General Conference Notebook, April 30
The highlight of our work together on Tuesday was a visit from United Methodist laywoman and President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Security was tight, the building was secured by local police, and the President’s entourage arrived as Liberian Bishop John Ennis introduced President Sirleaf. Delegates and guests stood in applause to welcome her. She is not only the first female democratically-elected President in Africa, she is also the first African head of state to address a United Methodist General Conference.
President Sirleaf spoke first about Liberia and the needs for education and literacy, for employment and health care, and for a deepening democracy. Then she moved into a historical recounting of the 175 years of Methodist ministry in Liberia and how it has shaped a nation. The first President of Liberia as well as the longest-serving President were both Methodist. She offered a passionate expression of appreciation for the 133 United Methodist schools, the medical clinics, and the missionaries of hope who have taught, healed, served, and preached through the decades. She highlighted several US congregations by name who have engaged in hands-on service and the construction of hospitals. Since she herself was educated at a Methodist school, she described herself as a daughter of United Methodism. She spoke of the impact of the church on human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in her country.
“We thank you,” she said, and then added, “We need the church now as never before.” President Sirleaf described the high and urgent need for education and for hospitals, and invited United Methodists to continue to collaborate with governments and other agencies to make a difference in the lives of the people of Africa.
Throughout her speech, I was deeply impressed by President Sirleaf’s gentle authority, her concise and wonderfully focused description of the urgent needs of the world, and her appreciative and graceful style. It was a stirring speech and served as a great reminder of the significant impact the witness of the church makes in the formation of communities and nations.
Never underestimate the impact of ministries such as Africa University, Nothing But Nets, the Mozambique Initiative, Partnerships between US and African congregations, Scholarships, and Volunteers in Mission construction projects. These ministries change lives, strengthen communities, relieve suffering, and help raise up world leaders of faith like President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Yours in Christ,