Episcopal Church in Liberia caught in renewed fighting

May 21, 2002

As more details filter out of Liberia, the violent confrontation between the government and a coalition of rebels is threatening the nation's institutions--including churches.

In a letter to members of the board of trustees for Cuttington University College (CUC), President Melvin Mason described the tensions on campus as the fighting came closer. The evening of May 6, Mason and staff made plans to evacuate the campus. Using a satellite telephone he contacted the National Police offices in Monrovia and, as a result, President Charles Taylor sent six buses to transport students to the capital.

On May 7 buses returned to campus to evacuate staff and faculty and on May 8 they rescued valuable documents, equipment and a few more people. An attempt on May 9 to return for the families of security personnel was blocked at the gate because of 'security conditions,' according to Mason. Using a back entrance the bus drivers were able to deliver some food to the security personnel and evacuate family members, a few staff members and more equipment. At this point there were 22 security men and a few National Police on campus, 'trying to prevent looting and destruction of property.'

By May 15 and 16 a committee in Monrovia was arranging temporary accommodation for CUC to resume classes and finish the academic year. It will be the first class to graduate since the college was abandoned during the seven-year civil war that ended in 1996. Several institutions in Monrovia offered classroom space, according to a May 17 letter from President Mason, and he announced May 18 that classes would resume.

Conditions in the capital are still grim, according to college officials, with reports of a black out and no sources of power. All faculty and students are safe, however. Teams sent back to the campus reported that there has been looting at the college and Phebe Hospital across the road.

In an e-mail note to Margaret Larom of the Office of Anglican and Global Relations in New York Bishop Edward Neufville of the Diocese of Liberia thanked U.S. Episcopalians for their concern and said, 'At the present moment it seems as if we are sitting on a time bomb. However, our prayers go up daily to Almighty God for his mercy and protection to allow this cup to pass over us.'

The bishop added that 'our people are distressed and hungry' and that the 'cost of essential commodities have doubled. Most people have turned into beggars. It is rough. However, church attendance continues to grow and our people are praying daily.' He said that he is meeting with the diocesan staff 'to console and give hope and visit churches to give them hope also. With your prayers, knowing that you all are there for us, we muster up courage every day.'