowing what the legal process is in these matters. I learned that the Auditor General, Robert Kelby, is already challenging his dismissal. I am sure that at the end of the day, he will have to go. I am only worried about the disappointment of those calling for prosecution.

Moreover, I don't have a recollection of how many suspended officials made it back to their offices. However, because there is an investigation as requested by the President during these pronouncements, I am hopeful that most of the people suspended will craw their way back into government. As a matter of fact, Victor B. Smith of the Public Works Ministry, who was one of the suspended government officials is back at work. Again, because our activists don't follow these issues as they are, when any of these people like in the case of Hon. Smith, return to office, most of them will consider it as the President's inaction.

The bottom line: the dismissal and suspension are considered the President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's action, but if she and her government fail to find sufficient evidence to prosecute, that will be the President's inaction as far as the activists are concerned.

Friday, March 22, 2013

UMC Liberia Holds Young People’s Leadership Training

The Rev. Dr. John G. Innis, Resident Bishop of the Liberia Area of the United Methodist Church is challenging adult leaders of the church to see young people as an important part of the church. “Let us value young people in all that we do in this church and state,” Bishop Innis declared. The Resident Bishop’s declaration was contained in his keynote address delivered at the United Methodist Church Young People’s Development Seminal on March 20, 2013, at the S. T. Nagbe Retreat Center in White Plains, Montserrado County, Liberia.
Bishop Innis said that for too long the young people of the church have been despised and regarded as troublemakers by the adult population of the United Methodist Church of Liberia. “It is now time that we start loving them and teaching them about the church we intend to leave with them,” the Bishop asserted. Speaking on the theme, “Know the Church You Will Lead Tomorrow,” the Episcopal Leader of UMC Liberia urged clergy of the church to work collaboratively with the young people in order to move the church forward in a positive way. He reiterated that the training has been his long-held vision for the young people of the church.
Bishop Innis also called on the young people to learn to understand the church that they will lead tomorrow. He emphasized that it is time that young people reflect inwardly to deal with those vices that will impede their involvement in the development and growth of the United Methodist Church of Liberia. In an apparent reference to the young people attending the training, Bishop Innis added,  “We want this nation (Liberia) to be built on this rock.”
The head of UMC Liberia further urged leaders of the young people’s ministry to provide the time and space for learning in order to enhance the understanding of their members. “We recognize the impact of the war on our young people, so we need to stand with them as we move this church forward,” the Bishop concluded.
The Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries, S. Edward Harmon, said that the church and the state need to make good their promise to the young people by making available resources that will enhance learning. “If we need effective and efficient leaders for this church and nation tomorrow, the time to act on our desire in now,” Director Harmon said.
The training is sponsored by the General Board of Church and Society (GBCS) based in the United States and other philanthropic Liberians. The workshop will last for four days (March 20-24, 2013).