A Candid Conversation with Bishop Augustus B. Marwieh
By Siahyonkron Nyanseor
Bishop & Mrs. Augustus Marwieh
Bishop Marwieh: I am happy to be given the opportunity to be on your program to have this conversation with you, Mr. Nyanseor.
TP: Bishop Marwieh, we are glad to have you.
Bishop Marwieh: Thank you!
TP: Bishop, there is this missionary I read about in the book, “When God says Go: The Amazing Journey of a Slave's Daughter” written by Lorry Lutz, which you assisted her to write. The name of the missionary is Elizabeth Davis-George or Mother Eliza George, as she was affectionally known, practically raised you and was responsible for your education as well as your role in the ministry. How did it happen?
Bishop Marwieh: Mother Eliza Davis-George had a passion to get the Word of God to every town and village in Liberia and to establish a school where it was needed to teach the children. So she founded the Kelton Baptist Mission in Snow Country, Sinoe County, Liberia. She trained Liberian young people and sent them as missionaries to take the Word of God to their own people and to provide education for their children. She helped each couple she sent as missionaries to establish a mission station in their own town where the Word of God and a school were needed. It was on one of the mission stations that I started school with one of her missionary couples, Newspaper (name of an individual) and Frances George. It was through them that I came to know Mother Eliza Davis-George. Mother Eliza did so much for Liberia that she was decorated two times. President William V.S. Tubman decorated her and President William R. Tolbert, Jr. decorated her. She went from the United States to Liberia as missionary when she was 35 years old and worked in Liberia until she was 92. In 1972, she returned to the United States to retire; she died in Austin, Texas in 1979 at the age of 100.
TP: How come she took so much interest in you? Also, could you tell me why this individual was called “Newspaper”?
Bishop Marwieh: She took interest in me when Teacher Newspaper George and his wife moved back with me to Kelton, the main mission station where Mother resided. She used to call me local preacher. However, when in 1948 she returned from the U.S. and wanted to take a youth to America, she chose Andrew Saydee, who had been on the mission much longer than I. However, by 1948 I had been praying to go to the United States for four years without anyone knowing that I was praying to go to the States. One of the reasons why I did not tell anyone was, I felt that people would have thought it ridiculous for a native boy from the hinterland with his ten toes on the ground to pray to go to the United States when “good people” in those days felt that going to the United States was far beyond their reach. But to my astonishment, when Mother's indigenous missionaries who had come from their various mission stations to welcome her back to Liberia heard that she was planning to take Andrew Saydee to the United States, they asked for a special meeting with her and asked her to take me to the States instead of Andrew Saydee. Mother consented and decided to take me with her to America instead of Andrew Saydee. As for Teacher Newspaper George, he got the Newspaper name from his father who was Korpu Newspaper. His father got the name while he served in the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF).
TP: Bishop Marwieh, according to your CV (Curriculum
Vitae) you served as Principal of Ricks Institute, Director
of E.N.I. Mission that you and your wife took from an
elementary school to a full fledge high school as well
as you established the Peoples Polytechnic Institute,
which provided post high school education for high school
graduates before the civil war; you went on to found
the Association of Independent Churches of Africa (AICA),
the Ministry of Hope (MOH), the Agency for Holistic
Evangelism and Development (AHEAD), and the West African
College for Sustainable Development in the Liberian
Refugee Camp in Ghana; now that you have advanced in
age, I believe you are 78 years old, have you considered
selecting or appointing your successor that will take
over the role of running the E.N.I (Elizabeth Native
Interior) Mission and AHEAD (the Agency for Holistic
Evangelism and Development)?
TP: Bishop, your wife has long standing roots to E.N.I. Mission and Mother George. What are her thoughts on your selection of Klahn-Gboloh as Director and CEO of E.N.I. Mission and Oscar James as President of AHEAD (Agency for Holistic Evangelism and Development?
Bishop Marwieh: My wife is in agreement with my selection of Klahn-Gboloh Jarbah as Director and CEO of E.N.I. Mission and Oscar James as President of AHEAD. Both men are highly qualified for the positions.
TP: Is it true that in 1978, President William R. Tolbert, Jr. visited the E.N.I. Mission?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, President Tolbert and many of his top officials visited E.N.I. in 1978. One of his officials told me that as they kept going deeper into the hinterland, many of the officials traveling with him kept wondering, “Where is the President taking us?”
TP: Why did he decide to visit a mission that was so far out of the way and what were their impressions when they arrived?
Bishop Marwieh: The President had promised me that when he visited Sinoe County, he was going to visit the E.N.I. Mission and he was true to his promise. After traveling for a long time on a narrow farm-to-market road, they were astonished when from the hill they suddenly saw in a distant a beautiful, well developed mission station. It was like an oasis in a dessert. The President was tremendously impressed with both the students and the beautiful campus and he was most generous in his praise of E.N.I. and of those of us whom God used to build the mission. The President's visit to E.N.I. was the greatest moment in our seventeen years of ministry in the hinterland. Suddenly E.N.I. Mission became known to the whole nation. We received support from an organization in the United States called Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission (CNEC) now called Partners International. It had its International Headquarters in San Jose, California from 1960 to 1999; later on, the Headquarters were moved to Spokane, Washington. Partners International supported E.N.I. Mission from 1965 to 1990, but the Liberian Civil Wars disrupted our operation in the country.
TP: Bishop Marwieh, in the book, “When
God says Go: The Amazing Journey of a Slave's Daughter,”
is a story titled, “A Cannibal's Son” in
which you stated, After I was born and became very sick,
they spent time discussing what had caused this strange
illness in the Marwieh's baby son. After hours of discussion,
the man [men] finally agreed to call the witch doctor
to diagnose my trouble -- a measure taken only as a
last resort. The witch doctor charged high fees for
his service.” As a person of the Kwa speaking
group of Liberia, I see a misinterpretation of GLEEYOR,
which in Klao (Kru) language could mean physician according
to the service he/she performs. Why will someone who
performs this task be called a “witch doctor,”
and not a doctor or African doctor -- if you must?
Bishop Marwieh: You are so right! Since we know better now, we should refrain from using witch doctor and replace it with either medicine man or traditional African doctor.
TP: I am told when you were young you worked as a porter? Can you explain for our reading audience how you became a porter, and what were some of the tasks you were made to perform?
Bishop Marwieh: President Edwin Barclay wanted to connect the whole country by motor roads and since he did not have road building equipment but had the manpower, he ordered all the District Commissioners in the country to connect all the districts and counties by roads. Therefore each District Commissioner ordered all the chiefs within his district to send laborers to build roads designed to connect the various districts and counties. I was one of those from our tribe who were sent to build the roads in our district, Juarzon District, Sinoe County. I worked on the road every four weeks for two weeks. Life on the motor road was not easy because the soldiers who were in charge of road construction could whip us at any time without mercy, particularly when they were drunk. Under the administration of Edwin Barclay, life was not easy in the hinterland. The entire hinterland was like a country under Marshall Law. But when Tubman became President, he stopped the oppression of the people in the rural area of Liberia. Tubman was to my generation what Abraham Lincoln was to the United States.
TP: Bishop, what sort of tasks you performed
while you were away on your porter assignments?
Bishop Marwieh: Some of the men on the motor road dug dirt with diggers while some put the dirt with shovels into our baskets and we the boys carried the baskets on our heads to where the roads were being built. When we emptied our baskets, we hurried back for more dirt and this we did from in the morning till the sun went down.
TP: How long did you work as porter on these motor road projects?
Bishop Marwieh: I did my first porter work in 1938 and my last work in 1942. After my father died in 1942, I went to Ceedor, near the sea coast to live with my cousin, Tah Freeman, Harry Tah Freeman's father.
TP: Were you paid for the work you did on the road?
Bishop Marwieh: No! No one got paid! The only pay we got were cruel lashes the soldiers gave us, urging us to work faster and harder in the hot sun or in the rain.
TP: When did you start school?
Bishop Marwieh: I started school in 1943 after I went to Ceedor to live with my cousin Tah Freeman after my father's death.
TP: August 18, 2003, a group called the Liberian Youth Leadership Forum (LYLF) came up with what was termed “Personality Traits Of Contestants For The Transitional Presidency.” They listed you along with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (now President of Liberia), Theresa Leigh-Sherman, Gyude Bryant, Alhaji G.V. Kromah, Marcus R. Jones, the late George Toe Washington, Togba Nah-Tipoteh, Wesley Johnson, Roosevelt Quiah, the late Harry Fumba Moniba, and Rudolph Sherman - according to the group, the public should get to “know them now to avoid repeating past mistakes as you decide our nation's future.” The article was published in The Perspective. They went on to say:
"Liberia is a sanctity that has been abused by its past and present leaders. Spiritually, something has gone terribly wrong in Liberia: Evidence of moral decadence pervades the government machinery. Divine intervention is therefore required to rescue our Nation from the hands of evil forces. Can Bishop Marwieh be the one to restore “This Sweet Land of Liberty by God's Command” to its sanctity? Aged and without the slightest knowledge of State craft, the Bishop cannot be the one that God has anointed for this Herculean task because as evidence shows, he has joined those who are using money to influence decisions in their favour.” What is meant by “evidence shows, he has joined those who are using money to influence decisions in their favour”? Can you explain that? (Reference http://www.theperspective.org/transitionalpresidency.html)
Bishop Marwieh: When I was in the 4th grade, my uncle, Plumbuo asked me if I was going to seek to be a District Commissioner when I completed my education. I told him that I wanted to be a missionary. He was terribly disappointed because being a District Commissioner meant everything to our people in those days. And when I was in the third year high school, the late Newspaper George and Samuel Wiah asked me what I wanted to be when I completed school. I told them that I wanted to be a missionary. They too were greatly disappointed. The late Honorable John G. Rancy and his wife, when Rancy was Press Secretary to President William V. S. Tubman, told me that President Tubman wanted me to run for the House of Representatives and he would support me. I told them that I had no interest in politics. I was called to be a missionary because it was in this field I could make my greatest contribution to my country. I never, never had any interest in politics but when a number of people kept telling me that the faction leaders at the Liberian Peace Conference in Ghana felt that I would be the person who could bring the nation together during the interim period, I decided to give it a thought. So I went to the peace conference in Ghana. I found out that it was true that some of the faction leaders felt that I was going to be the one that could hold the country together during the interim period. But I had told God that if it was not His will for me to pursue such a course, it would be like committing suicide. However, I did not wait for the conference to end, I returned to the United States to attend to a pressing business that needed my immediate attention.
And with regard to the allegation that I joined others in using money to gain favor, I did help people that approached me for help as is usually the case. If it was taken as using money to gain favor, that's not true. In my line of work, I always help those that are in need. If others were giving money away to gain favor, I was not aware of it.
TP: Bishop, now that we have a democratic elected government in place in Liberia, is there something you would like for the government to do or is there a particular concern you have that you would like for the government to embark upon?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, I have a big concern about a problem, which the nation faces, and with the time I have left on this earth, be useful to my people and Government to find solution or solutions to some of these problems.
TP: What are the problems you so concerned about?
Bishop Marwieh: Before the Liberian Civil War, the population of Monrovia was 425,000. The population is now estimated to be 1.2 million. Most of the people now living in Monrovia are from the hinterland and majority of them do not have jobs to do. This means hundreds of thousands are sitting around with nothing productive to do with their time and energy. One day I became curious to know how much the thousands of people with nothing to do were costing the nation. When I did some calculation to find out, I was stunned to know that every 10,000 people who are capable of working but that are sitting around in Monrovia with nothing to do, the nation loses over 44 years of work every day, five days a week and every 100,000 people sitting around with nothing to do, the nation loses over 444 years of work every day, five days a week. I became frightened at that discovery because I could not see how the nation could succeed economically with that magnitude of economic and social problem. This is the reason why I want to help the government solve such a monumental problem.
TP: And how do you hope to help government solve the problem?
Bishop Marwieh: I will propose to the Government of Liberia the idea of building economic development communities throughout the hinterland of Liberia where those sitting around in Monrovia can voluntarily migrate to and contribute to the development of the Liberian economy.
TP: What is an economic development community?
Bishop Marwieh: An economic development community consists of 20 economic development neighborhoods and each neighborhood consists of 20 homes. So each community consists of 400 homes. The 20 homes in each neighborhood are built to form a complete circle with a meeting hall and children’s study hall built in the center of the circle of homes which will be beautifully landscaped. The neighborhoods are also built to form a complete circle of neighborhoods.
TP: Why will the 20 homes, which will make up a neighborhood, be built to form a circle of homes?
Bishop Marwieh: To constitute what I call economic development neighborhood. The neighborhood idea is the greatest nation-building idea that I believe God has given me for Africa.
TP: What is so special about the neighborhood idea?
Bishop Marwieh: A neighborhood makes four important nation-building ideas possible.
TP: What are they and how does the economic development neighborhood make them possible?
Bishop Marwieh: First, a neighborhood
provides a perfect environment for producing future
leaders of a nation. Second, it provides the shortest
route to poverty eradication. Third, it makes it easier
for residents to study the Word of God and strengthen
their faith. And fourth, it provides the best place
for creating a civil society and building the foundation
for national stability.
TP: Bishop, I am eager to know why you believe that a neighborhood will provide a perfect environment for producing future leaders of a nation.
Bishop Marwieh: A neighborhood is
a place where 20 families with common interest live
together. They, through a neighborhood education program,
can unite to give their children the best of education.
I strongly believe that a group of ordinary people with
uncommon passions to win can produce a chemistry, which
can transform ordinary individual members of the group
into high performers and super achievers. The Bible
says “One of you shall chase a thousand and two
ten thousands”. According to this passage, when
two are united to fight for a cause, they accomplish
many times more than they would have accomplished if
they had worked separately. Thus when two people empowered
by God unite to fight their enemies, they chase ten
thousands instead of chasing only two thousands. By
fighting together, they chase 8,000 more people than
they would have chased if they had fought separately.
I also believe that there is no passion in human experience,
which is more intense and powerful than the passion
of a mother for the success of her children. Therefore,
through a special neighborhood education program, the
20 mothers living in a neighborhood will be motivated
to prepare their children for the future leadership
of their country. They will be motivated to use their
passions to work harder for their children's success.
When the collective passions of the 20 mothers in an
economic development neighborhood are prayerfully and
properly harnessed and directed toward the achievement
of their common goal of raising their children in the
neighborhood to become the future leaders of their country,
there will be nothing that will stop them from achieving
that goal if their faith is deeply anchored and rooted
in the promises of God.
For example, in Mark 11:22-24, our Lord said, “Verily I say unto you whosoever shall say unto this mountain, be thou removed and be thou cast into the sea and shall not doubt in his heart but shall believe that those things which he said shall come pass, he shall have whatsoever he said. Therefore I say unto you, what things soever ye desire when ye pray, believe that ye receive them and ye shall have them.” When they pray together regularly and meet regularly to discuss all that they need to do to give the children of the neighborhood an excellent education and a very good upbringing, they will be primed to train up their children for success.
TP: I can see how the neighborhood is an ideal place to train future leaders of the nation. But Bishop, you talked about the role the 20 mothers in a neighborhood will play in producing future leaders of the nation, what about the fathers, what role will they play?
Bishop Marwieh: A father's desire for the success of his son or daughter is second only to his desire to be immortal. The success of a son or daughter is an extension of the life of a successful father and the uncommon successes of his grandchildren are to him the next best thing to immortality. A successful father desires his son or daughter to be more successful than he is; more brilliant than he is; more eloquent than he is; and more wealthy than he is. On the other hand, a poor father hates with passion the idea of his children becoming as poor as he is and would do everything possible for his children to have the good things in life, which he never enjoyed. When 20 fathers who share these passions and desires for their children in the neighborhood covenant with one another to pray together and do together whatever it will take to prepare their children to become successful, you have a formidable army of people who would stop at nothing. They will, by God's grace, be willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their children’s success.
In the end, when 20 mothers and 20 fathers who live in close proximity that a neighborhood provides and who are filled with common passions, common desires, and common dreams for their children decide to work together in a united passion to raise their children to become future leaders of their country, they will, by God’s grace, most certainly succeed in their pursuit. This is the reason why I believe that the neighborhood is a perfect environment for producing future leaders of the nation.
TP: Bishop, you have made a compelling case, but what about the idea of the neighborhood providing the shortest route to poverty eradication?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, adult education provides the shortest route to poverty eradication. The education of children produces long term results but the education of adults produces quick results.
TP: African educators have tried various adult literacy programs for decades without significant success. I don’t know whether it is the faults of African leaders or poverty for the failure of these adult literacy programs in most of these countries. Given the opportunity to start a adult literacy programs, let say in Liberia, what will you do to make the program a success, and as you say, for education to become ”the shortest route to poverty eradication”?
Bishop Marwieh: The reason I feel that the neighborhood idea has a potential to revolutionize education and industry in Africa is when you have 20 mothers and 20 fathers in a neighborhood who are steaming with passion for the success of their children, you have 40 men and women who will be desperate to learn any trade that will enable them to earn a good income they can use to give their children the best of education.
TP: Bishop, the greatest obstacle to adult education program in Africa is lack of motivation and lack of clear objective for the program. But how does adult education provide the shortest route to poverty eradication?
Bishop Marwieh: Adult education in Africa is mostly teaching an adult how to read and write and there is not much motivation in that. But when you convince 20 mothers and 20 fathers in a neighborhood that their children can obtain the type of training that will help them to become leaders, you will have adults who will be intensely eager to learn.
TP: Please excuse me, Bishop, for interrupting. That point is well taken. But what I want to know is how does educating adults provide the shortest route to poverty eradication?
Bishop Marwieh: If a father and mother of an abject poverty stricken family are each taught a trade, they can eradicate poverty in the family in less than a decade. For example, if a father is taught master skills in furniture making, and the mother taught master skills in sewing, they can be taught in four to five years for the father to learn how to make excellent furniture that can be sold in stores in the country and the wife, learns how to sew excellent dresses and children’s clothes that can be sold in stores in various cities, the family can earn sufficient income to care the children and give them the best of education. So through learning a trade, they can eradicate poverty in the family and the best place to get each adult to learn a trade is in the environment of an economic development neighborhood.
TP: Now Bishop, there are 20 neighborhoods in your model of economic development community; will the special neighborhood education program that you have just described in a neighborhood take place in each of the 20 neighborhoods?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes! If a person is to live in a community designed to help develop the economy of the nation, he or she must be willing to work hard and must be willing to learn. It is a community for those who want to improve their standards of living and give their children the best possible education.
TP: Now, Bishop, how will each of the 400 fathers and 400 mothers in an economic development community learn a trade?
Bishop Marwieh: There will be a lifelong educational institution, which will offer a free education to adult population of the community. It will be a vocational school that will specialize in training illiterate adults to acquire master skills in the trade of their choice. Of course the school will offer a course in reading and writing and how to use a calculator, but its main focus will be on vocational training. The school will train adults to be professional bricklayers, professional carpenters, metal workers, furniture makers, cabinet makers, horticulturists, master farmers, fabric designers, tailors, seamstresses, caterers, artisans, craftsmen, healthcare workers, cottage industrial developers, rural bankers, cooperative workers, and various kinds of technicians as well as middle level businessmen and women committed to the creation of a civil society in which God is glorified and Christ magnified.
TP: Very well said! Is there anything else you wish to say before we leave this aspect of the neighborhood program?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, I wish to say that there is a degree of power seldom known to man which is generated when a group of people with equal degree of passion and commitment set out to accomplish a goal. The universe has yet to see the caliber of men and women to be groomed by 20 fathers and 20 mothers with unshakable faith in God and in His promises who will be powerfully united to accomplish the goal of grooming their children for future leadership of their country and of the world.
TP: Interesting! You said earlier that a neighborhood constitutes four important pillars on which the foundation for the development of a nation rests. You have done the first and the second but you have not touched on the third and the fourth.
Bishop Marwieh: The third is the study of the Principles of Scriptures designed for the greater acquisition of the knowledge of the Word of God and the development of good characters. The practice of the third leads to the development of the fourth, namely the creation of a civil society in which people love one another and live in peace.
TP: What are Principles of Scriptures?
Bishop Marwieh: The following are
examples of the Principles of Scriptures: with regards
to how we should treat our enemies, the Scriptures have
plenty to say as in the following Scriptures: Exodus
23:4, “If you meet your enemy's ox or his donkey
going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him
again.” Proverbs 23:5, “If you see the donkey
of him who hates you fallen down under his burden, don't
leave him, you shall surely help him with it”.
Proverbs 24:17, “Don't rejoice when your enemy
falls. Don't let your heart be glad when he is overthrown”.
Proverbs 25:21, “If your enemy is hungry, give
him food to eat. If he is thirsty, give him water to
drink”. Proverbs 25:22, “For you will heap
coals of fire on his head, and Yahweh will reward you”.
Matthew 5:44, “But I tell you, love your enemies,
bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate
you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute
you”. Leviticus 19:18, “You shall not take
vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children
of your people; but you shall love your neighbor as
yourself. I am Yahweh”. Proverbs 20:22 didn't
say, I will pay back evil. Wait for Yahweh, and he will
save you. Proverbs 24:29 didn't say, I will do to him
as he has done to me; I will render to the man according
to his work. Matthew 5:39, “But I tell you, don't
resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your
right cheek, turn to him the other also”. I Peter
3:9, “Not rendering evil for evil, or insult for
insult; but instead blessing; knowing that to this were
you called, that you may inherit a blessing”.
As to honest business dealing, the Scriptures have much to say as in the following Scriptures: Leviticus 19:35, “You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or of quantity”. Leviticus 19:36, “You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin. I am Yahweh your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt”. Deuteronomy 25:15, “You shall have a perfect and just weight. You shall have a perfect and just measure, that your days may be long in the land which Yahweh your God gives you”. Proverbs 11:1, “A false balance is an abomination to Yahweh, but accurate weights are his delight”. Romans 13:8, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law”.
There are hundreds of such Principles of Scriptures that deal with every aspect of human relationship.
TP: Bishop, are Christians practicing the Principles of Scriptures today?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, today Christians practice some but do not practice others. However, the purpose for the study of Principles of Scriptures in the neighborhood is for the Christians to have the opportunity to practice them. As they study the Principles each day, they will be encouraged to practice them and the neighborhood will make it easy to practice them. Forty men and forty women with their children living in close proximity can practice them much more easily than Christians who are scattered all over the city without any accountability to one another. However, no matter how much they practice the Principles of Scriptures, they will still fall short of an ideal Christian life. Yet it is hoped that as they prayerfully seek to practice the Principles of Scriptures, God will have mercy on them and give them the grace to live a more gracious and seasoned Christian life and to create a better Christian environment.
TP: Bishop, are there other benefits of an economic development community that are likely to attract city residents?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes! This is what to me will be the first attraction to economic development community if government gives land for the community and have surveyors divide it into plots with each family from the city or from the traditional town who are to live in the community be given a plot of land and a deed for their land. When the city dwellers who originated from that part of the country realize that the land at home is being divided and people are being given deeds for their land, they will want to return home so they would not be left out in the distribution of the land. Moreover, the community will be beautifully constructed with attractive scenes of landscaping. There will be in the community electricity and water system that would attract people from the cities to the community because the same conveniences that attract them to the cities would be in the counties.
TP: Quite recently, Liberia have had two civil wars that practically destroyed all of its infrastructures, such as the water system and electricity; who will supply these services that you speak so passionately about that will make life more comfortable and convenient for those who will reside in these Communities?
Bishop Marwieh: Electricity, water system, schools, and clinics for these communities could be some of the economic assistance package that could be given by some developed countries. For instance, Germany could build all the schools and clinics and give electricity and put in the water system for all the economic development communities in Grand Gedeh Counties; Japan could do the same in Bomi County; and England could do the same in Sinoe County and so forth. Moreover, when I met with Dr. Liberty, Deputy Minister of Planning and Economic Affairs during the interim government about the economic development communities that I called agro-tech community at the time. Dr. Liberty told me that if an agro-tech community was built, the World Bank could build the schools and the clinics and other infrastructure. Where there is a need, there is a supply somewhere. All we have to do is to look for it.
TP: Before I proceed any further, let me ask you where will the money come from to fund the construction of these communities and their training programs; secondly, since everybody in our country are not of the Christian faith, what role will those who are not Christians play in this community you have in mine? And if I may add, will there be Moslem schools and Mosques?
Bishop Marwieh: Earlier I stated that the community will have a worship center and an education center. You can build a church or a mosque or both on the land reserved for Worship Center. The same goes for education center. Before the civil wars Christians and Muslims lived peacefully together in the same communities for decades. They can do the same in these economic development communities.
TP: Bishop, this is a brilliant concept, but
where will the Government of Liberia take the funds
from to build these homes?
Bishop Marwieh: All that the Government of Liberia will need to do is to build just one economic development community. Once the community is built and functioning, it will provide compelling evidence that the best strategy for building and developing a nation in Africa is through building economic development communities. When E.D. Communities are built throughout Liberia; it will inspire hope that African nations can be developed. Since 1960, about 46 years ago, industrialized nations have been giving massive development assistance to African nations but there is no nation in Africa that can be considered developed. Hitherto, development assistance to African nations has almost seemed as hopeless assistance as pouring salt into a river with the hope of producing salt water. But pouring salt into a container filled with water can inspire hope that salt water can be produced. Likewise building economic development communities can produce visible and measurable results of economic assistance.
TP: How will that translate into contributions to fund the construction of the economic development communities throughout Liberia?
Bishop Marwieh: I wish to say something that may seem a bit unrealistic. The United States, the country, which gave birth to Liberia, has 50 states. A proposal can be made to the U.S. Government to encourage 15 of the largest and wealthiest U.S. states to sponsor development programs in the 15 counties in Liberia. This means that each of the 15 states could sponsor a county in Liberia. For example, the State of New York could sponsor the building of economic development communities in Montserrado County or the State of Pennsylvania could sponsor Grand Bassa County or the State of Maryland could sponsor Maryland County. Each sponsoring State could work with the Liberian Government in building economic development communities in the county sponsored. In partnership with the Liberian Government, the state could draw out a detailed plan for the total development of the county and identify various chiefdoms and clans in the county where economic development communities could be built. Technical people from the state and from the Government of Liberia could survey sites earmarked for economic development communities. They can construct a training ground where those to live in economic communities in the county could be trained.
TP: What will they be trained to do?
Bishop Marwieh: They will be trained how to build their own homes. The husbands could be trained to do carpentry and the wives and their children could be trained to lay blocks so they could learn to build their own homes. They will also be taught to landscape the property and to maintain the home and the landscaping.
TP: Wouldn’t it be difficult to teach individuals that can not read and write how to build their own homes and landscape their property? Why couldn’t the government build the homes for them?
Bishop Marwieh: If the government builds the homes for them, they will not appreciate the homes nor know how to maintain these homes and the landscape that come with them. However, they will not build their houses by themselves. They will build them under the complete supervision of experienced builders. They will supply the skills labor for the construction of their own homes.
TP: Bishop, asking 15 states in the United States to sponsor the 15 counties in Liberia is a brilliant idea, but suppose the U.S. Government has laws, which might prevent a State from getting involved in such international development?
Bishop Marwieh: You may be right! The laws of the United States may not permit a state to do business with a foreign government; but I am wondering whether the U.S. Government could make an exception and give this a try and put in some guidelines that a State sponsoring a county in Liberia could abide by.
TP: What if the U.S. Government cannot give it a try due to constitutional restraints?
Bishop Marwieh: One thing that is certain is that each idea has several possibilities. If we see one possibility of an idea and we try to make it work and it does not seem to be workable, we should not abandon the whole idea simply because one of its possibilities doesn’t work. Neither should we consider a possibility unworkable until we have tried to make it work. If one possibility of an idea does not work, we should stay with the idea until we find another possibility of it that may work. Another possibility of this idea is to get the church leaders in a State to have the churches in the State to sponsor one of the 15 counties in Liberia; and to have 15 states sponsor the 15 counties. This is entirely possible because even the churches in one city can sponsor a whole county in Liberia. So the churches in a State can sponsor the building of economic development communities in one county in Liberia. In case the idea of churches in state building economic development communities in a county in Liberia does not work, another possibility of the idea is to ask the churches in a state to give technical assistance to a county in Liberia. Thus medical doctors, nurses, school teachers, and engineers from a state could focus on meeting the technical and professional needs of a county. Thus Christian nurses from a state could immunize all the children in a county; school teachers from the state could go to Liberia during the summer to conduct teachers training workshops for school teachers in the county; medical doctors from the state could work in the county hospital for a short term or conduct workshops to upgrade the training of doctors and nurses in the county. Christian colleges and universities from the state could give scholarships to young people in the county. If every county in Liberia has a state in America, which would give such technical and professional support to it, this could help to accelerate development in the country.
TP: I like your concept of possibility, however, is there another possibility to this idea of a state sponsoring the building of economic development communities in counties in Liberia?
Bishop Marwieh: Another possibility of the idea could be with the European Union (EU). The EU is composed of 25 countries. Each of the 25 is an independent country that has its own foreign policy. May be 15 of the 25 countries within the EU could sponsor the building of economic development communities in the 15 counties in Liberia. But for any of this to happen it will require a tremendous amount of diplomatic efforts and the submission of compelling proposals to each country. When 15 countries of the European Union or 15 States of the United States agree to build economic development communities throughout each county and give technical help to each county as described above, Liberia will experience an economic transformation and people from all over the world will go to Liberia to see such an economic miracle.
TP: Bishop, you have made a compelling case; but it may not seem likely if Liberia has nothing to offer in return. What can these 15 states in the United States or the 15 countries in Europe receive in return for this unusual economic assistance?
Bishop Marwieh: The first thing that each state or each country will receive in return will be the joy of seeing a county totally destroyed by war totally transformed and a whole county of people traumatized by war filled with joy and jubilation. Of course, eventually there will be some economic or material benefits to be reaped but those will be insignificant compared to the satisfaction which their people will receive from time to time from seeing something beautiful that they have brought into being.
TP: Bishop, should in case, states in the U.S. and the EU do not agree to assist with this endeavor, where would you take it next?
Bishop Marwieh: The place for me to take it is to the Government of Liberia. I hope President Johnson-Sirleaf or some of her trusted people will read or hear about this conversation I am having with you. I would like to meet with her to discuss with her the whole idea of economic development communities, which in the past I called agro-tech communities. I did mention the agro-tech community idea to her once and even gave her a graphic of an agro-tech community.
TP: Bishop Marwieh, I remember when I was President of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) in 1986, Isaac Randall, chairman of the Elections Commission stated that political parties could not form alliance unless it was approved by the Commission. Mr. Gabriel W. Kpolleh of LUP (Liberia Unification Party), Jackson F. Doe of LAP (Liberia Action Party), and Edward B. Kesselly of UP (Unity Party) vowed to continue their alliance as the “Grand Coalition.” As a result, the Elections Commission imposed a fine of $1000.00 on each of the party consisting of the coalition for “operating outside the guidelines.” The Elections Commission demanded that the fine be paid in 72 hours. The three men refused to pay the fine; they were then arrested, detained at the Monrovia Central Prison, and later transferred to the notorious Belle Yella Prison. Tell me how you got involved to raise the $3000.00 to have them released from prison?
Bishop Marwieh: When there was rumor all over Monrovia that Mr. Gabriel Kpolleh was at the point of death in Belle Yella, the honorable David Farhat, who was then Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, said to me, “Bishop, our country is being torn apart. What are you religious leaders doing about it?” I took up the challenge and decided to discuss the national crisis with Bishop George Browne, Bishop Ronald Diggs, Bishop Michael Francis, and Bishop Alfred Reeves to see how we could bring the country together but all of the Bishops were out of the country except Bishop Reeves. Bishop Reeves and I then decided that the first thing for us to do was to seek ways of getting the opposition party leaders from the horrible Belle Yella Prison. Therefore, we met with Chief Justice James Nagbe about getting them out of prison. He told us that the only thing we could do to get the opposition party leaders free from prison was to get the three parties to pay the $3,000.00 fines. Bishop Reeves and I appealed to the parties to pay the fines so their leaders could be freed from prison in Belle Yella but they refused because they felt that the Supreme Court's ruling was unfair. We went to the wives of the party leaders but they said that they would have loved to pay the fines for their husbands to get out of Belle Yella but that they did not have the money. So Bishop Reeves and I decided to raise the $3000.00 to pay the fines. When Father Emmanuel Johnson, Father Jellico Bright, and Honorable R.I. Bright heard of our efforts, they decided to come to our support. The $3000 was raised and paid to the court, and Chief Justice Nagbe ordered the opposition party leaders' release from Belle Yella.
After we succeeded in getting the opposition party leaders released, we asked President Samuel Doe if he could allow us to call a reconciliation conference between the four political parties (the three opposition parties and the ruling party). The President consented and we called for the conference. We asked Honorable Bright to serve as Chairman of the conference. The chairmen of the four parties with their technical people responded to our call and the conference was held for almost two weeks. Finally a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was written and signed by the Chairmen of the National Democratic Party of Liberia, the Unity Party, and the Liberian Action Party. The Chairman of the Unification Party did not sign because it had dropped out of the reconciliation talks. But the conference was a success because the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding by the political parties dramatically reduced tension in the country.
TP: I heard from some quarters of the Liberian Community here that you are somehow related to President Johnson-Sirleaf; is this true?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, the President is related to several
of us who had our roots in a little place in Sinoe County
called Plahn. The people from Plahn are a sub tribe
of Tarjuowon, which is a sub tribe of Kru. What is so
interesting and unique about our relationship is --
the late Counselor Nelson Broderick had his roots in
Plahn, Broderick rose in the legal field to become the
Solicitor General of Liberia; Dr. Lawrence S. Bestman
has his roots in Plahn and he rose to become Director
General of the Civil Servants Agency; Dr. Charles Clarke
has his roots in Plahn and he became a Senator and Chairman
of the Unity Party, and Counselor Ishmael Campbell has
his roots in Plahn and he became Associate Justice of
the Supreme Court. I have my roots in Plahn and I am
playing a role in the Christian ministry. President
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has her roots in Plahn and she
became the President of Liberia. The point here is,
this little place produced great people who happened
to be related to the President through our mothers.
TP: I was told that Rev. Hananiah Zoe, who was a presidential candidate, is your son-in-law?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, Rev. Hananiah Zoe is my son-in-law,
and I think he had a good chance of winning. He had
a popular support from Nimba County, which had the second
largest voting block and had strong supporters in the
various counties. But he returned from the States to
Liberia too late and missed the opportunity to register
TP: From what I have heard and read about you, you have achieved many things in your lifetime; could you name some of them, and in doing so, what would you consider your greatest achievement -- be it personal or for your people?
Bishop Marwieh: I consider my selection by the University of California, Berkeley together with 38 other alumni of the university to write a book marking the 100th anniversary of the university a very significant personal achievement. The name of the book we wrote is, “There was Light: An Autobiography of a University, Berkeley 1868 to 1968,” published by Doubleday, 1969. Each of us was asked to write a chapter. So the book has 39 chapters. My greatest achievements in the ministry include the founding of the Association of Independent Churches of Africa (AICA), the Ministry of Hope (MOH), and the Agency for Holistic Evangelism and Development (AHEAD.) With the help of Dr. Sanford D. Hull, a Presbyterian Minister and Rev. Dr. Delineta Hines, a prominent Christian lady in Washington, DC together with some Christian businessmen, we founded AHEAD in 1992 with the aim of starting a missionary Training Institute of Technology in Liberia to train Christian missionaries to take the Gospel to the unevangelized places of Africa and Christian business and professional men and women to help support the ministries of the Liberian Church. But when the Liberian Civil War kept going on and on, we decided to start a college in a Liberian Refugee Camp in Ghana. World Vision agreed to cooperate with AHEAD when approached. So in cooperation with World Vision and with the support of Christian churches like Pinensula Bible Church Cupertino, AHEAD started in the Liberian Refugee Camp the AHEAD Training Institute which trained refugees who were high school graduates in business, agriculture, theology, community health, building construction, survey, journalism, church planting and in various cottage industry programs. Then AHEAD was successful in getting the University of Winneba, a teachers training university in Winneba, Ghana, to partner with the AHEAD Training Institute staff in the camp to start the West African College for Sustainable Development in the refugee camp. The two institutions graduated about 2000 Liberian refugees. Of these, 132 had their associate of arts degrees in education. The entire AHEAD program in the Liberian Refugee Camp was headed by Rev. Irvin W. Kofa and Mr. Edison Pajibo. They did a fantastic job.
TP: Finally, Bishop Marwieh, is there any particular
message you want to send to Liberians here in the Diaspora
and at home?
Bishop Marwieh: Yes, I wish to say four things to every Liberian. First, do the greatest favor that you can ever do for yourself in this life. Accept the Lord Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior if you have not done so. The Bible says, “For God so loved the World that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The Lord Jesus died in your place for your sin to give you life eternal. Accept the everlasting life He offers you. Secondly, forgive all those who did wicked things to you, to your relatives, and to your friends. The Bible says, “Forgive one another as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Thirdly, do not consider it too late to do anything that you want to do to improve your life or improve society. I worked as a porter on the motor road in the thirties and forties before I started school in 1943. At that time I had no shirt to wear to school and so I borrowed my cousin's wife's buba and wore it to school. We called her Seebowli, meaning more precious than money. She was the mother of Harry Tah Freeman who is with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And not only did I start school late and was able to make it but at the age of 62, I went back to school to earn my doctorate. Fourthly, do not consider anything impossible to do. God always has a way for you to do any good thing that you want to do in life. In 1944, I started praying to go to the United States and that was one year after I wore Seebowli's buba to school. If I had told someone at that time that I was praying to God to go to America, he or she would have laughed me to tears. In those days many children of government officials and rich people wanted to go to the United States but found it difficult. What gave me the audacity to believe that I was going to go to America was going to be the laughable part. But I believed what God promised and I held on to His promises. He says in John 12:14, “If ye shall ask anything in my name, I will do it.” He did not specify any particular thing; but He says “Anything” and anything to me included asking Him to take me to the United States.
TP: Well Bishop, I must say it was nice having this candid conversation with you, and I know our readers too, will benefit from it one way or the other.
Bishop Marwieh: Mr. Nyanseor, I thank you plenty for having me; and please covey to your staff and management of The Perspective to keep up the good work.
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