Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.
CONTACT: Linda Bloom (Release # 522) (212)870-3803
NEW YORK (UMNS) -- With renewed hopes for peace, the United Methodist bishop of Liberia is re-establishing his office in that African country.
Bishop Arthur Kulah and his family left their home in the capital city of Monrovia in April after fighting erupted between government soldiers and members of one of the rebel factions. Liberia has suffered through death and devastation since a civil war began in December, 1989.
Now, with another ceasefire agreement in place and a new transitional leader -- Ruth Sando Perry, the first female head of state in Africa -- Kulah plans to stay, although his family currently remains in the Ivory Coast.
"We Liberians are a very hopeful people ... even though we have been let down many times," Kulah said during an Oct. 15 interview. A new director with the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, he was attending its annual meeting here.
Upon his return to Monrovia in September, the bishop found his residence basically intact, but his office thoroughly looted. "Everything they could carry they took," he said.
United Methodist schools also were stripped bare. "There are no chairs, no desks, not even chalkboards to write on," he added.
But Kulah's primary concern is not equipment or furnishings but keeping people -- church members included -- alive. "People are so hungry, many are dying of starvation," he said.
Shelter also is a major concern. Among the congregation at J.J. Powell United Methodist Church, for example -- one of 27 local churches in the Monrovia area -- 35 members lost their homes.
The bishop attributes his renewed hope for peace to several factors, including the plain fact that people are tired of the fighting. He believes continued pressure from the international community, such as the threat of establishing a war crimes tribunal for Liberia, will exert influence.
"The U.S. government is taking a very decisive stand to ban the warlords and their families and supporters from coming to the United States," he said as another example of that pressure.
The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) now has several representatives back in Liberia, according to F. Lloyd Rollins, UMCOR's assistant general secretary for emergency response. Its regional office, however, will remain in Sierra Leone until Liberia becomes more stabilized, he said.
UMCOR has joined with other nongovernmental organizations in asking for guarantees from the transitional government before relief operations are re-established in the country. "The April incident ... cost the relief community literally millions and millions of dollars," Rollins explained.
In the meantime, several United Methodist annual (regional) conferences in the United States have given emergency grants to allow the Liberian church to purchase food, according to Kulah.
All donations for the crisis in Liberia can be channeled through UMCOR Advance No. 150300-7.
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