A delegation of United Methodist leaders from the United States will attend the inauguration of Liberia’s first African woman head of state to show support for the newly elected president.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, an active member of First United Methodist Church of Monrovia, will officially become president of Liberia on Jan. 16 during the inaugural ceremony in the country’s capital in Monrovia.
"We celebrate Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's election as president because she represents great compassion, a commitment to justice, and she is a fine disciple of Jesus Christ," Bishop Peter Weaver, president of the United Methodist Church's Council of Bishops, told the United Methodist News Service.
Johnson-Sirleaf will be presented with a Bible signed by all the denomination’s bishops. Last year, President George W. Bush, also a member of the United Methodist Church, similarly received a signed Bible from the Council of Bishops.
"We are honoring both of these United Methodist presidents and praying they will find strength and guidance in the Gospel for their particular calling," said Weaver.
Liberia is still recovering from a 14-year civil war and the UMC believes the newly elected president will greatly help the country restore peace and structure.
"Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf's election marks a huge milestone on the road to establishing peace and order in Liberia," said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society and head of the delegation, which will travel to Liberia Jan. 12-19, according to UMNS.
"She will be the first African woman head of state, a long overdue moment in African history. She brings a lot of experience to the job, something critically needed for Liberia. She is a United Methodist, and our denomination can be proud of that," he added.
The denomination has been active in ministry with Liberia since the country’s founding in the 1840s and has actively advocated for peace in Liberia for many years.
Bishop John Innis, leader of the church in Liberia, has been involved in post-war reconciliation efforts, and led the country’s United Methodists to turn out during last year’s election. Innis also advocated for a fair, transparent election process; the African Union supervised the vote and reported few irregularities.
In the months leading up to the election, United Methodists throughout the country worked to educate people in the most remote parts of the country on how to vote. The human rights department of the United Methodist Church held trainings and workshops on issues such as women's participation in the political process and the importance of voting.
"I am honored to have been invited by the government to be there for the inauguration," Weaver said. "We look forward to keeping President Sirleaf in our prayers as well as being in partnership with the Liberia government in the many ways in which the United Methodist Church is reaching out in that community. Bishop Innis has done an outstanding job of leading our strong United Methodist conference in that country."
The Liberian United Methodists are currently developing ways to work with the new administration while being independent from it.
Liberia has about 600 United Methodist churches, with a membership of about 170,000.