Liberian pastors preach about drug abuse

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The United Methodist Church is taking aim at drug and alcohol abuse in rural Liberia.

As part of a new campaign, pastors in the Gbarnga District will spend about five minutes during every sermon talking about drug and alcohol addiction, according to the Rev. P. Harvey Willie, district superintendent.

“It is about time for the fight against drugs and substance use disorder to be a part of the messages that we preach to our congregation,” he said.

The church in Liberia plans to initiate the anti-drug campaign and conduct training for church leaders in all of the districts in the conference.

Habakkuk Garpehn, a representative of the ministry of health, lectures United Methodist pastors about the effects of drug and alcohol abuse during training on Sept. 26, 2020, in Gbatala, Liberia. The United Methodist Church organized the training as part of its new anti-drug campaign, which includes having pastors preach for a few minutes each week about drug abuse. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News. 

Led by the church’s human rights department in partnership with the Liberian government’s ministry of health and other United Methodists overseas, the initiative was launched in Gbatala in Bong County in central Liberia, which has been a hub of drugs and substance abuse.

“This was the training base of former rebel leader Charles Taylor, so the use of drugs has become a culture in this community,” Willie said, adding that the effects of drug use are still being seen in the Gbalata community since the war ended.

He said the people who come to church are often parents with addicted children, and they are the ones most affected, so it’s important for pastors to make the issue a priority.

“We spent days, months and years helping our members to overcome the problems their drugs-affected children are putting them through,” Willie said.

The clergyman noted that it is better to be holistic and talk about the problems people are facing.

“As a church, we need to start talking to parents about how best to deal with their children who are affected by drugs and substance use disorder,” he said.

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The Rev. H. Jumane Weekie, pastor of St. Mark Lutheran Church in Gbarnga, said the rate at which young people are organizing themselves in groups to use drugs could lead to bigger problems in Liberia. Weekie attended the United Methodist training in his role as the Liberia Council of Church representative in Bong County.

“This is how rebel groups are formed throughout the world,” he said, adding that without paying jobs, these young people can be lured by money to start a war in the country.

Weekie also pointed out that the church needs to do more in providing counseling services and rooming facilities to get addicts off the streets.√

“Now that we are taking the decision to include messages of drugs and substance use disorder in our sermons, let us be very intentional about it,” he said.

The Rev. Cooper Naiyoun, pastor of Gbatala United Methodist Church, said his community lives in constant fear of nighttime robberies by the young people who are hooked on drugs.

He said the church should find the resources to help in the rehabilitation of the affected young people in the community, noting that many of these youth are living in local graveyards.

“As a result of this training, my congregation and I will make it our business to raise special funds to help parents with (children affected by) drugs and substance use disorder.”

In 2018, the church’s human rights department opened New Life Recovery Center in Carterville, where substance abusers can undergo rehabilitation.

The center currently has about 20 persons in residence for treatment.

Swen is a communicator in Liberia. News media contact: Vicki Brown, Nashville, Tennessee, (615) 742-5470 or ne[email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

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