The Spiritual Dimension: A Key Ingredient for a Successful DDR Program in Liberia

By Rev. Wilfred M. Manyango

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 15, 2004

People of all walks of life, whether religious or non-religious, would agree that there is more to a human being than just the physical, material or flesh. Mankind is also comprised of an immaterial component. Whether you refer to it as soul or spirit, we all have an immaterial part. Both our material and immaterial components are integral to how we behave and act. An individual cannot commit a crime and assert that it was just an act of his material nature or performs an act of worship and says that it was just his spirit or soul doing it. There is a great deal of interaction between the material and immaterial in the process of committing a crime or worshiping. In fact the union between our material and immaterial components is separable only by death. Yet this is only temporal because at the end of all things, there will be a resurrection when the material is united with the immaterial to face the God of the Universe. It is what I refer to as a divine mystery. Whenever you see an individual, he or she is more than what you see. He is a union of the material and immaterial. So if life is an interaction of the total man, then dealing with issues of man should involve the whole man, generically speaking. We cannot attempt to effect tangible change in an individual by concentrating on just one aspect of the man, i.e. the material. We have to initiate programs that will deal with the whole man. This now brings me to the issue of the DDR program for ex-combatants in Liberia. I am grateful to the international community for their efforts, but I believe that there is an important dimension to a successful DDR program in Liberia. I would refer to this as the spiritual dimension. The spiritual dimension is an attempt to address the issues of the soul/spirit of a man thereby effecting change from inside out.

As was previously stated, the whole man is involved in every aspect of our lives. There is never a time when the material part of man operates void of the immaterial. That would give us two personalities and probably characterize us as schizophrenics.

Whatever we do, the whole man does it. In the case of the war in Liberia, the whole man of the combatants was involved. Whether it was killing, maiming, raping, looting, etc., it was an act of the whole man. Even though these acts were committed by the physical, it was a joint effort of the material and immaterial. So if these people are to be successfully rehabilitated and reintegrated in society, the whole man has to be taken into account. But when you take a weapon from the individual, give him/her a couple of dollars and teach him a trade, you are only dealing with the physical. This is an attempt to reform from outside in. I believe it should be simultaneous. While he is being taught, his immaterial part also needs to be touched. His soul/spirit has been affected by the war. The immaterial needs healing too and this is where the spiritual comes in.

This is obviously a touchy issue for the international community and especially the United Nations because they may not want to be seen as promoting religion. The UN does not have to get directly involved. They can contact the local congregations and ask them to partner with them in this process. The United Nations could open these DDR centers to local religious organizations to come in and offer to do some counseling and spiritual help. They will not operate under the banner of the UN, but as individual groups that want to help the combatants.

These combatants have done and seen a lot of terrible things, and some have even been traumatized. To put them in camps, give them some cash, take their arms and teach them some trade may help in the interim. But a lasting solution has to address both the spiritual and physical. This simultaneous action attempts to bring change to the whole man and not only focuses on the physical, but brings about change from inside out. There is immense power resident in the immaterial and if that is positively affected, there is a potential for dramatic change, which will then affect the material.

As a Christian Minister, I was privileged to have been involved in the process of seeing lives changed from the inside out. In fact my life was transformed from the inside out. I tried all along growing up to reform my life from outside in, but it all ended in futility. But when I trusted Christ, He transformed me from inside out. Not only that, but I was once involved with a ministry to former combatants in Jui, about ten miles from Freetown the capital of Sierra Leone. I was one of two ministers that worked with over 400 former combatants. These individuals, male and female, young and old, Liberians and Sierra Leoneans, fought in the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They were brought in to the camp by the government of Sierra Leone so as to demobilize them. They were given shelter, food and other basic necessities so as to help them return to their “normal” lives. It did not work. In fact a lot of them resorted to criminal behavior. The ministry that was started among them was intended to bring about spiritual transformation. We engaged them spiritually involving them in spiritual activities, counseling them and exposing them to spiritual things such as prayer, Bible studies, worship services, etc. It was amazing what the result was. About 75-80% of those whom we were involved with experienced a dramatic change. Our goal was to effect visible change in them from the inside out and in a large part, we were successful. A lot of them experienced dramatic changes in their lives and refused to re-enlist or return to their former lives when the opportunity came. Some decided to even leave the camp and start their lives over. Let me make one point. This process is not automatic nor does it happen overnight. It takes patience and perseverance on the part of those who would want to be involved. Sometimes an individual has to be engaged for a while to see change or other times, some may respond negatively or not respond at all. I saw all of these different reactions, but we were not deterred.

The international community may not be willing to go this far and deal with the spiritual dimension of the DDR, but local pastors and religious leaders should take advantage of this opportunity. This is a challenge that must be taken. We have to be involved soon. After the international community is done with this exercise, we will be left to take care of our brothers and sisters. We need to get involved early and quickly. Pastors, religious leaders, and ordinary believers should begin to pray as to how they can be involved in this process. Also Liberians in the Diaspora, pastors, ministers, religious leaders or ordinary believers should help empower the church back home as they get involved in this process of bringing about change in the lives of these ex-combatants from the inside out. This could take the form of financial help, going on mission trips, etc. We have to take the challenge.

I have been attempting to propose another dimension to a successful DDR program in Liberia. I have termed this the Spiritual Dimension. This is an attempt to effect change in the lives of these ex-combatants from the inside out. This dimension appreciates and welcomes taking care of the physical needs of these people, but a greater help can be done and lasting change effected when the immaterial part of the human being is considered. I have been personally involved in this exercise and seen it work tremendously. If it were not for the war in Sierra Leone that came closer and threatened the refugee camps and made us flee, who knows how many people would have experienced that special spiritual touch. Whether we see it this way or not, every war from the one fought in Liberia to the present situation in Iraq, there is a spiritual battle going on. There is a battle between God and Satan. We cannot only use physical tools to reform people who have been involved in this spiritual war or else we will just be covering up the main issue. We have to also use spiritual tools to reform scared spirits ands souls. I hope and pray that the believing community will take this challenge and act on it. Lord willing, I will be traveling to Liberia soon to help equip the pastors for this task and also if possible get personally involved.