Greetings: Rev. P. Nicole Boyce, Senior Pastor; Rev. Massa Moussa, Associate Pastor; Members of the Church Council; the Deaconesses, choir, the men, women, young adults, youth and children of the E. Jonathan Goodridge UMC; and all who are visiting here today. I bring you greetings of comfort, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, our Chief Comforter, and in the name of our Savior and Lord, Christ Jesus. I also want to greet our national leaders and the people of Liberia who have gone through a period of untold suffering and hardships; and yet have stood tall, resilient, and have demonstrated such tenacity, fortitude and faith in the grace and mercy of God to rise again, above all odds, and be the people God has intended them to be. Amen!
Introduction: I want to thank you for the invitation to be your guest preacher on this first Sunday of February, 2015. It is barely two weeks now since I returned home from the United States where I had gone for medical treatment and to visit with my children.
Since I became a widower few years ago, my children have now become my parents. Indeed, being a widower is a lonely place to be; but God’s grace continues to be sufficient for me. Your invitation provides me the opportunity to greet my dear people of Liberia, and to share in our common grief and loss as a result of the Ebola virus diseases that ravished our nation over the past seven months.
I have come this morning to offer to you, my brothers and sisters, the people called United Methodists, and to the sons and daughters of Liberia, words of my deepest condolences, words of comfort and words of peace for the horrendous crisis suffered by all of us as a result of the invasion of our nation by the Ebola virus disease (EVD). I am deeply sorry for the loss of thousands of our compatriots to this disease. I mourn and weep with all of you, my brothers and sisters, who are still grieving the loss of your dear loved ones to the disease and to other causes of death during the heat of the Ebola crisis here in our nation.
During that time, it is my understanding that no matter what the cause of death was, almost every death was attributed to Ebola. As a consequence, we watch our dear loved ones being wrapped up in plastic bags and carried away to be cremated; a form of burial that is totally contrary to our tradition and to the decency, love and respect we give to members of our families and communities when they transition this life to join our ancestors.
Indeed, the year 2014 will go down in the annals of our history as a very dark, painful, and devastating year because of the losses we suffered as a nation and people; affecting every aspect of our lives, including our national development efforts; the abandonment we experienced from some of our sister countries, including the shutting down of their airlines in Liberia; the closure of their borders to Liberians as if we had all become the Ebola virus; the stigmatization we are still suffering in some quarters; etc.
Indeed, we as a nation have been at the crossroads of life, struggling for survival from a common enemy called Ebola. We had been in the storm of life, tossing us here and there, as if it would sweep us all away into the great beyond. During the heat of the crisis, some of our widows could be seen surrounded by their children, with tears streaming down their eyes, crying for their daddies who are no more because of Ebola. Within some of our communities, entire families were wiped out of this life to their untimely demise because of Ebola. Some of our promising future leaders became victim to Ebola; hardworking and dedicated health professionals who, in their sacrificial attempts to save lives, eventually gave their own lives, and were whisked away in plastic bags to be cremated.
My friends, many of you are witnesses to the deep pains and sorrows that many among us suffered as you heard shouts and wailings in many communities. During a visit of some of our pastors to the Dolo’s Town Community of Margibi County, where we lost about 42 members of our Church to the virus, including two pastors, board chair persons and lay leaders, one of our youths who had lost her mother and uncle to the virus was seen weeping bitterly. In her grief, She cried out saying, “Ah, Lord, why, why did my parents have to die such a painful, shameful death? Why should my mother and uncle be burnt and not have a grave to be remembered; why could they not be carried to the church for a befitting funeral and burial; a church for *h tney earnestly labored?” As I read these lines, from one of our pastors, I could not help *e€p a tri mat outn who LS seemingly left to face an uncertain future without a Mom and uncle who provided for her education and survival.
As I preach to you this morning, my deepest regret is that I was not here with you, this time around, during that horrible period in our nation’s history. As some of you might remember, over the past 35 years, since 1979 to the present, our nation has gone through various kinds of crises, which I would like to call “storms”. And during all of those stormy periods, except this one, the Ebola crisis, some of you will recall, I have always been here with our people, suffering along with them, offering counsel, prayers, encouragement, and making some interventions, including the provision of relief supplies to the hungry, poor and needy through various connections of our Church. But, because of health reasons, I could not be here.
1) I recall the Liberian Rice Riot of 14th April, 1979, instigated by some politicians, due to their misunderstanding of President William R. Tolbert’ policy on Liberia’s commitment to food security and self-sufficiency. In his “State of the Nation Address” that year, President Tolbert had proposed that, in order to encourage his “back to the soil campaign” and promote the sale of locally produced rice, the price of imported rice would be increased. It is the concept of that same policy that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf referred to few days ago, in her “State of the Nation address” as “Eat your pride
campaign”. Tolbert’s statement was taken from out of context, and politically instigated; and you know the consequences we all suffered. That event led to massive looting and destruction of lives and property. Neighboring countries had to come to our aid. The point is, I was here and suffered along with our people and government.
2) I recall the first military coup d’etat in Liberia on 12t1 April, 1980, led by Master Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and some enlisted men of the Liberian Army. That event changed the paradigm of Liberia’s political history; and since then Liberia is yet to fully recovered from its damaging impact upon our nation and peoples socially, politically, culturally, economically, etc. I was also here and went through that crisis with our people.
3) I recall the attempted coup of Major General Thomas Quinwonkpa, Commanding General of the Liberian Army on 12th November, 1985 against the Samuel Doe’s Government. I was also here, and stood alongside other stake holders to help manage that conflict. Until today, our brothers and sisters of the Krahns and Gios tribes are still overcoming the impact of the hostilities that ensued from that conflict.
4) And, I recall The Liberian civil war, waged by Charles MacArthur Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) against the NDPL-led Government and peaceful citizens. His action gave birth to a dozen of warring factions, and plunged our nation into a horrifying and degenerating crisis whose brunt we still bear as we continue to struggle to retake our place among the comity of nations. In our attempt to save this nation from total collapse in that crisis, sor-e of us were branded “rebel bishops”. We were humiliated and almost killed. But God was on our side and vindicated us. And today, we are still around to tell the story to succeeding generations.
5) As if all of those hardships of the Liberian people were not enough, just at about the time we were beginning to rise up socio-economically, and politically, our lives and development initiatives were dreadfully interrupted by the invasion of the Ebola; thus affecting the fabric of our nation. The Ebola pandemic totally collapsed the Liberian economy, destroyed lives and property, and compelled Government to declare a state of emergency, impose curfew and take other stringent measures to save the State.
Why our people were being bombarded by this crisis, sadly, this time around, regrettably, I was not here to suffer along with them, to provide some care and give hope to some people. Due to illness, I was constrained to travel abroad to my children, who are now my caregivers.
That is why I have come this morning to offer to you, Church; and to the government and people of Liberia a message of condolence, comfort and peace. I have come to help wipe away your tears. It is my prayer that God will use this message to give hope to you and all of our brothers and sisters who have suffered some losses during this crisis; the ordinary Liberian people who have stood the test of time and demonstrated unmatched resilience, tenacity, courage and strength to survive this Ebola storm. I also want to give hope to our national leaders, who now have the herculean task of-leading us into rebuilding our ruined infrastructures and health systems. That is why I have prayerfully selected to speak to you on the theme, “Peace, Be Still”, based on the scripture passage, Mark 4:35-41.
Before I begin this message, I wish to invite you to join me give a standing ovation to our own son of the Trinity UMC, Brother Tolbert Nyanswah; Representative, Saah Joseph of the New Georgia Community, and Dr. Jerry Brown of the ELWA Hospital, who among others played very significant roles in leading us in the fight against the Ebola virus disease. I also want us to continue to appreciate the abundant support we as a nation received and continue to receive from friendly governments around the world; and our international partners, including our own UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) in our common fight against the Ebola virus. Thank you very much.
Reading the passage: Mark 4:35-41
35 That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. 37 A furious squall (horrifying stormj came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” 39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet fPeaceJ! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. 40 He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” 41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” (NIV).
Analyzing the text: Mark 4:35-41
The purpose of the Gospel of Mark, believed to have been the first Gospel written, was to present the person, work and teachings of Jesus to the Church in the Roman Empire, the immediate recipients and context in which it was written. The entire Chapter 4 reveals Jesus, the Master Teacher on a teaching expedition. Beginning from verses 1 to 34, Jesus had been teaching his disciples the whole day on the meaning of the Kingdom of God, and the values of the Word of God in transforming sinful humanity and rescuing them from the Kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of God.
You will notice, from verse one, that Jesus did all of his teachings in parables; drawing out a single scriptural truth from each parable, but with many applications to the issues of life, his disciples were facing every day in their commitment to be the Church in a Roman society where emperors would claim to be some sort of deity, and therefore demanded to be worshipped. At the close of his teachings on that day, it was now evening. That brings us to this last session of Chapter 4; verses 35-41. Verse 35 begins this session by saying, “That day, when evening came, he said to his disciples, ‘Let us go over on the other side”. Jesus did not tell his disciples beforehand that they were going to encounter “storms”. He simply said to them, “let us go over on the other side of the sea of Galilee,” because there was an assignment awaiting them there. Jesus was primarily concerned about the assignment that awaited them, not the stormy wind they would encounter enroute to the other side. As the Master of the sea and wave, he knew what to do when a storm surfaces.
The opposite were his disciples, master fishermen, did not know what to do. They had tried all they could to stabilize the boat. But the more they tried, the more difficuit it became for them. The waves continued to beat against the boat to the point that it almost sank. In their frustration and desperation for survival, they went to wake up Jesus; angry that he did not seem to care about their lives.
The disciples had failed to know that as long as Jesus was in the same boat with them, going through the same stormy wind along with them, they could not sink without Jesus himself sinking. And if he could not sink, no matter how high the tempest might rage, no matter how terrible the billows may have tossed them, they were secured with Jesus in the boat with them. But, sadly, the disciples missed that truth, and became frustrated, and lost hopes in Jesus.
The lesson: There is no real life without a storm. God may allow storms in our lives, not to ultimately destroy us, but to make us complete, mature and solid disciples of Jesus Christ, who are capable of facing and overcoming greater challenges of life. You can never jump higher in life until you encounter hurdles from which you learn to jump.
Illustration: King Saul and King David illustrated this point for us: King Saul was made king without ever enduring hardship (1 Samuel 9). As a result, he never developed the character or maturity to effectively handle God’s assignment. He therefore ended up as a miserable failure. But as for David, he spent years in suffering and headache. When he finally ascended to the throne, he was a man after God’s own heart.
Questions of Life that confront us in time of crisis So, may I ask you: Are you bitter with God because he did not save a member of your family out of the Ebola crisis? Have you lost your faith in God because he watched your only child died in the crisis or from some tragic situation? Or, because he did not save your marriage; or because God has not brought the right man or woman in your life, and that you are tired of waiting?
You may question God about life’s situation in your heart, “why would God be so cruel to see my both parents died from the Ebola crisis, and turned me into orphan; why did God not answer my prayer when I needed him most; what will become of my plan to acquire some education; how will I make it through the rest of my life; is God real; can I still trust him; can I continue to believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, everywhere-present God; etc. These are all very genuine questions anyone may ask in times of desperation such as the Ebola crisis we found ourselves in over the past months. But I want you to know that God still cares. He has greater and better plans for your life (Jeremiah 29:11). Don’t give up on God because God will never give up on you!
God’s Purpose for Storms of life God always has a purpose for whatever storms of life he allows us to go through. We may never fully understand it in this life. But some day, when we all get to heaven, we will understand it by and by. David, during his times of trial and testing, he asked God similar questions, recorded in Psalm 22. Jesus, during his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, realizing the severity of the cross he was soon to bear on behalf of the world, prayed to the father and said, “if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42). God’s answer was “no”. God did not take away Jesus’ cup of suffering.
And while carrying all of our sins upon him on the cross, Jesus felt a deep sense of separation between him and his Father, and in his pains and anguish, cried to his Father, “Eli, Eli, lama sobachthani?” meaning, “My God, my God, why has thou forsaken me” (Matt. 27:46). At that p0 n:, t oecame necessary that Righteous God would turn his backs, as it were, on sinful man. And God allowed Jesus to bear the sins of the whole world alone.
The Lesson: If God had spared Jesus the suffering, the entire world would have still been plunged into sin and total separation from God. In the same way, God may not spare you some sufferings so that he might carry out his work of salvation in the lives of the people around you. But in the midst of your suffering, God is still with you.
The Lesson: God’s apparent silence during your times of suffering does not mean that God does not care about you. He is still in charge and has a divine purpose for your situation. We may not understand it all while in this life. Someday, when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be; when we all see Jesus, we will sing and shout the victory. And he will explain to us all we do not understand today. And we will forever rejoice in his presence.
And, so, as I bring this message to a close, I encourage you to take heart; to cheer up because all is not lost. Christ is still on the boat with us. It may toss us here and there. We may be tempted to ask, like his disciples, “Master, carest thou not that we perish?” But I say to you, in the words of our Master and Savior, Jesus, “Peace! Be still!” Christ is able to the task, to calm the storm. And He will soon calm the storm of Ebola completely. And we will appreciate God for this storm.
Even now, we can begin to appreciate God for the positive impacts of Ebola. Is there nothing good coming from out of the Storm of Ebola? I have already begun to see many good things coming to us from out of the troubles Ebola brought upon us. Just open your eyes positively, and you too will soon see the abundant blessings that God is bringing our way, because of the evil that Ebola has caused us. Indeed, Ebola meant it for evil, but God is turning it for our good.
- a) Ebola intended to humiliate and destroy us, but, by the grace of God, we are rising as a nation and people, more resilient, more committed and dedicated to fostering our national development initiative.
- b) Those who closed their borers to us and stigmatize us will soon be coming to us for consultation.
- c) The people of Liberia have become the consultants and experts of Ebola, and we will be able to help the rest of the world whenever this deadly disease surfaces in any part of
the world. Today, we have Representative Saah Joseph and a team of Liberian experts helping our sister nation, Sierra Leone to overcome the Ebola crisis there.
- d) Even though Ebola has been around since 1976, beginning in the DR Congo, but never has the world given so much attention to it and united in its fight against the disease
until Liberia was affected. As a result, more nations have gone into research to discover the necessary drugs for the virus.
- e) The Liberian health sector will never remain the same again all across the country! We envisage massive improvement. There are plans to turn the Ebola Treatment Units (ETU), which are virtually emptied now, into viable health centers.
- f) The massive international expression of solidarity and support we have and continue to receive testifies to the fact that God has not abandoned us, God is with us. So we can
say to the people of Liberia, “Peace! Be Still”.
In light of all of these blessings, therefore, I can only say, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “we know that in all things, God works for the good of them that love him, to them who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). The storm is passing over, peace, be still; in the name of the Father, the Son, and the blessed Holy Spirit. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Arthur F. Kulah
Retired Bishop in Residence
Gbarnga School of Theology, United Methodist University
Liberia Annual Conference, The United Methodist Church (LAC/UMC)