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Liberia covenant focuses on respect

Liberians and Michigan VIMs holding hands and dedicating a well in nohor of Billie Rench.

Nine volunteers from The Michigan Conference have just returned home from Liberia. They visited five mission sites, dedicated a well honoring Billie Rench, and renewed relationships with covenant partners.

KAY DEMOSS
Senior Content Editor

Terry Euper with Robert Sieh at Judith Craig Children's Village
Rev. Terry Euper, team leader, with Rev. Robert and Margretta Sieh. Robert is Director of the Children’s Village. Margretta teaches at the Harriett E. Bailey School in the village. ~ photo courtesy Jackie Euper

It’s a covenant, not a contract. Contracts are about money while covenants are founded in relationships. It was in that covenantal spirit that the Detroit and Liberia conferences came together in 1999. The Rev. Terry Euper has been involved in that partnership since the beginning.

Terry’s first trip to Liberia took place in 2005 when he accompanied the Rev. Duane Miller on a medical mission.

Since then, Terry has traveled to northwest Africa three more times, just returning from his most recent trip last week on November 8.

This was the first time that Terry served as the organizer of a trip. Eight others joined him on the two-week journey, October 25-November 8. Their sponsor, funding the project portion of the trip, was the former Crossroads District of The Detroit Conference. The team members themselves came from five of the new districts of The Michigan Conference.

A gift of $20,000 from the District Board of Missions was wired ahead to Liberia’s VIM Coordinator, Dehkontee Tarr. She saw to it that materials got purchased and projects got jump-started by Liberian workers before the Michigan team’s arrival.

Terry says it was an excellent trip that surpassed his hopes and expectations. The Michigan team knew they did not want to stay working in one place for two weeks. “Dehkontee and I worked together from the beginning, “he reports. “The success of the trip had to do with working directly with Liberian leaders to keep the focus on what the Liberia Church wanted.”

The Liberia Conference staff set the schedule and chose the stops along the way. The Michigan team visited five different sites. Here are some details with observations by Euper …

UMW in Liberia bringing food to the Ganta Hospital
Ganta United Methodist Women deliver charcoal, fruit and vegetables to Ganta Hospital for meals for the patients. ~ photo courtesy Jackie Euper
  • Monrovia … painted five classrooms at the College of West Africa, the oldest secondary school in Liberia. “They had already painted the outside of the building before we got there, and our hands-on experience was inside the school working with a team of Liberian painters until we ran out of paint.”
  • Bishop Judith Craig Children’s Village … helped install a playground for the 83 kids in residence and the additional 600 children in the surrounding community. “A lot of heartstrings here. Things are in bad repair with no functioning generator or pump.” The team enjoyed “a lot of time with the kids,” sharing clothing, soccer balls, school supplies, and other gifts.
  • White Plains Agriculture Center … helped rehab an old pig pen to enable start-up of a hog raising enterprise; a fund-raising project of the Liberia Conference Board of Pensions. “Bishop Samuel Quire has set agriculture as a significant focus for the Liberia Annual Conference. White Plains is raising livestock and re-cultivating fields of cassava, coconuts, and pineapples devasted by the war. The team gifted 15 workers there with rain suits and mud boots with funds from New Life and Northville UMCs in Michigan.
  • Ganta Hospital … assisted in the installation of air conditioning in the maternity ward. Crossroads District’s dollars purchased three AC units and fans for the hospital. The team also gave dollars toward the improvement of the dining hall at the Nursing School to enable their certification with the government. “This is the only hospital in northern Liberia. It is impressive to see how it has been rebuilt after being destroyed by the war 14 years ago.”
  • Bopolu Mission … after a four-hour road trip navigating 85 miles across the bush, painted inside the high school and worked on preparing science lab for eventual electrification. “The Pastor-Director is a go-getter with a marvelous vision for agricultural and educational mission in the community.”

The highlight of the entire trip for many was the dedication of a well at a site between Monrovia and Ganta. VIM team members participated in a ceremony in the village of Tippita that honored Millicent “Billie” Rench. Billie, a Flint District resident and long-time supporter of the Liberia Covenant, contributed to water projects around the country. Team member, Jackie Euper, told Rench’s story during the dedication. The District Superintendent, Rev. Benedict Green, was present for the event. He related that his wife had benefited from a nursing scholarship given by Billie Rench in memory of her husband, Doug. “Talk about connection!” Terry Euper exclaims. Money for three other wells also came from the estate of Billie Rench.

James Reynolds with Bopolu children
James Reynolds engages with school children at Bopolu Mission. His grandfather, Rev. Mike Seymour, was also on the Michigan Conference VIM team in Liberia Oct. 25-Nov. 8, 2018. ~ photo courtesy Jackie Euper

Reflecting on the importance of the Michigan-Liberia Covenant, Euper explains, “The covenant has a lot to offer us and a lot to offer them. The key is to be able to respect one another fully.” He emphasizes the importance of real partnership. “This is not just a big, rich Michigan Conference doing something for the poor, little Liberia Conference,” Terry notes. “They have a wonderful spirit with much to offer us. While the financial assistance is significant, the encouragement that they receive in this relationship means an awful lot.”

Other team members echo Terry’s insights. Mel Leach retired and pastoring Hale: First UMC, says, “Our team went to Liberia to be a blessing to the vibrant church there. But instead, we were so flooded with the Joy of the Lord and Liberian generosity, that we turned out to be ‘the blessed ones’!” Mel adds, “Indeed, ‘Little is much when God is in it!!’”  

This was the first trip to Liberia for Brenda DuPree, Chair of the Michigan Conference Board of Global Ministries. She celebrates the experience as, “another step in my faith journey.” She observes, “I am blessed to have spent precious time in conversation and work with our partners in Liberia, both committed United Methodist missionaries and others, over the years. So, helping with the progress at rural Bopolu Mission Station by painting the school was a joy!” Brenda looks forward to The Michigan Conference’s continued support of the 221 students at Bopolu. “Education is extremely important to them, even with challenges of travel and electricity. Needs are great, and we can work together to meet them.”

One trip participant, the Rev. Mike Seymour, was once a District Superintendent on the Cabinet of Bishop Judith Craig. Twenty-five years later, he finally realized his goal of visiting the Children’s Village established in her honor. His grandson, James Reynolds, was also on the VIM team. Another grandson, the Rev. Jon Reynolds, is the new chair of the Liberia Task Force of The Michigan Conference. Love for Liberia runs in that family.

And family ties are perhaps what’s at the heart of the Michigan-Liberia Covenant, after all. “We are part of the same family, under the same sky, the same stars!” says Brenda DuPree. And Terry Euper concludes, “What’s most important about our covenant? It lets the Liberians know that they have brothers and sisters who care about them.”

Fore more about the work of the Liberia Task Force of The Michigan Conference, click here.

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