The congregation at Geneseo’s First United Methodist Church is reaching out to Liberia in a “big way.”
The membership recently presented a $30,000 check to the Rev. Dr. John Innis, United Methodist Bishop of Liberia, Africa, to construct a permanent building for the New Buchanan United Methodist Church in his country.
The gift for the Liberian church is part of the Geneseo’s congregation “Blessing People B.I.G.” campaign, which aims to help the congregation build, impact, and grow across generations, in Geneseo, and globally.
Geneseo First UMC also is raising funds for a major facility expansion to the present building.
The Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, directing pastor at First United Methodist Church in Geneseo, said, “We have chosen Psalms 66:8, ‘Bless our God, O peoples, let the sound of his praise be heard,’ as our theme verse because our campaign aims at building two sanctuaries, one in Geneseo and another in Liberia, where God will be praised,” Rev. Ritter said.
“Geneseo First UMC initiated the birth of New Buchanan UMC in Dec. 2010, when we began paying salaries of two pastors who would start the congregation,” he said. “We also have provided programming money, bought land, and funded the construction of a temporary structure.”
The fledgling congregation met in homes before moving into the temporary structure on April 1 of this year when 150 people attended the first Sunday worship in the thatch structure, which will be used for children’s ministry when the new building is constructed.
The current construction project is part of a three-year involvement Geneseo First UMC has had in Liberia and a 10-year involvement Ritter has had in that country. The Geneseo congregation funded the digging of a well, provided scholarships and saved a widow’s home from demolition.
“We hope to continue to establish new congregations in that country,” Ritter said.
Sevis Systems of Dallas, Texas, a Christian-owned company that provides technical support to the cellular communications industry, learned about Geneseo First United Methodist Church’s project in Liberia and has offered support by moving the location of a planned satellite relay station to Liberia, Ritter said.
“The funding is paying for some travel back and forth from Geneseo to Liberia and locating their equipment at Camphor Mission Station near the church. The relay station will provide access to the Internet for the workers and students who call Camphor their home.”
Mike Ashdown, chief technology officer for Sevis Systems, is a member of Geneseo First UMC. He and Ritter are currently in Liberia to lay the groundwork for the relay station and to visit other churches built under Ritter’s leadership.
Ritter will preach at New Buchanan United Methodist Church on May 20.
Plans are for a group from the Geneseo church to travel to Liberia in October “with hopes of dedicating the new church building then,” Ritter said.
Page 2 of 2 - Construction on the new building is estimated at about six months. The 3,500 square-foot facility will include a sanctuary, choir area, meeting room, two offices and restrooms.
Liberia was established on the West Coast of Africa in 1847 by former American slaves, Ritter said.
“It is the oldest democracy on the continent, but has fallen on very hard times recently. A decade and a half of civil war left the economy and infrastructure of the country in ruins. Under the leadership of President Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, the first democratically elected female head of state in the history of Africa, the small nation is recovering,”?he explained.
He said 40 percent of the population is under the age of 14 and Liberia ranks as either second or third poorest nation in the world, depending on which source is consulted.
“The Methodist Church has had a presence in the nation since its founding. As bishop of the United Methodist Church in Liberia, Dr. Innis is the spiritual leader of 900 United Methodist congregations there,” Ritter said.