Welcome to Liberia! This West African nation enjoys the rare distinction of never having been colonized or even temporarily occupied by a foreign nation. Since 1847, Liberia has been a free and independent state. For the past 15 years, civil war has torn this nation apart, but the church remains faithful and hope for peace is growing.
SIM envisions a growing Liberian church, true to the Scriptures, relying on God, discipling believers to maturity in Christ, being empowered by the Spirit; self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating; pursuing God’s missionary vision for the unsaved and unreached people of Liberia and the world. We envision the Eternal Love Winning Africa (ELWA) Ministries being nationalized, interdependent with (supportive of and supported by) Liberian churches, self-directed, proclaiming the gospel, teaching biblical truth, upholding Christian moral standards, and ministering to human need.
Country & Ministry Profile
Liberia was founded in the early 1800s as a refuge for freed slaves. Stable government, led by a small elite known as the Americo-Liberians, prevailed until a coup in 1980. Since 1989, several devastating internal wars have destroyed the country’s infrastructure and forced the relocation of most SIM Liberia missionaries.
The establishment of Radio ELWA (Eternal Love Winning Africa) launched the ministry of SIM in Liberia in 1954. Eventually, Christian programs in 45 languages were broadcast throughout Liberia and its neighboring countries. ELWA Hospital opened in 1965, and in 1976 missionaries began planting churches in outlying areas. After the third evacuation of all SIM missionaries and vandalization of the properties in 1996 in the civil conflict, SIM missionaries did not expect to be able to return. Local Christians who had been trained by SIM resumed the work of ELWA hospital and radio. They formed the ELWA Ministries Association, which now oversees these ministries and is led by Liberian Christians.
In 1997, the SIM-related churches were organized as the Evangelical Church Union of Liberia (ECUL). Beginning in 1998, a few SIM missionaries returned to Liberia primarily to assist the ministries of ECUL and ELWA.
During another brief outbreak of the civil conflict in 2003, the Liberian-led ministries carried on, and the missionaries returned to Liberia after a brief evacuation. Currently, the largest UN Peacekeeping Force in the world is helping to stabilize and rebuild Liberia in cooperation with the democratically elected government which was installed in 2006.
Liberia is part of the Western Africa Area (WAFA).
SIM’s Partner Church
In 1997, following the last of three missionary evacuations, an association of churches related to SIM and other churches formed the Evangelical Church Union of Liberia (ECUL). As of January 2005, the ECUL has 77 organized churches and 63 more in various stages of development.
History of Christianity
Due to Christian influence of freed slaves from the United States who settled in Liberia, Protestant missions had an early start in Liberia. Two Baptist pastors were among the first to arrive in 1822 and begin church and mission work. American Baptists and Southern Baptists joined their work, and it has developed today into the Liberian Baptist Convention with about 50,000 affiliates.
The first Methodist missionary arrived in 1833. Some of the earliest settlers were also Methodist, and the Methodist Church has developed into the largest denomination in Liberia. Other Protestant groups followed: United Lutheran Church (now known as the Lutheran Church of Liberia), Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, Baptist Mid-Missions, Protestant Episcopal Church of the USA, and Worldwide Evangelization Crusade. Many small Protestant mission societies served in the country prior to the civil war. In fact, at that time Liberia had one of the highest per capita missionary populations in the world.
Although the Portuguese contacted Liberia as early as 1462, no permanent Catholic work was established until 1906. Earlier attempts to establish a mission among the settlers all ended in failure. Catholic work has been marked by greater success in education than evangelism.
In 1952 SIM involvement in Liberia began when the newly-formed West Africa Broadcasting Association (WABA) joined SIM. Radio ELWA, twelve miles from downtown Monrovia, grew rapidly and broadcast in 45 languages, using five transmitters. In 1965 a 45-bed hospital was opened, widening SIM’s ministry. By the late 1970s SIM had started church planting ministries in Tahn and Kolahun.
The civil war started in December 1989. As it progressed, SIM evacuated most of its personnel, leaving behind a skeleton crew to keep the radio station on the air and treat war casualties at the hospital. SIM’s ELWA compound became flooded with nearly 22,000 refugees. The refugees believed the warring factions respected SIM’s work and neutrality and would leave the compound untouched. Finally, in July 1990, even the skeleton crew was forced to evacuate. Within two hours after the refugees learned of this, they abandoned the compound as well. On their evacuation route, however, five missionaries were taken back to ELWA compound by Taylor’s troops. Taylor had the missionaries broadcast over the ELWA radio his victory speech announcing himself as Liberia’s new president.
In the following months, opposing forces sought to control ELWA, resulting in the total destruction of the radio station, print shop, power house, and six residences. All buildings suffered extensive damage and looting. SIM missionaries began to return to Monrovia in January 1991, and their numbers built back up to nearly 40 (adults and children) over the next year-and-a-half. Within a week after Taylor’s new attack on Monrovia in October 1992, all but four of the men evacuated, and half of those who evacuated returned to Monrovia within the next three months. In June 1995, forty missionaries lived in Monrovia. Because of an incursion in April 1996, the missionaries were once again evacuated. All national staff also left, and the mission buildings were looted and damaged worse than before.
In the meantime, former employees of the hospital, services, and radio moved in to save the campus from total looting. Within a couple of months they reestablished the hospital as a clinic. SIM sent support personnel to consult and provided some funding for capital expenses, and radio ELWA started again in early 1997. In mid-1998 several missionaries moved back into Liberia to work.
The National Church
No official state church exists in Liberia. Many old churches along the coast need revival. Nominalism and syncretism with animistic beliefs are widespread among leaders and members. Some urban and inland churches are growing and reaching out in evangelism. A Liberian Council of Churches is composed of Lutheran, Episcopal, Methodist, and similar groups.An evangelical fellowship of churches and missions established in 1966 became dormant in 1982, but was reactivated in the late 1980s as the Association of Evangelicals of Liberia (AEL). It is helping Liberians reestablish themselves through loans, training, and work among rural people. The funding comes from groups like TEAR Fund and World Relief.