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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Liberia Day 5 – Farewell Celebration

In Front of Evangel Temple Evangelical Lutheran Church

This evening, 3 January 2011, the pastors and church leaders of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia held a farewell dinner for the LCMS guests at the Evangel Temple Evangelical Lutheran Church. There was singing, short speeches, and excellent West African food.

Choir Singing at Farewell Dinner
Before dinner, Bishop Amos Bolay addressed the group, speaking about how fellowship is not the work of men but of God. Bishop Bolay said, "The Lord creates fellowship among church bodies." While in light of the fellowship discussions between the ELCL and the LCMS, the natural assumption was that Bishop Bolay was speaking of the events from the past few days. In reality, Bishop Bolay spoke of the fellowship the Lord created between the four Lutheran groups in Liberia that merged into one in May of 2009, forming the ELCL. Then he spoke how the coming of the LCMS delegation to Liberia also was the Lord's work. An example that Bishop Bolay offered to demonstrate the Lord's hand in the meeting was the alignment of all participants calendars. The group found this comment amusing. On a more serious note, Bishop Bolay said that prior to the unification of 2009, the LCMS would not have known with which of the four Lutheran groups to hold talks. Yet since the unification occurred, there is one ELCL for the LCMS to relate. Thanks was offered to the Lord and to the LCMS guests for coming to Liberia. Next came the presentation of gifts.

Presentation of Gifts
Each of us were given a West African (Liberian) style shirt.

Naomi and Joyce Erber
The women were gifted first, then the men.

Rose Bolay, Dr. Lehenbauer, Bishop Bolay
The choir continued to sing during the presentation of gifts.

Rose, Dr. Erber, Bishop Bolay
The shirt worn by Bishop Bolay commemorates the unification of the ELCL in May 2009.

Dr. Michael Rodewald Addresses the Group
After the presentation of gifts, the LCMS delegation was invited to give a response. Dr. Mike Rodewald, LCMS Regional Director for Africa, presented first. He thanked the ELCL and commended them on their hard work. He echoed some of Bishop Bolay's remarks, chiefly that the way events unfolded were the work of God not of men. He also reiterated how it was that Bishop Bolay ended up in St. Louis in October 2010 when he requested fellowship with the LCMS. Dr. Rodewald invited Dr. Collver to bring closing remarks.

Dr. Collver Offers Closing Remarks
Dr. Collver's remarks centered around 1 Corinthians 1:2 (with some contextualization): "To the church of God that is in [Liberia], to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours." The Lord calls his church together. He called the four Lutheran church bodies in Liberia into one. The Lord might also call the ELCL and the LCMS into fellowship. Dr. Collver also said, somewhat but not entirely tongue in check, that some time would have to be spent in Saint Louis explaining an important detail. In America, we are accustomed to churches splitting or breaking away from another church body, not coming together to form one body. He remarked that it might take some time to explain that these churches came together rather than broke away from another larger church. Thanks was given to the Lord and dinner was served.

A Hat from the ELCL's Convention
The official events concluded and conversations lingered in the "parking lot."

Dr. Mike Rodewald Talks with Members of the ELCL
On this building, the Lutheran "colors" of yellow and green are seen. 

Dr. Collver and Bishop Bolay
The trip to Liberia in general and to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Liberia in particular educated and encouraged the LCMS delegation. As devastating as the Liberian civil war was, the Lord worked good by strengthening churches. Liberia as a country has a theme of "unification." The theme of "unification" also is echoed in the church, yet unlike the secular nation which seeks unity for unity's sake (or for the well-being of the nation), the church is drawn together by the Lord Jesus through the preaching of His Word and the giving out of His forgiving gifts in the Sacraments. Like any church the ELCL has challenges, but is moving forward trusting in the promises of the Lord. As for fellowship between the ELCL and LCMS, Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer will make recommendations to President Harrison and the CTCR, and an announcement regarding a decision should occur around May 2012 (after the next CTCR meeting).

Sunset at Close of Day
On a final note, the missionary staff in Africa -- both Dr. Michael Rodewald, Regional Director, and Dr. Erber and his family -- did a remarkable job of preparatory work for the fellowship dialogs between the ELCL and LCMS. Dr. Erber took care of all the arrangements, making it easy for the team from Saint Louis. Dr. Rodewald, first came to Liberia, in the early 1980s, were he labored to translate the Holy Scriptures into the local language until the Liberian civil war. Dr. Rodewald actually lived in Liberia during the beginning of the war, only to be evacuated later. Dr. Erber has lived in Nigeria for the past 18 years with his family, but makes frequent trips to Liberia. He has been involved with Liberia in particular for the past several years. If not for the Lord's use of Drs. Rodewald and Erber as his instruments in Liberia, it is hard to imagine that fellowship talks would have occurred between the ELCL and the LCMS. Both of these men built on the work of those who went before them... (the trouble with offering thanks is that someone will be forgotten or not mentioned). In any case, as the church, the LCMS has been blessed by the instruments the Lord has provided her for His service.

Dr. Lehenbauer, Noami and Dr. Erber, Bishop Bolay, Drs. Collver and Lehenbauer
On the way back from the visit with the Liberian Vice President, we stopped at the ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) Compound along the coast.

-- Rev. Dr. Albert B. Collver, Director of Church Relations
Posted 4 January 2012 in Monrovia, Liberia.

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