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Liberian bishop paints grim portrait of a nation torn by civil war

By David Skidmore
[Episcopal News Service] 

As the bishops prepared to consider two remaining big-ticket items Thursday afternoon — namely, the budget and Title III ministry canons — they were reminded that other parts of the church were confronting life and death issues on a daily basis.

In a short, moving address following concurrence on a resolution supporting U.S. peacekeeping force in Liberia and resettling Liberian refugees in the United States (D023), Bishop Edward Neufville of the Diocese of Liberia, in the Province of West Africa, expressed his thanks for the prayers and financial aid sent by Episcopal parishes, dioceses and Episcopal Relief and Development (ERD).

Noting the speed of the response — $20,000 from ERD had been deposited in Liberia’s account Wednesday — Neufville said his diocese and nation were extremely grateful to the Episcopal Church which gave birth to the Liberian church, a connection “very unique” to the African continent.

The aid comes at a crucial time for his nation as it suffers through the horrors of civil war which has devastated people’s lives and the nation’s institutions and basic services. “Most of our education institutions have been destroyed. Some of our churches were hit by rockets. So many persons died and continue to die daily,” said Neufville.

“What is before us right now, my dear sisters and brothers, is a question of survival,” he said. With people dying of hunger and disease, most of them women and children, the most pressing need is for food and medicine, he said. More than a million Liberians have been displaced and are now crowding schools and other public and private institutions in the nation’s capitol, Monrovia, including the diocese’s school for abused and disadvantaged girls, the Bromely Institute. The diocese has also been forced to abandon, again, Cuttington College which is now occupied by refugees and so far left unpillaged by rebel forces, as well as an institute for young boys.

The 600 students enrolled at Cuttington are now in hiding all over the country, he said. “Some may have been killed; some may have left the country.” Most of his clergy, he noted, cannot be located. “Only a few have been able to escape into Monrovia.” 

The cost of reconstruction is mounting, but the greater cost will be in reclaiming and rebuilding the lives of their young people, more than 40,000 of whom have been recruited into the rebel forces. “They know nothing else but violence, how to kill, how to destroy property,” he said. “It is the responsibility of the church to adequately respond to this grave social problem.”

Neufville ended by thanking the bishops for their “expression of solidarity,” saying his church has “felt your warm touch, and expression of concern, and caring.” In response, the house gave Neufville a long standing ovation.