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CEDAW Update for United Methodist Women

by Kelly Martini

NEW YORK CITY -- Most of the capital city of Freetown, Sierra Leone has been retaken by an African intervention force. The city had been captured by rebel forces in an extension of the civil war that began there in 1991. There are still reports of sporadic rebel attacks. There are several hundred United Methodist Church congregations in Sierra Leone, under the episcopal leadership of Bishop Joseph C. Humper, in Sierra Leone. Three of the country's largest congregations are among the churches located in Freetown.

So far, we have been unable to establish contact with Bishop Humper or with United Methodist Church members in Sierra Leone. Communication by phone, fax or e-mail is impossible at this time because the telephone building, it is reported, has been blown up. According to news reports, officials in Sierra Leone hope to have phone service restored by the weekend.

We remain hopeful that Bishop Humper, our church members and all the people of Sierra Leone are safe. We at the Board of Global Ministries continue to pray for their safety and ask that United Methodists around the world join us in prayer.

The Rev. Dr. Frank Horton and his wife Carolyn, United Methodist missionaries assigned to Freetown by the General Board of Global Ministries, have relocated to Liberia until the situation in Sierra Leone stabilizes. They were able to leave Sierra Leone before the approaching rebels reached Freetown but expect to return as soon as possible. The Hortons, assigned to teaching positions at the Theological Hall in Freetown, are members of the Kentucky Annual Conference.

Neither the U.S. State Department nor the United Nations have been able to provide us with any first hand information about the situation. We have received reports of the situation in Sierra Leone via the BBC and will provide reports from United Methodist Church members there as soon as we can make direct contact.

It is reported that hundreds of people have been killed, that corpses are lining the streets of the capital, that people are being used by combatants as human shields, and that hundreds of thousands more people are trapped in their homes, with little or no food, water, and electricity. A humanitarian crisis looms as these people face starvation trapped behind rebel lines with soldiers leaving no path open for relief supplies to be brought in.

GBGM Deputy General Secretary Paul Dirdak, who heads UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, has assured me that UMCOR is monitoring the situation and, as always, stands ready to provide whatever assistance is needed as soon as a path is cleared for the delivery of aid. In the meantime, you may make donations to Advance #181205-1, Sierra Leone Emergency. Health Kits and Medicine Boxes also will be needed for relief efforts as soon as the country is opened to receive aid. Material resources should be shipped to the UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, LA. Anything you do to help alleviate the human suffering caused by the war will be greatly appreciated.

The General Board of Global Ministries has enabled United Methodist conferences and churches from around the world to be in mission partnership with the Sierra Leone Annual Conference through many, many health, education, economic, and agricultural ministries. These ministries include the Kissy Eye Clinic in Freetown, several health centers and women's training centers, Pa Lokko village for children in Kissy, Albert Academy for boys and Harford School for girls. Harford was relocated to Freetown in 1991 when the war began.

Operation Classroom, a program started in 1987 by United Methodist churches in several U. S. conferences, has organized work teams to build and repair schools, provided volunteer teachers, scholarships, equipment, books and supplies, and conducted training seminars for teachers in the church's secondary schools in Sierra Leone.

The Sierra Leone Annual Conference also has provided food, clothing, shelter, and medical supplies to tens of thousands of refugees from war-torn Liberia.

Although many of the buildings housing the conference's ministries were destroyed in earlier fighting, under the leadership of Bishop Humper, church leaders and church members have continued to work hard to rebuild and renew congregations and to provide a healing ministry to United Methodists and others who have been ravaged, traumatized, and scattered by war.

The vigorous evangelism that has always undergirded the various ministries of the church has resulted in a vibrant and growing United Methodist Church that survives and rebuilds after even the harshest blows of war. The Sierra Leone Annual Conference has nearly 300 United Methodist Churches and more than 75,000 church members. In times of crisis we are especially grateful for the spiritual and healing presence of our church to spread the word, nurture the spirit, and nourish the hope of a beleaguered people.

Our work in Sierra Leone is vital, it is urgent, and it is God's will that it be done. We will continue to be in solidarity with and in prayer for the safety and well-being of our Bishop, our church members, and all Sierra Leoneans who have been so victimized by the fighting. We ask that you include them in your prayers, and that you also pray that the moment is near when we are once again able to talk with and physically embrace our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone.

As is always the case with war, the situation is complex and information is meager. We will do our very best to keep you informed as the situation develops. We urge you to look at sites on the web that are carrying news about the war in Sierra Leone and to share that information with others so that they will be aware of the enormity of the situation and the desperate need for all United Methodists to respond.

Date posted: Feb 17, 2004