The three prominent brown letters GST greet every visitor who enters the campus of the Gbarnga School of Theology (GST), now the College of Theology of the United Methodist University in Liberia situated in Gbarnga City, Bong County, Liberia, West Africa. The colossal size of these letters tell a different story of the campus than what a visitor sees upon arrival there: lifeless, scattered structures, overarching trees, an unkempt campus, and an empty church building.
On one of my numerous visits, my visiting American friend asked me, midway into the campus, “Where is the campus?”
“This is it,” I said simply. As usual, and wanting me to feel good, my guest said “It is a great campus!”
All things considered, the statement of my friend about the greatness of the GST was very true. After 14 years of civil conflict, at which time the campus facilities where used and vandalized by the various warring factions and the peacekeepers, there is no way that the GST campus would have looked like its counterpart campuses around the world where there has been no war. So much for the sad GST story.
Recently, I was visiting the campus with a team of General Board of Discipleship/Discipleship Resources International and General Board of Higher Education and Ministries (GBOD/DRI & GBHEM) representatives who were there for the purpose of presenting 84 Kindle e-readers and conducting training for GST students who were receiving the items. Upon entering the GST campus, I couldn’t help but notice all the activity going on there. The construction of a huge building, which will house a modern library and administrative offices, a male dormitory that will house over 75 male students, and several hand pumps–one of which is being constructed by a Lutheran Missionary based in Totota, Bong County. So, I engaged the Dean, Rev. Dr. Yatta R. Young, on what was taking place.
Established in 1959 and jointly run by the Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, and the United Methodist Church in Liberia, GST remained the theological education lifeline of these churches, especially the United Methodist Church in Liberia. Though the partnership ended in 2000 when GST became a college of the United Methodist University, almost all of the clergy of the UMC Liberia passed through GST. The massive impact of the war on it facilities has has not kept the UMC Liberia from continuing to provide theological education to Liberians.
“We will ensure that GST is returned to its prewar status and beyond,” Dean Young declared in an interview with the West African Writers, an online magazine. She indicated that the Library Project is funded by United Methodists at home and abroad. “The largest portion of the funds; over US$20,000.00 came from Ms. Diane Shumaker of Kansas City, Missouri,” Dean Young affirmed. “The library, when completed, will move beyond the traditional library concept to introducing an e-library in order to enhance the e-reader technology which our partners at the GBOD/GBHEM are now making available to our students. It will serve as a hallmark of new theological education in Liberia.”
The library will be dedicated in February 2014 during the session of the Liberia Annual Conference in Gbarnga City, Bong County. The library will be named in honor of the late Paul Sunder, the first leader of the Gbarnga School of Theology.
On the question of the dormitory that is now under renovation, Dean Young said, “It has been the dream of my administration to ensure that the male students are housed in order to remove the rental cost which is a major setback for most of the students in Gbarnga City, where GST is located. The dormitory is one of the facilities that gives GST the quality educational image it had in the prewar days,” the Dean asserted. According to the College of Theology Dean, the renovation work cost over US$10,000.00, including a grant coming from the Myers’ Park United Methodist Church in North Carolina, the USA.
The next time I visit the College of Theology of the United Methodist University based on the campus of the famous Gbarnga School of Theology (GST), life beyond the three brown colossus letters will be a lot different. Thanks to overseas partners of the United Methodist Church in Liberia, especially those in the United States of America, for the contribution to theological education.