Under the leadership of RMN’s African Central Conferences Coordinator, Dennis Akpona, a team of Reconciling individuals are leaving for a three week trip to continue Reconciling work in Liberia.
A majority of the trip will be our attendance of the Gbarnga United Methodist Annual Conference in Gbarnga, Liberia. We are thrilled to be invited back after our previous trip in June 2016 through which we held our first “African Christian Community and Theology Training” in Liberia.
The trainings were very well attended and held in Bopolu and Gbarnga respectively for four days each. Each day began with a bible study facilitated by Rev. Grace Imathiu and focused on the lives of Moses, Jesus and the Canaanite woman, Saul/Paul, and Peter.
Rev. Cedric Harmon taught on human sexuality as it relates to the church and our community while Tyler Ward focused on the life of John Wesley, Wesleyan Quadrilateral, band formation, and Wesleyan principles. This training was a huge success thanks to their ability to connect scripture and theology to real life scenarios and life experiences of the Liberian people.
In Bopolu, Liberia the training was held at the Bopolu UMC mission ground which also houses the mission high school and the pastor’s residence. We had about 38 participants for the training with a few pastors from other churches from the community and nearby village. The group was very diverse with men, women, young adults, pastors, lay leaders etc. Small group discussions created opportunities for everyone to participate.
During the training, participants were exposed to some of the most current approaches to theology and scripture for the issues they are struggling with within the church. There were in-depth conversations around the understanding of orientation, behavior, identity and the three aspects of sexuality which are affection, romantic, and erotic. Professor Ward taught the participants about baptism, John Wesley’s principles and most especially, what bands are and what it means to be in a band.
The Gbarnga training was held at the UMC Gbarnga School of Theology with St. John’s UMC church and the participation of the District Superintendent of Gbanga – one of the largest districts in the region. We followed the same format we had from Bopolu but made slight changes based on what we learnt from Bopolu. We had a total of 48 participants which was far higher than the scheduled number of 35 participants. The participants included the seminary professors, lay pastors, clergies, young adults, women, and men. They were all United Methodist and came from nearby counties and villages. A strong presentation on the current state of the Liberian church was given by Rev. Davies who is a professor of education at the UMC seminary. He shared about struggles within Liberian culture regarding the New Testament and its conversations around marriage in regards to both sexual orientation and polygamy. Rev. Davies mentioned that a way forward would be coming together to have conversation around these challenges. He believes that tolerance is the major way forward.
Due to the success of this training, we were invited to lead the bible studies and some seminar sessions on human diversity and culture within the Methodist church in the Gbarnga Annual Conference in Liberia.
We will keep you all posted as the conference unfolds and look forward to reporting in depth upon our return.
Please keep the team in your prayers as we travel together to strengthen our relationship with our United Methodist siblings in Liberia!
The team will include:
Dennis Akpona – RMN’s African Central Conferences Coordinator
Rev. Grace Imathiu – United Methodist Elder and Reconciling Individual
Rev. Cedrick Hammond – Executive Director of Many Voices: A black church movement for gay & transgender justice
M Barclay – RMN’s Director of Communications
Since arriving in the United States, Dennis has not stopped working for, and on behalf of, LGBT individuals. He volunteered at the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and is a co-founder of Chicago LGBT Asylum Support Program or CLASP. Knowing first-hand the difficulty arriving asylum seekers face and the lack of resources available to them, Dennis took it upon himself to organize and start CLASP to assist LGBT asylum seekers while they await the long and complicated process of applying for asylum. Due to his love for giving back and helping others, he completed a bachelor's degree at Northeastern Illinois University in Social Work and a bachelor's degree in Accounting from Lagos State University in Nigeria. He is currently pursuing his Masters in Social Work from University at Buffalo.