Man travels home to bring ministry to Liberia
By Jonathan Ernst| Staff Writer
Saturday, August 09, 2003

The son of Liberia's longest-serving president says he's hopeful for peace, but he sees difficult days ahead and has concerns about the international community's handling of the situation in Monrovia.

"Right now things are very nebulous. It seems that everybody is hopeful for peace, but the confusion is why is this peace so hard to come by," said Shad Tubman, the oldest son of President William V.S. Tubman, who ruled from 1943 until his death in 1971. The president was the grandson of two freed slaves from Augusta who helped found the Liberian colony in the 1830s.

Shad Tubman returned to Monrovia in September to restore his home and establish his ministry, the Invisible Ark of the Resurrection, a Pentecostal Christian church he began with his wife, Wokie, in New York City.

When the fighting intensified about six weeks ago, his younger brothers decided the 69-year-old should wait out the uprising in Ghana. Since then, Mr. Tubman says, the ministry has cared for hundreds of people packed into the grounds of his home, which sits within 2 miles of President Charles Taylor's residence. He says mortar rounds have come "reasonably close," but there have been no direct hits.

He hopes to return to Monrovia by the end of August - a small wait compared with the years he spent mostly in the United States after Liberia's civil war started in 1989.

"I'm very happy that I did come home," Mr. Tubman said. "I believe that I have a great task to do in Liberia when the time comes, when we begin to try to get people settled."

The head of an American nonprofit group dedicated to helping Liberia says the return of Liberian expatriates such as Mr. Tubman is key to rebuilding the broken country.

"There are wonderful Liberians willing to work and do all of that. Unfortunately, many of them are in this country because they've had to flee," said Dr. Frank Ardaiolo, of Rock Hill, S.C., the chairman of the board of the Friends of Liberia. He says that although many expatriates have had to move on with their lives, they want to return. Their wariness comes from false hopes such as those they've seen in the past month of fighting. He says many are waiting to see what the international community will do before they return. And, he says, American involvement is necessary.

"Here is an opportunity to go in with our forces and to help stabilize the situation and do good in a place that obviously needs it. The weapons of mass destruction, from my standpoint, are the starvation, the HIV epidemics, and the political warlords who have risen to the power that their countries are run by gangs."

In the wake of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, why should Americans care about Liberia?

"The country orbits around us," said Dr. David Carroll, the interim director of the democracy program at the Carter Center in Atlanta. "It's fixated on us to such an extent that other major powers that might help are disinclined because it's seen as an American place." Moreover, he says, helping Liberia is in America's interest to bolster stability and security in a region where al-Qaida has been active.

"With a relatively minor expenditure and deployment of troops, we can help solve a problem that's been festering for a decade and a half."

President Carter visited Liberia in 1978 - the only official visit to the country by an American head of state. He has called for America to send 2,000 troops to Liberia and for the world community to provide economic assistance to revive their economy.

Mr. Tubman agrees that U.S. involvement is key to bringing Liberia back to a viable state, but he'd like to see U.S. troops in Liberia as part of a United Nations force. And he'd like to see international corporations assist Liberia as co-capitalists, and not swoop in to take control of Liberia's rich natural resources such as gold, uranium and oil.

He's unwilling to criticize the rest of the world's efforts in Liberia, especially when the Liberian congress did nothing to stand up to Mr. Taylor's abuses over the past six years.

"That's our shame," he said, but added that Liberians have much to be proud of as they look to rebuild their country. "The will of the people - the faith they had believing this would change and at some point they would be able to get on with their lives - that was astounding."

Reach Jonathan Ernst at (706) 823-3230 or jonathan.ernst@augustachronicle.com.

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