Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

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

Name:
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.

7/21/2005

United Methodist is frontrunner in Liberia's presidential race, scholars say

By Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

MONROVIA, Liberia - It is quite likely that a United Methodist will become the first woman to be elected president of Liberia, according to interviews with faculty members and students at Liberia's United Methodist University.

University faculty members and students identified Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, formerly an official with the United Nations, the World Bank, and Liberia's Finance agency, as the frontrunner in Liberia's presidential race during impromptu conversations July 16. The faculty members interviewed included, among others, a political scientist, a theologian, and the university president.

University president J. Oliver Duncan called Johnson Sirleaf a "very strong, very focused leader," and said that many Liberians "are dreaming of bringing forth the first woman president of Liberia."

Johnson Sirleaf, an active member of the First United Methodist Church of Monrovia, is one of more than 50 aspirants who have announced their intention to run for the nation's highest office. Some will run as nominees of Liberia's 30 political parties; others may run as independents. Candidates have until Aug. 6 to fulfill requirements established by Liberia's National Elections Commission to qualify as either party nominees or independent candidates. Campaigning officially begins Aug. 11. The election will be held October 11.

The Rev. Julius Sarwolo Nelson, Jr., dean of the university's Gbarnga School of Theology, said that out of the many contenders only five or six will actually turn out to be viable candidates. He believes that during the final weeks of the campaign, the number of candidates who have a chance of winning will drop to two or three. Johnson Sirleaf will run as "the standard bearer" - a term commonly used in Liberia for presidential candidates nominated by political parties - of the recently formed Unity Party.

Johnson Sirleaf's candidacy is currently being ratified at Unity Party conventions -similar to state-level party primaries in the United States - being held county by county throughout the nation. The numbers attending Unity Party conventions have been exceptionally high, and support for Johnson Sirleaf has been enthusiastic, according to observers.

Blessing Harris, a political scientist on the university faculty, agrees that Johnson Sirleaf will likely be the leading candidate when the campaign officially opens. "Ellen is a capable person; she is educated," he said. "She has had experience working in government in Liberia, and she has worked in the U.N. for quite a while."

But Harris warned that the campaign could include some surprises. Because many of Liberia's schools could not function during the country's 14-year civil war that ended in 2003, the literary rate in the nation is low, Harris said. Some studies cited by university faculty suggest that only two out of 10 Liberians are now literate, a drastic drop from pre-civil-war literacy levels. Harris was not sure the same qualities in candidates that are admired by more educated voters will win the votes of less literate Liberians.

Harris also wondered whether Liberia's young adults might be attracted by the candidacy of soccer superstar, George Weah, who recently returned to Liberia to become the nominee of the Congress for Democratic Change Party. Weah recently transferred his membership from the First United Methodist Church of Monrovia to George Patten United Methodist Church, a growing, youth-oriented congregation located in the midst of Monrovia's market area.

Wyeatta Moore, a young adult studying sociology at United Methodist University, agreed that young adults, especially young men, are drawn to Weah because he is a sports hero. But, she said, in a nation where many feel leaders have been self-interested and corrupt, some young adults look to Weah as a possible alternative to "business as usual" in Liberian politics. "They don't see him as a regular politician," Moore said. "He is the one who is the outsider who is not looking for money because he is already rich."

Young adults, aged 18 to 30, make up half of Liberia's 1.3 million registered voters and are expected to have a significant impact on the election. Moore believes, however, that most young women will vote for Johnson Sirleaf. "Everybody is saying it is time for a woman president," she said. Over 50 percent of those registered to vote in the Oct. election are women, she added.

Ambassador T. Ernest Eastman, dean of the university's College of Liberal and Fine Arts, has been impressed by the response so far to Johnson Sirleaf's Unity Party, but was cautious. "No one wants to bet completely on her, but she may emerge as the central candidate," the former Liberian secretary of state said. "We don't know how the election will go until the campaign."

The professors said perceptions about the ethnic and religious affiliations of presidential aspirants, and their vice-presidential candidates yet to be named, will also affect the campaign. Most candidates are Christians from Monrovia, Liberia's largest urban center by far, yet many Liberians in rural counties are suspicious of urban and Christian people. They identify more with tribal affiliations and non-Christian traditions.

Even though she is urban and Christian, Johnson Sirleaf appeals to some rural voters because she is a descendant of a powerful rural tribe and the widow of a Muslim man, the professors said. Eastman and Nelson emphasized that the results of the campaign will be influenced by each aspirant's ability to select vice-presidential candidates able to reach out to rural and tribal voters outside of Monrovia.

During a brief interview July 15, Johnson Sirleaf said she is optimistic. "We do not have as many financial resources as some other parties," she said, "but I am reassuring the people that the money we are spending is money that has been earned honestly. I tell them we have not mortgaged Liberia's future by taking money with strings attached, and people seem to be responding to this message."

Johnson Sirleaf said her party has developed a strong slate of candidates in local races for seats in parliament, and that local support for these candidates will strengthen the national presidential campaign effort.

According to university faculty members, in addition to Johnson Sirleaf and Weah, others expected to be strong presidential candidates include:

* Varney Sherman, nominee of the Liberian Action Party, the party currently in control of Liberia's interim government;
* Togba Nah Tipoteh, an economist and founder of the popular social change organization Justice in Africa who will run as the nominee of the Liberia People's Party (Tipoteh is also a United Methodist);
* Winston Tubman, nominee of the National Democratic Party of Liberia, the party established by former President Samuel Doe, former U.N. secretary general representative to Somalia, and the nephew of the late President William V. S. Tubman (the Tubman family has historically been strongly identified with the United Methodist Church);
* Charles Brumskine, the nominee of the Liberty Party, a lawyer who once was close to exiled President Charles Taylor but who left the Taylor government and fled to the United States due to philosophical differences (he now attends a nondenominational church, although his father was a highly respected district superintendent in the Liberian Annual Conference); and
* Roland Massaquoi, secretary of agriculture in Taylor's administration, the candidate of Taylor's National Patriotic Party.

Faculty and students agreed that, no matter who wins the election, the new president faces a daunting challenge. The war torn country has been without centralized electricity and operable water and sewage systems for the past 15 years. Because highways have not been repaired and are now pitted with potholes, transports that used to take 45 minutes can now take hours. The rural population fled to the city to escape the rebels and lost their farming equipment to looters, so agricultural production is limited and the cities are overcrowded. The unemployment rate is estimated at 95 percent, and no one is paying taxes. U.N. troops are still stationed throughout the country to keep the peace.

Faculty and students agreed that this will be a critical election for Liberia's future. Eastman said that strong presidential leadership is essential to maintain peace in Liberia. "Our soldiers have still not surrendered all their weapons; they are buried," he said. "They [the combatants in Liberia's civil war] are untrained in anything else but fighting; the only thing they know of family life is war." United Methodist University faculty members estimate that 110,000 Liberians or more are ex-combatants.

7/20/2005

Welcome Faithwriter, Steve Swecker, to Methodism's Blogosphere

Steve Swecker, editor of Zion's Herald, has begun a blog at www.faithwriterblog.com/. Swecker is an excellent editor and Zion's Herald is an important magazine. It is good to have him blogging.

It has long disappointed me that United Methodism has such a minimalist independent press. The United Methodist Reporter is independent, sort of. Much of its income comes from annual conferences and local churches that contract with the Reporter to produce their conference newspapers, including pages of national news and opinion provided by the Reporter. Alienate the leaders of those conferences and churches, and your publication could go down the tubes pretty quickly.

Zion's Herald truly is independent. Although it is underwritten by an endowment, it is not obligated to any part of the structures and hierarchies of United Methodism.

Don't get me wrong; I think United Methodist News Service does an excellent job. I am also very impressed by the professionalism of the editors of our conference newspapers throughout the denomination. These are people who love the United Methodist Church and who, at the same time, are committed to the highest standards of honesty, full disclosure, and objective reporting.

Yet, if the bills are paid by the General Conference or the annual conference, there will always be a sense that the news and commentary in our publications will tend to represent the interests of the church hierarchy. Zion's Herald is special because it is beholden to no one.

I wish we as United Methodists were willing to pay reasonable (or even generous) subscription fees to more independent publications so that they could have enough income to pay the salaries of editors and reporters to tell us the good and bad news about United Methodism and to provoke discussion and debate even when it ruffles feathers.

Bloggers help us learn more about the church and stimulate good discussion, but most of us blog in stolen moments. We are not reporters or editors. So I value Zion's Herald, and look forward to reading Swecker's blog. Welcome.

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.”

More about Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry

After returning from Liberia I found a letter in my mailbox from the Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, the president of Lifewatch and editor of its newsletter. He wrote in response to my July 3 post entitled "Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry."

In his letter he gives me permission to make it public, so I will do so here, and then make a few brief comments in response.

07 July 2005
Dear Rev. Snyder:

Grace and peace to you. I trust that your travels to, and in, Africa went exceedingly well.

Yesterday I read through your "Lifewatch, Reconciling Ministries, the United Methodist Building, and Lake Junaluska: Why We Worry." As the author of "What Motivates Lifewatch?" as indicated by the "PTS" at the end of the article, I would like to make three comments in response to your article.

First, please know that Lifewatch actually pays for use of the chapel (for the Lifewatch Service of Worship) and the meeting space (for the Lifewatch Board Meeting) in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill each January. Again, Lifewatch pays for the privilege of annually using space in the United Methodist Building. So the larger denomination is not subsidizing Lifewatch.

Second, methinks there is a significant difference between Lifewatch's commitment to change our church's teaching on abortion and the Reconciling Ministries Network's commitment to alter our church's teaching on homosexuality. The difference is that Lifewatch's commitment is based on the Church's ecumenical teaching through the ages, while the Reconciling Ministries Network's commitment is opposed to the Church's ecumenical teaching throughout the ages. Again, the Great Tradition, which is simply the paper trail of the Church's teaching on the Bible through the centuries, teaches merciful protection of the unborn child and mother, and the disordered nature of homosexual activity. Therefore, Lifewatch stays with the Great Tradition, while the Reconciling Ministries Network is against it.

And third, with you I share deep concern about well-intentioned United Methodists who want to limit or eliminate public, moral-theological discourse in various locations of The United Methodist Church. In my experience over the years in denominational and ecumenical ministries, the left-of-center establishment has at times engaged in "discourse management," shall we say. The same behavior by those right-of-center is, and would be, equally repugnant. The ideal would be for the church faithfully offering her teach[ings] with intellectual sophistication and persuasiveness, and then welcoming voices of dissent; to which the Church would then respond in the Spirit of truth and love. This is the practice of the "generous orthodoxy" that this pastor finds compelling.



If you would like to make this letter public in any way, be my guest.

Thank you for your courage and good cheer in grappling with some of the most difficult matters facing The United Methodist Church today.

Be faithful in all things.

In Christ,

(The Rev.) Paul T. Stallsworth

Pastor, and President/Editor of Lifewatch

This is a letter written tenderly and kindly, I think, without the writer sacrificing his deepest commitments and values or suppressing areas where he or I might disagree. I greatly appreciate this, and am touched by it. Here are just a few thoughts in response to the letter.

First, I said in my post that I would be surprised if Lifewatch paid rent to worship in the United Methodist Building. Turns out I am surprised. I would have thought the General Board of Church and Society might allow a United Methodist-related caucus to worship in our building. Maybe it is appropriate that a caucus rent meeting space, but worship space is different. I appreciate this clarification, and am left feeling as if the board ought perhaps to be more generous. Either we ought to allow this group of fellow United Methodists to worship in our building or we ought not, but we shouldn't let rent money be the deciding factor.

Still, it does not change the underlying point I tried to make in my post. Lifewatch is paying its own way in the United Methodist Building. The Reconciling Congregation Network is paying its own way at Lake Junaluska. If one of these is okay, the other ought to be okay as well. I don't think Rev. Stallsworth disagrees with this, but Good News and the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) seem to.

Secondly, I find myself somewhat in awe of the idea that "the Great Tradition" of "the Church's ecumenical teaching throughout the ages" supports Lifewatch's position on abortion, while the Reconciling Ministries Network's position is contrary to it. Wow. Isn't this somewhat presumptuous? (I am trying to remember which of the ecumenical councils addressed abortion and sexual orientation. And I am wondering what "the Great Tradition" has to say about the divine right of kings, class systems within society and the church, the role of women in church and society, the rights and responsibilities of children and youth, and the place of the laity in church governance.)

The Greatest Tradition that I am most aware of says: "Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and your neighbor as yourself." The implications of this greatest tradition for our understandings of abortion, sexual orientation, and other concerns is the question, I think. Otherwise "the Great Tradition" could be used to justify all sort of unjust and even barbaric social practices.

Thirdly, yes, let neither those left-of-center nor those right-of-center limit discourse. And let us continue to hold one another accountable for fair, honest, open, and undistorted communication.

Rev. Stallsworth, my brother, thank you for your letter.

7/19/2005

United Methodist schools determined to educate Liberia’s children

By Dean Snyder and Jane Malone

BUCHANAN, Liberia – “Give me pen, not gun” reads a hand-written poster on the cafeteria wall of J.F. Yancy School at Camphor Mission near Buchanan, Liberia. The slogan is not hyperbole. Beginning in the early 1990’s, boys as young as 12 and 13 were recruited or forcibly drafted into rebel armies, given guns, and deployed to fight and kill other Liberians for more than a decade.

Since Liberia’s former president Charles Taylor finally stepped aside in 2003 and the United Nations has deployed peacekeeper troops, Liberia’s deadly 14-year civil war has largely subsided and order has been restored to much of the nation. Yet, the chaotic war took countless lives and has left the nation’s buildings, roads, schools, businesses, and government in disarray. Liberia has had no centralized systems for providing electricity, sanitary water, safe disposal, or trash collection for a decade-and-a-half now. Unemployment is estimated at 95 percent.

In an election scheduled for October 11, Liberia will select a new president, and hopefully, the nation, once considered the “jewel of West Africa,” will be able to rebuild.

In the meantime, Liberian United Methodists are eager to get the nation’s children back into the classroom. As the 2004-2005 school year drew to a close in July, Richard Clarke, director of the Department of General Education and Ministries for the Liberian Annual Conference, reported that its 120 schools are at least partially back in operation, although some of them are meeting in church buildings because classrooms vandalized during the war are unusable.

To recover the scope and quality of education that characterized its pre-war school programs, the Liberian Annual Conference must overcome overwhelming challenges: ruined school buildings; insufficient funds to pay teachers; the need to train new teachers; shortages in basic school supplies and school furniture; and inadequate resources to cover costs for families who cannot afford the modest tuition (the equivalent of U.S.$12-67 per year, depending on the school’s location).

Circumstances at J.F. Yancy School and two other United Methodist schools in the Buchanan vicinity in southeast Liberia illustrate the desperate lack of resources in the nation’s United Methodist schools.

Yancy School is a boarding and day school located on the grounds of Camphor Mission a few miles outside Buchanan. Its faculty and students were forced to flee Camphor when the popular boarding school’s campus was overtaken by rebel soldiers. Since the war’s end, the school has reopened and now serves 184 elementary and junior high students, a fraction of its former enrollment. Only a few students live at the school; the majority live walk to school from villages as far away as two or three miles.

Other programs at Camphor Mission that serve the school's students and families as well as the larger community include a health clinic, a church with a congregation of 300, and a fledgling agricultural project that includes soap-making, vegetable growing, and raising pigs and chickens.

Arthur Jimmy, director of Camphor Mission, is eager to repair Camphor Mission’s schools and other buildings so its educational and other programs can become fully functional again. As Jimmy guided visitors from the United States around the school and mission grounds July 12, he talked about the need for books, salaries for teachers, and repairs to the buildings. Then he added, almost in a whisper, “We have another obstacle, a big one.” The mission’s only source of water is an untreated shallow stream.

As Jimmy led his visitors down a narrow muddy trail through the bush to the stream, he explained that the mission desperately needed a source of clean potable water for the health of the school’s students, but also for the thousand nearby residents who depend on the Camphor clinic for health care and midwifery.

Without a well or reservoir, students and mission personnel must carry water from the stream100 yards up a steep hill to the dorms and cafeteria. The stream is so shallow that a bucket can be filled only half-full at a time. Because the water is untreated, students and faculty often suffer from gastrointestinal illnesses and even cholera. The cost of building a reservoir where water can be collected and purified -- about U.S.$60,000, Jimmy said -- is almost inconceivable in an economy where families can afford to contribute only small tuition payments and where many are not able to pay tuition in full from the small incomes they make selling their meager crops.

Five bumpy miles away --Liberia's roads have had no maintenance forthe past 15 years-- is the Brighter Future Children Rescue Center, a United Methodist school system currently serving more than 500 students from first through twelfth grades. Built with funding from Operation Classroom, a program sponsored by the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, the W.P.L. Brumskine High School constructed in the early 1990s as the civil war was beginning is already overcrowded.

During the war, the school property was occupied by refugees driven from their homes. About 2,500 refugees were crowded into the school’s buildings, according to Chapman L. Adams, Brumskine’s principal. After the displaced families had been resettled by the United Nations, the school’s teachers returned to repair and repaint the buildings.

As the school year was ending this July, Adams worried about where he would put students in September when classes begin again. The high school has four classrooms. This year the school had one senior class with 50 students, a junior class with 50 students, and two sophomore classes with 50 students each. Next year he will need two sophomore and two junior classrooms, as well as a classroom for seniors. The year after that, he expects to need six classrooms.


The campus includes a large metal frame structure that was once covered with a tent, until refugees tore it apart to make makeshift shelters. The large tent had provided space for three elementary classes. If Adams could erect a new tent on the old frame, he could move elementary classes into the tent and expand the high school classrooms. To do so would cost about $2,000, he said. Barely able to pay teachers’ salaries, he has no idea where he will be able to find the money to rebuild the tent by September.

The third school, the J.C. Early United Methodist School, is located inside the city limits of Buchanan in a neighborhood called Gbehjohn. The school was begun during the war for students who were forced to flee from Camphor Mission into the city. Faculty and parents built a makeshift school out of dried reeds and bamboo in this urban community, less vulnerable to rebels than Camphor Mission because of the city’s population density. Once Camphor Mission reopened, Buchanan clearly continued to need a school, so the makeshift school has become permanent. It now serves 316 students in elementary and junior high classes.

Recently the school administration recognized that the bamboo buildings constructed in haste 11 years earlier would not serve the needs of a permanent school. With almost no resources, the school is being rebuilt literally one block at a time. Dirt is carried to the school from nearby landfill sources in wheelbarrows, then dampened with water and pounded into an oblong wooden frame template. Each dirt block is then dried in the sun and used to build new walls.

It is a slow process, said vice-principal Abraham K. Wilmot, but with no money to buy building materials, it is the only option.

One of the corollary benefits of a United Methodist school continuing in this Buchanan neighborhood after Camphor Mission reopened is the birth of a new congregation. The school buildings are used on Sunday mornings for worship and Sunday School by Gbenjohn United Methodist Church, a congregation begun by the Rev. George Mingle eight years ago. Despite the return of its earliest worshippers to Camphor Mission, the congregation has grown to more than 200 worshippers.

United Methodist schools in other rural communities throughout Liberia are trying to educate students in circumstances even more dire than those faced by the Buchanan area schools, according to Clarke. As the person responsible to oversee and support the United Methodist school system in Liberia, his highest priorities are training enough teachers to keep the school system supplied, finding scholarships to allow poverty-stricken families to send their children to school even when they can not pay full tuition, and getting the school buildings repaired. The difficulty of meeting this last goal especially troubles him. “In the rural communities, especially during the rainy season, it brings tears to your eyes to see where students are sitting,” Clarke said.