In the last week of April, Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia and rebel leader, was convicted of war crimes in the International Court of Justice, and my husband, D. Jensen Seyenkulo, was elected presiding bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia. Both were seemingly impossible events.
Taylor first became a reality for me at the beginning of my marriage to Jensen. Seminary sweethearts, we married nearly 23 years ago in Minnesota and settled in Gbarnga, Liberia. There Jensen served a congregation and taught at the Gbarnga School of Theology. Getting married and entering a new culture was an intense experience.
But before we could get settled, the civil war began. At first it was just distant, troubling news over the radio: Taylor and his fighters had entered the country 70 miles away in Nimba County.
The radio coverage of Taylor's advancement through the country became a lesson in what the acquisition of power can do to people. In first interviews, he spoke of ending the tyrannical and violent rule of former president Samuel Doe. Over the next six months, his message changed to "and some folks want me to be president" and then to "I would like to be president," followed by "I want to be president," "I will be president," and, finally, "No one but me will be president." If someone had just told me about this progression, I might not have believed it. Actually hearing it helped me understand how power corrupts.
Because of the war, we departed for the U.S., where we have lived and served ELCA congregations and institutions. The war went on for years. Taylor seemed personally unscathed until his arrest six years ago. On April 26, when the guilty verdict became a reality, media outlets showed people who had lost limbs — brutally cut from them by soldiers under Taylor's command. I felt numb.
In stark contrast was the jubilation I felt experiencing the Lutheran Church in Liberia Convention where Jensen was elected. Through the magic of Facebook instant messaging, I watched from Chicago as our friend Amos Smith provided a summary of speeches by candidates for bishop. There was a question-and-answer session and lively discussion as we waited for the vote tally. Then we celebrated, here and there. We would finally be returning to Liberia.
It happened "in God's time" that Jensen was called to lead Liberia's Lutheran community, with his focus on unity, education and self-sufficiency. God is calling not only the Lutheran Church in Liberia, but also our family into a wonderful new way of being and living in the world. I pray for this to be a peaceful, grace-filled time of moving forward together through the power and presence of the Spirit.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers