Living the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy name
The Lord’s Prayer is a model of prayer. Known by heart by all Christians, it appears everywhere in our religious life: in our liturgy and sacraments, in public and private prayer. Growing up at opposite ends of Ohio, we both learned to recite the Lord’s Prayer at an early age; however, it took a recent trip to West Africa to see the Lord’s Prayer being lived out in real ways.
We believe that this is a story that needs to be told.
We had the privilege to travel on an assessment mission with the East Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church to the bordering countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia on Africa’s Atlantic coast. While there we had the blessing of meeting Reverend Herbert Zigbuo and his students. Reverend Herbert is a missionary at the Ganta Methodist Mission in up-country Liberia and has been putting the words of the Lord’s Prayer into action. We believe his is a story that should be told.
Since the early 1990s Liberia and Sierra Leone have been brutalized by years of civil war and warlordism. Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, presently in custody in The Hague for crimes against humanity, used an army of child soldiers (little Taylors) to first overthrow the corrupt regime of Sergeant Samuel K. Doe and then to consolidate his control over rival rebel groups and the diamond rich regions of neighboring Sierra Leone. Taylor, as well as a dozen other militia leaders, seduced, recruited, coerced, and kidnapped large numbers of poor, uneducated, and vulnerable boys to wage their battles to further their political ambitions and their pursuit of power and wealth. These young boys performed unspeakable atrocities upon their own families, neighbors, tribes, and countrymen.
With the defeat and arrest of Taylor, and the disarming of the various rebel groups, these young men became rudderless and ostracized members of society. Today the international community, through such aid agencies as UNICEF, struggles to find ways to reintegrate these former combatants back into society. Many in Liberia and Sierra Leone believe these feared and unemployed ex-combatants would be destabilizing elements within their societies, so desperately working to rebuild themselves as productive nations.
Forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass
Yet through the dedicated efforts of Reverend Herbert scores of these aberrant souls have been transformed into community resources. With vision, he established the Ganta Vocational School; with compassion he embraced these wayward spirits and convinced them to attend his school. Now these young men are learning marketable skills in such trades as masonry, carpentry, electricity, and roofing. The ex-combatants are fanning out into nearby villages and literally rebuilding the homes and communities which they had a hand in destroying.
Recently some of the young men approached Reverend Herbert and requested that they no longer be referred to as “ex-combatants.” They were establishing a new life and wanted to be known instead as “missionary students.” These young men now have reasons to be proud instead of ashamed. Herbert sees these boys as misguided souls not lost souls. Herbert leads the missionary students through devotions, worship, and scripture each morning before the start of the school or work day. The morning that we were present they were working through a series on the fruits of the spirit; the fruit being served was “good works.” According to Reverend Herbert, the young men were seeing their work in the community in a new light. They were not only learning skills that could provide them an income but also learning skills that could be seen as ministry and working for God–quite a contrast from working for Charles Taylor.
Because Reverend Herbert had the capacity to “forgive those who trespass against us,” these young men and Liberia have an opportunity to thrive again. Instead of little Taylors with the potential for violence, there were missionary students with potential for blessing. The families and neighbors of these young men were learning life lessons from Reverend Herbert too. They were being taught the Lord’s Prayer not in ways that we learned it in Sunday school or catechism when we memorized the prayer for a prize or to satisfy a priest or parent. The communities were learning how to forgive and be forgiven under the very real conditions of war and peace and reconciliation.
We believe that this is a story that needs to be lived. We are humbled.
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