Liberian Leader Thanks Us Churches At Un Donors Conference, Hails His Nation's Continued Resilience

Press Release
Church World Service

By Chris Herlinger

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

February 9, 2004


"Keep praying for us. That's what's carried us so far."

With that, Gyude Bryant, the chairman of Liberia's interim government, thanked U.S. church leaders and representatives Thursday (Feb. 5) for their continued support as the west African nation continues to rebuild after more than a decade of civil war.

Bryant, a long-time lay leader of Liberia's Episcopal Church, is in New York for a meeting of international donors at the United Nations that he hopes will raise $500 million in assistance to Liberia.

Bryant's words of greetings and thanks - laced with the evocative religious language that is a trademark of Liberian society and culture -- signaled the continued importance of moral and financial support by U.S. churches in Liberia's long-term rebuilding and reconstruction efforts.

Though he underlined the seriousness of Liberia's continued humanitarian problems, Bryant expressed optimism about the long-term resilience of the Liberian people. Noting the widespread looting that spared no class or station, Bryant said: "One thing they did not take away was our resilience or strength."

Bryant also pointed to progress made since he took over the reins of the two-year interim government, which will hold office until 2006, shortly after planned national elections in 2005.

Among progress the government has made, he said, is in a wide-spread disarmament program that has already netted an astonishing 2,000 AK-47 rifles; the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission headed by a fellow Episcopal leader, the Rev. Canon Burgess Carr; and lowering the prices of such essentials as rice and gasoline.

"Chairman Bryant's message resonated deeply because he sees the church as a strong link between the peoples of Liberia and the United States," said the Rev. John L. McCullough, executive director of Church World Service and one of the U.S. church leaders who attended the event, held at New York's Episcopal Church Center.

"His visit to the United States and his words of hope underline the continued attention we in the United States need to pay to Liberia and to west Africa," said McCullough. "Aside from his thanks, Chairman Bryant is saying, 'Don't forget Liberia. Don't forget West Africa.' "

McCullough led an eight-member ecumenical delegation to four West African countries in July 2002 in response to calls from African church leaders who were trying to mediate a comprehensive peace settlement in the region. As part of that initiative, Church World Service hosted a "return delegation" of West African church and civil society leaders to the U.S. in March 2003 before the summer¹s culminating violence to advocate at United Nations, Department of State and legislative levels for greater attention to the Mano River Region, particularly Liberia.

CWS has initiated and supported numerous other efforts to help secure peace in West Africa; in January, CWS sponsored its first Seminars in Trauma Awareness and Recovery (STAR) outside of the United States in Freetown,
Sierra Leone. The trauma counseling training seminar included participants from Liberia and Sierra Leone.

In the initial weeks after the end of Liberia's civil war in 2003, CWS also provided $200,000 worth of material goods - including blankets, food, medical supplies and CWS "Gift of the Heart" Health and School Kits - to the Liberian Council of Churches (LCC and two LCC members, the Concerned Christian Community (CCC) and the Liberian YMCA.

Among other representatives at the Feb. 5 meeting were Victor Hsu, CWS Senior Advisor, and the Rev. Canon J. Patrick Mauney, former chair of the CWS Board of Directors.