By Erkki O. Haapasalo, president, West Africa Union Mission
Liberia was founded by freed slaves from the United States in 1822. The oldest republic in Africa, it was declared an independent country in 1847. For decades, Liberia was known as one of the most well-to-do countries in the subcontinent due to natural resources that contributed to the economic development of the country.
However, from 1980 to 2003 23 years of intermittent civil war devastated the infrastructure and impoverished the nation. Despite these hindrances, Liberia is slowly recovering and has of late experienced economic growth.
With the inauguration of the first democratically elected president in decades a new chapter is being written. Since 2006, when President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first woman president in Africa, took office, many reforms initiated by her government have started to bear fruit. However, outside the capital city of Monrovia most of the country still lacks electricity and running water. The unemployment rate has been as high as 85 percent.
Adventists in Liberia
The first Seventh-day Adventist in Liberia was the American missionary Hannah More, whose 1863 letters to the Advent Review and Sabbath Herald document that she had also taught others the faith. Adventist pioneer Stephen Haskell confirmed that she helped to found several Sabbathkeeping Adventist groups on the west coast of Africa between 1863 and 1866, when she returned to America. What became of these early groups of believers is unclear, though some contact was sustained for a while. In 1926 the European Division sent missionaries to Liberia who established the first formal mission, consisting of a school, church, and dispensary.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Liberia now has a membership of nearly 24,500, worshipping in 103 churches and companies. In the capital, Monrovia, 13 organized churches and eight companies meet weekly for services. The Liberia Mission operates six secondary schools. One of them, Konola Academy, is a boarding school with about 350 students. In addition, 21 primary schools educate more than 8,000 students.
The church also operates Cooper Memorial Hospital in Monrovia. Before the political upheaval of the 1980s and 1990s it was one of the flagship hospitals in the country. In an audience with a Seventh-day Adventist delegation soon after her inauguration in 2006, President Johnson-Sirleaf appealed to the church to upgrade the hospital to the standard of its former days. This year the hospital was incorporated into the Adventist Health International (AHI) network and with this new development improvement in the services and facilities is expected. The eye clinic connected with the hospital opened in 2004 and provides some of the best ophthalmologic services in the country, including cataract and other surgeries.
Hard economic times in the country have affected the life of the church. Many members are without work. However, things are improving and we are of good courage. Our Lord has promised to be with us until the end of time.