I went to Liberia last year as a part of newly ordained clergy from the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church. Illinois Great Rivers and Liberia have had a flourishing partnership since 2006. Hundreds of clergy and laity have made the journey between the war-torn West African nation that is struggling with a fledgling democracy and the heart of Illinois.
During the last six years much has been built through this partnership. Along with schools, wells, clinics, and churches, things like trust, friendship and community have been built. The partnership between Illinois and Liberia is a strong one, and it has helped bring hope to the people of Liberia and Illinois. There is hope that churches can rise up out of years of decline with the power that comes with reaching beyond the walls of the building. There is hope that a nation can rise up from the ashes of civil war with the power that comes with education, clean water, and friendship.
I was forever touched by the people of Liberia. One place that especially touched me was West Point. I cannot properly describe West Point. It is a small peninsula that juts off of Monrovia, and has two roads that enter it. Once inside, the roads are so narrow that a car can barely pass, and only when the vast amounts of people get out of the way. At its widest, it is less than a kilometer, and it is about a kilometer in length. In this tiny land area, there are approximately 75,000 people.
Towering over most of the community of West Point is John Kofi Asmah School. This school is one fruit of the partnership between the Illinois Great Rivers and Liberian Conferences of the United Methodist Church. It is the only middle and senior high school in West Point.
When I was in Monrovia in February 2011, I spent two brief days on the third floor of the school, mixing mortar for the walls of the school. During my brief time there, we build a couple of interior walls of the third floor. The work I did there was almost insignificant. It was but one thread to the larger fabric of this partnership. We were told it could take another $50,000 to buy the materials and pay the labor to finish the project. Most of us came back to Illinois with a very clear mission – complete that school.
In February 2012, another group of ordinands from Illinois traveled to Liberia (about 3-4 work groups a year make the journey. Each group consists of laity and clergy. They can work on a variety of projects, and there is one trip each year that is especially geared for teachers to go to train other teachers at the schools that have been built). They came back with wonderful news. In the year since my group left, the project has been completed. They were a part of the dedication service. I was told that at the dedication, some of the students thanked the people of Illinois for their help. I wish I could return that thanks.
I am thankful for the partnership between Illinois Great Rivers and Liberia. I know I am better for having been to Liberia. I am better for working in the heat of the Liberian sun. I am better for singing songs of praise with Liberian people. I am better for knowing Sam.
“Welcome to beautiful West Point.” That is how Sam Quarshie welcomes people to his church and his school. Sam is the associate pastor, but is known to the people of West Point as “Uncle Sam.” Below, Sam is standing next to the cornerstone plaque on the school. Sam is an inspirational man. As amazing as that school is, my hope for Liberia does not rest in buildings. Even though my own sweat is in the mortar, my hope is stronger than any concrete mixture. My hope for Liberia and my hope for Illinois lies in people like Sam Quarshie. My hope rests in the power of Jesus Christ to make all things new.