Tim is away for the weekend. He escorted SFL’s executive director and a new international staff member out to the bush where they’ll be doing a quick survey and assessment of our project’s progress. Why didn’t I go? I guess it might have something to do with the 20 some hours out of the next 48 spent rattling along the roads of rural Liberia, inevitably resulting in a sick stomach and migraine. No thanks, I’ll stay home and whip up a brief history lesson for you all. Are you so excited?
I’m ashamed to say that before preparing for our move to Liberia, I really knew nothing about this country’s story. I mean, why would I?
Well, maybe because Liberia’s past has direct ties to my own country, the United States.
I’m not going to pretend that I am the most knowledgeable person on the subject. Nor could I possibly condense such a topic into a comprehensive summary that my busy readers would tag along for, but here, hopefully is the jest of it.
The name Liberia comes from the word liberty. That should’ve given me a hint right there. Liberia, unlike their neighbors, was never colonized by European expansionists. Sierra Leone, Liberia’s northwestern neighbor was colonized by Britain. While, Guinea to the northeast and Ivory Coast to the east had been occupied by the French. But this little stretch of jungle, about the size of Ohio was never subjected to the adversity of colonization. Rather, their misfortunes began across the ocean.
Settled in the early 1800s by freeborn Blacks and former slaves from America, Liberia, whose name means “land of freedom,” has struggled with its dual cultural heritage: made of emancipated slaves and of indigenous Africans. An initial group of 86 immigrants, who came to be called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in Monrovia (named after U.S. President James Monroe) in 1820. Thousands of freed American slaves and free African-Americans arrived during the years that followed.
The drive to resettle freed slaves in Africa was promoted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization of white clergymen, abolitionists, and slave owners. Between 1821 and 1867 the ACS resettled some 10,000 African-Americans and several thousand Africans from intercepted slave ships; it governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until independence in 1847.
Ironically, these Americo-Liberians fought and enslaved the indigenous Africans occupying the region. They monopolized political power and restricted the voting rights of the native population for over a hundred years until April 12, 1980 when an indigenous Liberian, Samuel Doe seized power in a coup d’etat. The months and years following saw increased human rights abuses, corruption, and ethnic tensions ultimately erupting into one of Africa’s most hideous civil wars to which the people are still recovering.
Everyday we see lingering remnants of the war…bullet holes on storefronts, blown-out buildings and paraplegic beggars. Every Liberian we meet lost someone in the war. It’s just hard to imagine.
However, some of the deepest wounds are much less obvious to the casual observer. The longer I am here, the more I see how broken this place really is. On many days, most days perhaps, it is easy to give up hope, but our hope is not in this world. It is not in International Aid, Angelina Jolie or Oprah and it’s definitely not in anything I can do. Our hope is in He who will come and “set creation free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Rom 8:21. I really believe that. Jesus is coming to make all things new.
‘til then…we serve.