In Liberia, Sierra Leone and South Africa, churches have played a major role in reconciliation between groups who had been in violent conflict with each other for decades. Two international ecumenical teams sent by the World Council of Churches (WCC) will visit the three countries during the next two weeks.
The church representatives from different African countries, North America, Asia, the Caribbean and the Middle East are being sent as "living letters" to express the solidarity of the WCC fellowship, which comprises 349 churches worldwide. Until 2010, several Living Letters visits take place each year throughout the world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence in order to prepare for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation in 2011.
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone were devastated by civil war in the 1990s. Liberia returned to peace and stability after the president and former warlord Charles Taylor was ousted in 2003 and Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected head of state in late 2005. In neighbouring Sierra Leone, civil war officially ended in 2002.
As the WCC closely followed Sierra Leone and Liberia during the years of civil conflict, it learned first hand about the suffering of the people. After the cessation of the violence, the WCC supported the churches and other ecumenical partners in providing relief and rehabilitation.
The Living Letters visit to the two West African countries will focus on learning how these nations cope with the memories of war. The ecumenical delegation will learn about the initiatives for peace in which the National Councils of Churches of both countries have engaged in coordination with other faith communities, especially Sierra Leone's Muslim majority.
Meetings with the president of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma, as well as other government representatives figure on the visit's agenda. So do encounters with people engaged in peace work on the ground, for example at a facility in Kenema in the eastern part of the country, where children who had lived in the streets after the war are now supported by the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone.