Gbarnga City, Liberia – Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, Episcopal leader of the North Texas Annual Conference, participated in a historical event here on Sunday, February 12, 2012. He presented Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf with a framed salute to her leadership of this nation and her value to her denomination—United Methodism—in a worship service like no other. Prior to the award presentation, President Sirleaf read the epistle lesson. To date, no sitting head of state has ever read scripture in a worship service. This remarkable service culminated the six-day annual conference of the Liberian United Methodist Church under the leadership of Bishop John G. Innis, who served as the keynote preacher for the 2011 North Texas Annual Conference last June.
Bishop Bledsoe led a delegation of nine lay and clergy persons from the North Texas Annual Conference here to demonstrate the power of the United Methodist connection at a crucial time. The country of Liberia and the Liberian United Methodist Church are both striving to rebuild and stabilize after years of civil war. To help, Bishop Bledsoe and the delegation participated in two weeks' worth of hands-on activities such as preaching in Monrovian United Methodist churches, visiting an orphanage and a hospital, and conducting training for the communications team of the Liberian Annual Conference.
"It was a great honor to present President Sirleaf with her award. She is inspiring to us all," Bishop Bledsoe said. "She rose above gender discrimination, gained an education, and still remembers who she is as a child of God. Her leadership of this nation and her willingness to work with the church is very noteworthy. She understands that the separation of church and state need not be detrimental to the good of society. We need both.
"It was also an honor to see our North Texas delegation in action here in Liberia. They invested themselves generously to undergird their fellow United Methodists in a host of ways. Our impact was much more profound because we all were here. I could not have do ne this without them."
The Rev. Stan Copeland of Lovers Lane UMC was a part of this delegation, and he echoed Bishop Bledsoe's understanding of the need to serve in Liberia at this time."
What an incredible blessing it was to be part of the Liberian Annual Conference and see The United Methodist Church so alive and active in rebuilding their war-torn country," said Dr. Copeland. "Our Bishop Bledsoe was such an empowering presence leading the way with prophetic sermons on unity. I know he and our entire team made a difference there. We all witnessed a palpable spirit of unity grow and build throughout the week. I pray that the Liberian people can know what a life-changing difference they have made on us. I also tried to pack that holy, tangible, deep spirit of unity, but it kept jumping out of the bag. It is my prayer that it followed us home. We have a lot of exciting disciple-making, world transforming work to do together."
Associate Director for the Center of Mission Outreach, Rev. Marji Bishir agreed. "Our delegation embodied what we refer to as "a ministry of presence." Just the fact that we were there gave the Liberian Church a real sense that God cares."
The delegation also included Mrs. Leslie Bledsoe, Dr. Jeremiah Booker, pastor of Hamilton Park UMC, and his wife, Petrella, Dr. Frank Alegria, superintendent of the North Central District, Dr. Sheron Patterson, Communications Officer of the Annual Conference, and Wil Murphy, Communications consultant.
In an act of reciprocity, Bishop Innis invited Bishop Bledsoe to serve as his annual conference preacher. Bishop Bledsoe brought soul-stirring messages on the Liberian Annual Conference theme, "Maintaining the Unity of the Church," that often lifted the Liberian audience to their feet. "Bishop Innis is also an inspiring leader; that's why he was our annual conference preacher in 2011," Bishop Bledsoe explained." He led this nation and The United Methodist Church toward unity during very dark days by repeatedly risking his life to save thousands of people during the civil wars. His faith in God is remarkable.
"We can learn a lot from the Liberians," Bishop Bledsoe continued. "They are a people o f tenacious faith. They have endured a devastating civil war; yet, they trusted in God. We in America sometimes lose sight of the fact that God does work in our lives, even when we cannot see it. "
In the weeks ahead, members of this delegation will share their experiences in Liberia in the UMR and on the website, www.ntcumc.org.