Greetings and Introduction
Bishop Arthur Flomo Kulah, Bishop Emeritus, LAC/UMC
Rev. Dr. Yar Donlah Gonway-Gono, Conference Speaker
L.C.C. & Other Faith Communities
Ministerial & Lay Members
Observers, Brothers & Sisters in the Faith:
John Newton who lived between1725-1807 wrote this great hymn in the Methodist hymnal: “Amazing Grace! How Sweet the sound”
Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see.
The third stanza of this hymn says,
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, And grace will lead me home.
How wonderful it is to quote this great hymn of our church as we gather for this Sacred Assembly, celebrating our 189th Session of the Liberia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church convening at Mount Miller McAllister in the beautiful City of Ganta, Nimba County. God in His Providence has been good to us in the midst of this deadly killer pandemic called Corona Virus which took away the lives of hundreds of Liberians, including some of our United Methodist Brothers and Sisters. God’s grace, my friends is sufficient for each of us day by day as we take on this life’s journey.
To God be the glory, for great things He has done, and greater things He will do. Amen!
I am indeed honored, and especially grateful as your Episcopal Leader to give account of our stewardship for the past conference year, which was characterized by many challenges, coupled with COVID-19. But thanks be to God for His Almighty grace which brought us thus far.
Progress Despite the Challenges
While we face the future unafraid, and witnessed the numerous challenges during the year under review, the doors of our churches were opened to worshipers. The Good News of the Kingdom was preached, converts were made, baptism and confirmation, all of these as part of the worship experience were carried out. Our Superintendents reported that all of their Charge Conferences, as well as District Conferences were held as planned. Amen!
As part of our Episcopal responsibilities, we visited nearly all of the twenty-districts and two circuits across the Liberia Annual Conference during the year under review. My episcopal visitation started with the South-Eastern Region, which took me to seven of the districts. The districts visited include: 1. Gee River, 2. Nana Kru . 3. Barrobo Circuit. 4. Sinoe . 5. Garraway, 6. Cape Palmas and 7. Kru Coast. During these visits, gifts were shared with two United Methodist Schools. These gifts were given through the Department of General Education and Ministries.
Those who have not seen a United Methodist Bishop were privileged to have seen their bishop in person. It was a moment of joy for all United Methodists in that part of our conference.
Through the grace of God, we were also able to visit the Central Region including Guinea Circuit. Districts visited were: 1. Kokoyah, 2. Gbarnga, 3. Jorquelleh, 4. Gompa, 5. Weala, and 6. Lofa River.
Let me commend our District Superintendents, Pastors, as well as the entire Laity in those regions for serving God under extreme difficult situations, especially without transportation. Our motor cyclists must be commended as well for sacrificially taking our people from one point to another under these difficult circumstances.
Our Shared Responsibilities as Leaders
As a Church, we cannot and must not be ethnically or tribalisticly driven, especially when such has the tendency to derail our collective efforts in the advancement of the goals and development of our Annual Conference and the work of Jesus Christ. Our tribes or ethnic backgrounds do not matter. What matters most is devoting our time with love, respect to the service of Christ, for anyone can serve anywhere and in any position in our Annual Conference irrespective of their tribe or ethnic background.
Additionally as leaders of various auxiliaries within the Annual Conference, we should take cognizance of attitudes and leadership styles that promote dominance and undue longevity in office. The United Methodist Church holds to the tenants of democracy and as such we must practice same which promotes fairness and God’s justice.
We affirm and admonish them that as United Methodist Men, they have shared responsibilities – to see the Annual Conference progress for the realization of the fulfillment of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The advancement of the members of each local Men’s unit will see an advancement within the Annual Conference. The practice of good stewardship within each local unit will see the practice of good stewardship within the Annual Conference.
We also affirm our United Methodist Women as well and admonish them that they too have shared responsibilities to seek the upliftment of the Annual Conference by their presence, prayers, gifts and services. All that they do must be a true representation of the embodiment of the attributes of Jesus Christ because the United Methodist Church, Liberia Area has benefitted from a true partnership with the United Methodist Women globally, and we believe that such partnership must be continued in this Annual Conference.
We take cognizance of the fact that the concerns raised by the United Methodist Women on the issue of property are genuine. However, the United Methodist Women, Liberia Annual Conference are an integral part of the Liberia Annual Conference, for we are tied together inextricably in a garment of mutuality, that is why we must form a united front to dialogue on the way forward in tackling the concerns raised by the United Methodist Women regarding property that would see growth and not digression, unity and not division in our Annual Conference.
Young People Ministry
Our Young People must lead with uprightness and decency, always promoting the love of Christ and an attitude of respect for themselves and ALL within the Annual Conference. The negative characterizations that have been prevalent within organizations led by young people must become something of the past. Gone must be the days when elections and annual assemblies of our young people are marred by fights and violence, for God’s people at all times must demonstrate love and respect. I urge our young people to pay heed and reorder their steps, for they are in line to inherit the leadership of the Church.
We continue to be encouraged by the care and nurture of our children across our Annual Conference. Directed by the Annual Conference’s overarching guidance, our children at our churches throughout the length and breadth of our Conference are learning about the love of Jesus Christ and growing in faith as we have seen when we travelled recently around the Annual Conference and we am quite pleased. (See the report on Children Ministry)
The Church at the Crossroads/Gracious Protocols—Way Forward for the Church
Though General Conference is still pending due to COVID-19, the issues before us remain. It will eventually be decided that The United Methodist Church as we know it will split. As we have discussed previously, whatever the results of the critical issues concerning human sexuality and other pressing matters that would undermine our unity and continuous existence as a cohesive unit, let us remain faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ for I am convinced that God’s guidance and direction will lead us to where we should remain, and or go. Let us keep the faith!
As Liberian United Methodists, we cast judgment on no one, neither do we condemn. However, we are of the conviction that certainly behavior relating to same gender relationship in marriage is incompatible with the teachings of Christ and to that we hold on!
Agriculture Program/Sustainability of our Conference
The United Methodist Rural and Agriculture Development Program (UMRADP) continues to implement diligently its mandate as enshrined in the Strategic Plan with the objective: “To assist in alleviating poverty, strengthening the income generating capacity of the church and re-enforcing its agriculture outreach to farming communities through capacity building training, mechanized farming and sustainable agriculture projects.”
For the period under review, I can report that UMRADP complied with the General Board of Global Ministries Land Audit and feasibility study requirement for an agro-business grant. The Land Audit showed that the Liberia Annual Conference owns a total of 6,404.93 acres of land. Details will be in the UMRADP report. Additionally, the various agricultural projects report great progress which should see a vigorously evolved agriculture program for our Conference.
“Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (John 17: 20-21).
As a Church, we are connectional not only within, but across our nation and the world. Ecumenism is part of our being, hence as a member of the Liberia Council of Churches, we continue to serve and have been diligently engaged with the promotion of peace and the affirmation of good governance in our nation.
In line with our Annual Conference’s thrust for sustainability through agriculture, we signed a Partnership Agreement between Ecumenical Churches of Liberia for the full development and implementation of Rice and its supply to communities and markets throughout Liberia. Named and styled ‘the Ecumenical Collaborating Partnership of Liberia” (the ECPCL) the sole purpose of this partnership is to collaborate on improving agricultural development in Liberia. This effort will push diligently for the production and supply of rice as a way of contributing to reducing of serious food insecurity in the country.
This initiative to provide food for every Liberian is called: Liberian Initiative for Food Efficiency (L.I.F.E – Liberia). The four ecumenical collaborating partners are: The United Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church of Liberia, the Episcopal Church and the Baptist Church.
Challenges and Prospects
Few years ago, we formulated a strategic plan to undergird our forward movement as a conference. One of the greatest challenges is the mobilization of resources to fully fund most of our plans due to the advent of COVID-19 which has caused serious economic setback in the global community with Liberia being no exception. However, we are hopeful that COVID-19 will subside so as to enable us improve our financial strength in 2022 and beyond.
But, we are a people of faith and as the hymnist penned with a slight paraphrasing, “Our Hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And because of that, though there are confronting challenges, yet we will dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. And, the reason why we will do that as a people called United Methodists in the Liberia Area is all because with a collective resounding voice we say, “On Christ the solid rock we stand, all other ground is sinking sand, all other ground is sinking sand.” We thrust the future into God’s care.
Local Church Givings and Tithing
Three years ago, we adopted the 10% formula as a way of encouraging local churches and members to give to the church and by extension to the Annual Conference. While we experienced the desired outcome for the first year, we are presently experiencing a downward trend in this formula. However, we are still encouraging our members and the local churches and districts to double up their efforts in this venture for the overall development of our conference. (the CC F &A will provide more details.) We have a biblical mandate to tithe.
National Tragedy at the Borough of New Kru Town
We continue to hold firmly in our prayers the family members of 29 of our sisters and brother, mothers, fathers and children who met their untimely death on January 20 of this year when their only fault in meeting their death was because they had gone to a Church Crusade to serve their God at the D. Tweh High School Sports Pitch in the Borough of New Kru Town. The Liberia Annual Conference through our ecumenical relationship with the Liberia Council of Churches has already spoken about this.
However, we must continue to remain in prayers with these family members while we urge the investigation ordered by our President to not just report what and how the tragedy happened, but to also come forth with pragmatic and contextualized recommendations which would guide future events and crusades to ensure that there is never again an occurrence of such nature in our nation.
During the period under review, the cold hands of death struck the flock and took away some of our members. Those who were called from labor to reward include, but not limited to:
The Rev. P. Nicol Boyce, I, former administrative Assistant to the bishop and former Chaplain, UMU; Rev. James Zuah Malleh, a retired minister and former District Superintendent; Bro. Anthony Geeto, a former chauffer to the Bishop; Bro. I. Stanton Railey, former Vice Principal for Fiscal Affairs – JJRUMS; Deaconess Martha Sayon, etc.
Details will be given during the Memorial Service by the Committee on Memoir. May their souls find rest in peace till we all meet again!
“I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor. 1: 4).
God’s graciousness has been sufficient for me and my family as I give God all the praise and honor for protecting and sustaining all of us to be able to gather again as a Conference. I thank my God for ALL of you my dear Sisters and Brothers for the work we continue to do together. My staff, led by my Administrative Assistant, Rev. J. Joel Gould, I am grateful.
My Cabinet led by the Dean, Rev. P. Karyidia Gartor, for their unrelenting posture and dutiful support to the work of our Annual Conference as they lead our various districts. Grateful thanks to our Pastors and our Lay people who together make sacrifices. To all the ministries and agencies, chairpersons and directors, our various boards, councils, committees and tax forces of our Conference. Thank you!!
An African proverb says: If you want to walk fast, walk alone. If you want to walk far, walk together. As a Conference, we have been walking far and gaining success in our ministry because our Partners have been with us in ministry from the United States, Europe, Africa and the rest of the world, for which I am most grateful.
A word of thanks to everyone, all my people called United Methodists in the Liberia Area, including our missionaries for your gracious support to our church. Without you, we would not have gotten this far, for in your various areas and ministries you have fought the good fight and we have won small battles for the advancement of the kingdom of God. Indeed together, in the name of God, we are doing better.
You, as members of this Annual Conference continue to hold me firmly in your prayers from a distance, and I do feel it and thank you. However, my faithful partner in Ministry and love, Richlain, is there daily to provide up close and personal counseling and support to me when I travel around and also return home. Together we pray for all members of our conference, clergy and lay – Thank you my earthly comforter and lifelong partner of 33 years. I would continue to say that when God made you, God put something good and loveable in you. Thanks to my dear children for their support. May God be praised!!!
Fellow United Methodists, as we close the Conference year 2021 with the challenges mentioned earlier, and open the veil of 2022, let us be cognizant of the fact that there will always be challenges, circumstances, issues of concerns, strives, chaos and diverse views and serious differences in our ministry journeys as long as we are humans. But the good news is that in the midst of these challenges, God will never give up on us. Remember Friends, God has promised never to leave us, nor forsake us, even in the midst of our frailties.
Civilla D. Martin (1904) penned down these words into a hymn when she sang thus: “God Will Take Care of You”.
- “Be not dismayed whatever betide, God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you
Stanza #3 says:.”
- “All you may need he will provide, God will take care of you; nothing you ask will be denied, God will take care of you.”
Then the last stanza reads:
- “No matter what may be the test, God will take care of you.
Lean weary one upon His breast. God will take care of you”. AMEN!
Again, my fellow United Methodists, let us not lean on our own understanding as the Scripture says, but in all our ways, let us acknowledge Him. The God who took us from Ebola to COVID-19, the God who kept us alive from 2020 to 2021, is Faithful and Worthy to take us through 2022. United we stand, divided we fall.
Bob Dylan, an American Poet wrote this poem in 1964:
“Trails of Troubles, Roads of Battles, Paths of Victory We Shall Walk”.
Let us all acknowledge God as our God. May God bless us all and prosper the works of our hands as we do ministry together in these troubling times and save our Church.