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President of Liberia Council of Churches Visits U.S. to Seek Assistance

( [email protected] ) Aug 07, 2003 01:14 PM EDT

The president of the Liberia Council of Churches arrived the United States in search for assistance to his country, August 4. Bishop John Innis who had been living in Ghana for safety reasons urged United Methodists in the States to offer humanitarian aid to the fellow Methodists in need of support.

"People are starving. Children are dying. Medication is not available," Bishop John Innis said. The pastors and lay people of the church in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, and Buchanan City have been without food for weeks, he explained.

While Innis had initially planned to return directly to his home from Ghana, his close adviser in Monrovia urged him to seek aid in light of the urgent situation.

"This is to inform you that the current fighting in Monrovia has caused a catastrophic humanitarian problem," the Rev. John S.M. Russell wrote to the bishop July 29. "Scores of civilians are dying daily. Homes are being looted and destroyed. Thousands of persons are being uprooted from their homes and are being displaced in churches, schools, orphanages and other areas."

The people of Monrovia are experiencing an acute shortage of food, water, medicine and fuel in and around the city, Russell said. In addition, outbreaks of diarrhea, cholera and other diseases have claimed many lives, he added.

Innis explained to the United Methodist Bishops in the US, "How to get funds to Monrovia is very difficult. I hope with the peacekeepers moving into Monrovia, there can be ways to get money to my family and our suffering pastors and lay people."

While Innis was in Ghana, he worked to sustain peace in the nation.

"I briefly met with the president of Ghana, appealing to him to make every effort to ensure that there is peace in Liberia." Innis explained. "Peace in Liberia means peace in the whole of the West African region." He noted that the Ghanaian president is the current chairman of the Economic Community of West African States, which is providing peacekeepers to Liberia.

Currently, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, part of the United Methodists Board of Global Ministries, is seeking partnerships with Church World Service and Action by Churches Together to assist Liberia. UMCOR already has contributed to Church World Service airlifts into Liberia, and it is packing a container of supplies at its Louisiana warehouse for shipment.

The head of UMCOR, the Rev. Paul Dirdak, said UMCOR hopes to open a maternity clinic in the country along with an outpatient clinic to offset the destruction of the church’s Ganta Hospital by rebel fighting.

UMCOR’s foreign staff in Liberia, which had evacuated the country, is ready to go back in with staff of the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance, Dirdak said. Both groups are waiting in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

"The peace process has worked very well in Sierra Leone," Dirdak said. "As soon as the British made a very modest contribution of support to the United Nations forces in Sierra Leone, things in Sierra Leone started getting better right away, and they’ve never stopped getting better.

"That kind of intervention from a closely related outside nation has been proven to work in a number of cases – and worked very effectively," he said. He supports a similar intervention in Liberia by the United States.