By Bob Allen
The Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, one of the country’s leading schools, reopened March 2 after six months of closure prompted by the Ebola crisis in West Africa.
Richard Wilson, a Mercer University professor named in 2013 as president of the seminary associated with the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention, made an unplanned return to the United States after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf closed the nation’s schools in a state of emergency declared Aug. 6. Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, lifted the state of emergency in November, citing successes in keeping the spread of the virus at bay.
Wilson, who also serves as the Columbus Roberts Professor of Theology at Mercer, returned to Liberia Feb. 23. He reported the seminary’s reopening in an e-newsletter to friends and supporters March 2.
Before closing the campus, administrators announced the launch of Care for One Hundred, a project to provide basic needs for about 100 people living on campus suddenly out of work and largely isolated due to travel restrictions during the Ebola scare.
The effort raised nearly $60,000, Wilson said, providing one basic meal a day for more than 1,000 people a month in four counties and seven compounds, including two orphanages. Wilson said he hopes to continue the program for at least six more months, while shifting his fundraising efforts toward getting back to his original task of rebuilding infrastructure at the seminary opened in 1976 under auspices of the Southern Baptist Convention.
The seminary, one of the oldest Christian theological higher education institutions in West Africa, is credited with bolstering a Baptist witness not only in Liberia but across the region. It suffered almost from the beginning from political turmoil in the country beginning with the assassination of President William Tolbert, a minister active in the Baptist World Alliance, in a military coup in 1980.
After three decades of civil war, a leadership dispute within the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention prompted a labor judge to close the school for six weeks at the beginning of 2014, postponing what was originally a one-year appointment for Wilson, on loan from Mercer, by nearly two months.
Wilson, who now plans to stay on in Liberia at least through 2016, said nearly all of the campus buildings are in need of repair, and basic resources like computers, solar lighting, wheel barrows, lawn mowers, library books and utility vehicles are also in short supply.
He said he has secured $20,000 to re-roof the dormitory and dining hall and is about to raise another $10,000 for a new roof for the administration/classroom building. He is still assessing renovation of five cottages on campus that provide some dormitory and office space, with plans to convert one of the buildings to a computer lab.
Ebola claimed more than 4,000 lives in Liberia, more than any other country. The World Health Organization reported more than 23,500 confirmed, probable and suspected cases, mostly in three countries: Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
On Tuesday, Liberia’s president called for a “Marshall Plan” similar to a massive U.S. aid project for Europe after World War II for Ebola-affected countries in West Africa.