Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


Ganta Mission persistently rebuilds after 2003 bombings

By Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

GANTA, Liberia -- Sampson Nyanti is on his cell phone trying to get building supplies
delivered from Monrovia. Workers are rebuilding Ganta Mission’s elementary school, and he doesn’t want the project stalled or workers idle for lack of materials.

The workers’ salaries are being paid by a grant from USAID for which Nyanti is very grateful --only four Liberian United Methodist schools have received such grants-- but he has to keep the workers supplied with materials. In a nation still disorganized from 14 years of civil war --monster potholes have made long stretches of Liberia’s untended highways barely passable-- getting supplies delivered promptly is demanding work for Nyanti, the associate superintendent of administration for Ganta Mission.

Yet, supervising construction on the elementary school is just a small part of Nyanti’s responsibilities. He is also initiating a poultry project. A thousand chicks are arriving tomorrow from nearby Guinea, and a newly reconstructed chicken shed must be ready for them if they are to survive. A truckload of chicken feed has been delivered but it got soaked by a sudden downpour (it is the rainy season in Liberia) and needs to be spread out to dry.

Passing through the high school’s home economics building to say hello to teachers and students making clothes at pedal-operated sewing machines, Nyanti hurries to see if workers installing a new tin roof on the mission woodshop have everything they need. The multi-room woodshop is one of many buildings at Ganta Mission that lost its roof to missiles shot by rebels from across the Guinea border during the final months of the civil war in 2003.

At the Ganta Mission warehouse, Nyanti checks to see how many bags remain from the last delivery of cement. Bags of cement not immediately needed for reconstruction at Ganta Mission are resold to nearby residents for a small markup. The profits help support the mission.

Then Nyanti stops by the metal workshop to greet welders who are repairing a livestock feeder. He takes a minute to examine charcoal stoves being assembled and welded in the workshop. Charcoal stoves are the primary cooking fixture in most Liberian homes but, since the war, few such consumer goods are produced locally. Almost everything for sale in Liberia is imported from elsewhere and is expensive. Nyanti hopes the sale of the stoves will generate income to help pay mission workers’ salaries.

In a room in back of the metal workshop, he checks in with carpenters using a new band saw and drill press recently shipped from the US. The carpenters are busy making student desks and chairs in a crowded temporary woodshop set up in the back of the metal workshop, one of the buildings that did not lose its roof to the bombing.

Germany’s Methodist Church recently gave Ganta Mission a contract to supply new desks to 20 elementary schools that lost furniture and other supplies to looting during the civil war. The carpenters are also building new chairs for high school students. Nyanti will try to figure out how to pay for them later.

The carpenters are training ex-combatants -- young men who had been drafted by the rebels, sometimes when they were as young as 12 or 13, to fight in the war. They spent their youth fighting and now are eager to learn a trade so they can make an honest living. A small grant from the United Methodist Church in the United States underwrites the salaries of 10 ex-combatants, who are paid one U.S. dollar a day, to learn carpentry. Nyanti wishes he had funds to train more. Finding useful trades for the thousands of ex-combatants -often still in their 20s and 30s -- is essential to the nation’s future stability.

Enterprises such as raising poultry, sewing, the woodshop, the metal workshop and welding equipment, and the building supply warehouse are projects Nyanti hopes will produce enough income, along with the grants, to pay the salaries of the mission’s 70 employees and to create jobs for others in this region of a nation experiencing a 95 percent unemployment rate. He especially concentrates on the projects that will help the mission become self-sufficient and less dependent on grants. Like most Liberian United Methodist church leaders, he knows what it is like to be in the middle of a project and have funding dry up.

In the midst of his busy day, Nyanti pauses to tell visitors from the United States, trailing behind him, about George W. Harley, a missionary who came to Liberia from Durham, N.C., in 1926. Speaking with reverence, repeating the missionary’s full name every time he refers to him, Nyanti tells the visitors that George W. Harley cut his way to Ganta through the bush when there were no roads, believing that God was calling him to serve in this remote community. The ministry George W. Harley began in 1926, Nyanti says, grew to become Liberia’s most sophisticated mission, including one of Liberia’s finest hospitals, until it was nearly destroyed by rebel missiles between June and August, 2003, in a final angry rampage just before the war’s end. Nyanti tells his visitors that George W. Harley’s ashes are buried beneath a stone monument outside the church building at Ganta Mission. The monument used to have a marker honoring George W. Harley, he says, but the rebels stole it.

Nyanti hurries his visitors past a section of Ganta Mission’s more than 400 acres that is not available to be visited. Surrounded by razor wire, it is occupied by a Bangladeshi contingent of United Nations troops who have taken over a complex of Ganta Mission buildings as the base for their peacekeeping activities in the region.

Past the U.N. compound is Ganta Hospital with many of its wings and out-buildings in ruins. Having once provided inpatient care to 250 patients a night and outpatient treatment to another 175 patients a day, Ganta Hospital has only recently managed to restore medical care to some of those who make their way to the hospital from throughout northeastern Liberia as well as from nearby regions of Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Williette Bartrea, head nurse of Ganta Hospital, says the hospital, which reopened to just a few patients in April 2004, is now caring for some 60 patients daily.

The hospital’s blood testing lab used to be one of the best in Liberia, Bartrea says, but all of the equipment and supplies were stolen by the rebels. Slowly over the past year the lab has been rebuilt and basic blood tests are being performed there again, although the capacity to do the more sophisticated tests Ganta Hospital was once known for awaits the resources to purchase additional equipment.

Bartrea had relocated to Monrovia when the hospital’s nursing school was moved to the crowded United Methodist University campus in the nation’s capital, far from Ganta, for security reasons. After teaching in Monrovia for almost two years, Bartrea recently returned to Ganta because it is her home, and she worries for the welfare of the region’s people with no access to health care. She is praying, Bartrea says, that the nursing school will soon be able to return to Ganta, but many of the school’s buildings will need to be repaired first.

Last February Liberia’s interim government promised Ganta Hospital a grant to help repair the hospital, but so far it has not delivered on its promise, Nyanti says He had hoped the money would help rebuild some of the hospital’s bombed-out wings.

Because of limited usable space, at times the children’s beds need to be pushed into the hallways, according to the Rev. John T. Togba, Ganta Hospital chaplain. Togba, who stayed behind during the 2003 bombing to rescue a child who was a patient, was the last person to leave the hospital. Bombs were exploding all around him, sometimes in places where he had been standing moments before they hit. He is still amazed that he and the little girl he was trying to rescue survived. “Praise the Lord,” he says, “The little girl God used me to save is doing well today.”


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