Liberia must unearth “deep remembering” to move toward reconciliation and healing after a 14-year civil war that killed more than 200,000 and displaced nearly everyone in the West African nation, a war victim turned reconciler said at the annual meeting of global Baptists in Ghana.
Olu Q. Menjay described being force-marched at age 18 with hundreds of other refugees across a creek “not only flooded with water but flooded with dead bodies floating in the creek.”
His memory of the trauma of walking through hip-deep water has helped him face the sufferings of Liberia.
“I come from a nation and work among a people that have embodied hurt, hatred, deceit, injustice and wickedness,” he told Baptists gathered at a week-long meeting in Accra. “Some of the people in Liberia are unknowingly traumatized.”
Speaking to the Baptist World Alliance’s Freedom and Justice Commission, Menjay said telling the entire truth of past atrocities and acknowledging harmful actions are necessary for reconciliation.
“The nation of Liberia is flooded with pain, hurt and deep seated division,” said Menjay, principal of Ricks Institute, a K-12 grade school in Virginia, Liberia. “Our future in Liberia is bleak in the absence of forgiveness, repentance and reconciliation.”
The son of a Liberian Baptist preacher and a graduate of Duke University, Menjay said the purpose of the country’s truth-and-reconciliation commissions was to “provide an arena where perpetrators and victims will share their experiences of the past to facilitate healing and reconciliation.”
The fundamental service of the commission, he said, “is to bring about renewed hope in a people that lost its sense of hope through dehumanization, hatred, pain and darkness.”
Menjay said the church could contribute to healing Liberia with its “own liturgies, namely, the act of confession, the act of repentance, the act of reconciliation and art of restitution.”
He said churches should do peace and reconciliation work every Sunday.
The sources of the civil war included tribal and political factors, not religious matters, he said.
Menjay said the war was more than a conflict between indigenous Africans and those who migrated to the region after Liberia was colonized by America in 1821 as a place to send freed African-American slaves.
After retracing for workshop participants some of the BWA’s many resolutions against racism and for human rights, Denton Lotz, the retiring general secretary, asked, “After all these resolutions, is it any better?”
Lotz prioritized the need for Christians to learn to forgive and reminded participants that every generation of Christians need to reeducate their children in the Christian faith.
Steve Asante, president of the Ghana Baptist Convention, told EthicsDaily.com the BWA meeting, held for the first time in his country, will give Baptists a louder national voice.
“Our voice will be heard by Ghanaians,” he said. “It will boost the morale of Ghanaian Baptists.”
Asante credited the BWA’s presence in Accra with an opportunity for him to speak to the presidential prayer breakfast this week of the heads of states attending the African Union conference. His address was broadcast on national TV.
Asante said he addressed the topic of transformative servant leadership from the text of Romans 13, reminding some leaders that they were deputies of the divine. Their God-given authority meant that they were to enforce godly values.
“All authority must value people because they are made in God’s image,” he told some 200 African leaders.
At the beginning of the opening session of the 2007 BWA gathering and general council meeting, hundreds of attendees, mostly from Africa, blew whistles to symbolize their commitment to the Micah Challenge, a BWA-endorsed campaign to halve poverty by 2015.
Robert Parham is executive director of the Baptist Center for Ethics and serves on the BWA’s Freedom and Justice Commission. He is attending the general council meeting in Accra.
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