A high-ranking government official from Sierra Leone has told an international churches team visiting his country and in Liberia that the world needs to get behind urgently needed peace-building efforts.
The ecumenical Christian delegation is reporting back from visits to the two nations, specifically their churches and agencies, from 2 to 8 November 2008.
"The world still looks at us as if we were warlords", said Sierra Leone Minister of Trade and Industry Alimamy Koroma to the team, which travelled to West Africa in the context of the Living Letters initiative of the World Council of Churches (WCC).
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone were devastated by civil wars in the 1990s. Liberia returned to peace and stability after the president and former warlord Charles Taylor was ousted in 2003. In neighbouring Sierra Leone, civil war officially ended in 2002.
"Living Letters" are small international ecumenical teams traveling to locations around the world where Christians strive to overcome violence. The team members, who are themselves involved in ecumenical activities and peace building in their home countries, express the solidarity of the WCC fellowship, which comprises 349 churches worldwide.
According to Koroma, the world has forgotten that these countries ended their wars some six years ago and after a shaky start now both have democratically elected governments. Liberian president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, elected in late 2005, is the first woman president in Africa.
The war-ravaged economies of both countries are struggling to revive but the current collapse of the world economy has created serious challenges with rising prices of food, fuel and other commodities. Moreover, Koroma said, they have been coerced into the world market and trading systems, which are inherently unjust, favouring the strong over the weak.
Sierra Leone and Liberia count among the ten poorest countries in the world, according to International Monetary Fund data on gross domestic products per capita.
Both Liberia and Sierra Leone are working steadily to consolidate the peace they have won, the Living Letters group was told. Governments, churches and civil society organizations have set in place processes for healing the memories of the war.
The wars have left behind a culture of violence that continues to have a deleterious impact on women and children. The Liberia Council of Churches and the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone work closely with UN agencies and civil society groups focusing on rehabilitation of street children, psychosocial support for sexually abused women and children, trauma counselling, supporting persons living with HIV and AIDS and breaking the stigma and teaching prevention.
Churches have been involved in inter-faith dialogue and are seeking to strengthen the voice of the faith communities in peace-making and in achieving truth and reconciliation. They have also been engaged in voter education and in election monitoring, as well as in capacity building.
The delegation also met with Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma, who affirmed the role played by the churches in difficult times and challenged them not to give up, as the struggle is not yet over and the issues to be dealt with are many. Referring to the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence, Koroma promised that by 2011 Sierra Leone will be a "shining example where peace and justice would be realized".
The delegation leader, Bishop Dr Robert Aboagye-Mensah who is the presiding bishop of the Methodist Church in Ghana and a WCC central committee member, emphasized the enriching power of "the stories of faith, hope and courage that spring from the experiences of the people coming out of a war and rebuilding their lives". The Living Letters visit "brought the WCC closer to the churches and the peoples of these countries in a significant way," he added.
"In spite of the pain, suffering and horror of the recent civil wars in these countries, our visit revealed the peace commitments of the churches, governments and related partners to rebuild, restore and reconcile, in their countries and region," said the Rev Dr Angelique Walker-Smith, from the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.
Both the young people in the Living Letters team, Anam Gill, from the Presbyterian Church in Pakistan and James Macharia from the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, Kenya spoke of the signs of hope and faith they were able to see during the visit. As Macharia described it, "Despite the challenges, Liberia and Sierra Leone are on the move with a future of hope and promise as they are blessed with potent faith."
Through 2010 Living Letters visits will take place each year around world in the context of the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence and in preparation for the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation which will take place in Jamaica in May 2011.