Thursday, September 30, 2021
Ø Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, President, (LBM&EC) Liberia Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention
Ø Officers and Members of Liberia Baptist Missionary Educational Convention here present;
Ø The Chairman and Members of the Board of Trustees LBTS present,
Ø The Rev. Dr. Momolu A. Massaquoi, President, Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary,
Ø Administrators, Faculty, Staff, and Student Body LBTS,
Ø Rev. Trocon W. Langford, President of the LBTS Alumni Association;
Ø Incoming Students
Ø Parents and Guardians;
Ø Distinguished Guests;
Ø Ladies and Gentlemen
It is such an honor to be invited to attend this Opening Convocation and Matriculation Service, and I am also proud to have been selected to serve as the Keynote Speaker for the official commencement of Academic 2021/2022, and the matriculation of 41 new students into their various programs.
Let me welcome you to our prized religious educational Institution, LBTS.
Whether you thought of it or not, you are matriculating at a time of great uncertainties: Today in our country, besides the declining or poor economy we are enduring, the increasing poverty rate, there is also presently a wave of crimes, especially unchecked ritualistic killings everywhere. Page 3 of the September 27th New Dawn Newspaper Editorial Heading “No Security for Liberians”. Says ‘‘The wave of killings in Liberia under the Weah administration has become scaring and frustrating especially, when the Government appears to be very insensitive, evidenced by the conspicuous silence of president George Manneh Weah, who took oath to protect and defend the citizenry.
Incidents of the murder of four auditors last year, including the Executive Director of the government Internal Audit Agency (IAA) Emmanuel Barthen Nyensweh are still fresh in minds of Liberians’. About two months ago this year, another staff of the Liberia Revenue Authority was confirmed missing by the LRA itself. Recently a young lady was discovered murdered on the beach in Sinkor while last week, 76-year John H. Tubman, identified as a son of Liberia’s 18th President, the William V.S. Tubman, was reportedly murdered in his Fiamah residence, and the lifeless body of a toddler was found near a creek in Bong county, after he had allegedly gone missing’’. Meanwhile, our world also is permeated especially by the presence of the Coronavirus pandemic or COVID-19. My apologies for starting a good message with a bad note.
All of these notwithstanding, life goes on, and we must all be filled with joy as we stand together, offering these students our commendation for taking the bold step of beginning their educational sojourn despite whatever hardship they may be experiencing.
Some may wonder about the importance of studying theology. Well, to study the Bible is to be influenced and empowered by the Words of God, the Almighty. Whether you are a believer or a non-believer, the Almighty is everyone’s creator and our redeemer, and HE holds all things in this world by the power of his Words. John 5:39 says Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And Ecclesiastes 12:13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep His commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
So, fellow students, as you enter your respective programs to earn bachelor’s degrees either in theology, in religious education, or in divinity, I want to assure you that you have not made a mistake in matriculating at the LBTS – it is the Baptists Pride.
You have made the right choice. The mission of LBTS as an institution of higher learning is comparable to any other such institution in the world. Many of the prestigious colleges and universities around the world started with similar missions as LBTS. I can name several, but three should suffice: the world’s oldest university, St. Andrews in Scotland (UK); Harvard University and Yale University in the USA. They were all founded initially for the purpose of training Bible teachers and ministers.
I therefore wish to appreciate the founders of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary, which included the late Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr., President of Liberia, for their vision and farsightedness. LBTS, established under the auspices of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Foundation, started as a Baptist training center in 1969, and by 1976 became a full-fledged Seminary, offering four-year degree programs leading to the bachelor of arts degree with the noble mission to educate men and women for service as leaders in religious life and thought; and as ministers and teachers in other areas of ministry enriched by theological study.
In this light, I am impressed with the administration of Rev. Dr. Momolu Massaquoi, the President of LBTS, other administrators, and the faculty for the bold step in revising the Curriculum to address the contemporary challenges that confront the world, especially designing the Curriculum to be Africanized and contemporized with the aim of developing the students mentally, morally, spiritually, and socially. The result is a curriculum of international standard and contextual relevance, for which thanks must also go to the Board of Trustees for giving its approval.
Today, this Seminary is one of about 15 faith-based colleges currently in Liberia, and in 1983, it became the first Seminary in Liberia to be endorsed by the Accrediting Council for Theological Education in Africa.
I have taken the liberty to give you this historical overview, even though I am sure most of you already know about your school, because I want to say, as the Keynote Speaker at this the Second Convocation and Matriculation service, your matriculation and eventual graduation four years from now must add to the distinction of academic excellence associated with the history of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary.
I wish also to reflect on the historic occasion of the First Convocation and Matriculation service held on January 21, 2021, the first of its kind as the opening convocation and matriculation service for about 46 students, described by President Massaquoi as the first time the institution has embarked on the exercise of matriculating students in the Seminary, noting that with this new culture, they are moving to a new direction.
One thing, however is sure, even if you do not remain here to graduate, you would have already worn the gowns. Thanks to Dr. Massaquoi.
That first Convocation was also marked by the official taking over of the chairmanship of the Board of Trustees by H.E. Ambassador Dee-Maxwell Saah Kemayah, Sr., Liberia’s Foreign Minister, who took over from Dr. Aaron G. Marshall. Let me at this convocation extend my Congratulations to Deacon Kemayah for his preferment.
Needless to say, we need good leaders, especially Christian leaders, in this world now than ever before, because many things in life have gotten complicated. We therefore challenge you to be hardworking students so that when you leave this Seminary four years later as outstanding graduates, you will be fully prepared to play an important role in our society, having studied about worldly subjects and issues, which you must now translate into a local context as part of communities where you will minister to address issues that are driving people away from the teachings of the Lord, visiting your people where they are, especially carrying the message of hope in a country like ours that has become HOPELESS about change.
We are now living in a COVID-19 world, times that are frightening, if not bleak as we look beyond this Service. Interestingly, despite being in the 21st Century with all its technological advances, the common themes of our lives are now globally and adversely affected by the Coronavirus pandemic.
A year ago, at the height of the pandemic surge, we were confronted with shutdowns of all kinds, including school closure and social distancing from loved ones and friends. I am sure that suddenly your world became different from the one you thought you had created for yourselves. While the pandemic surge has slowed down in our Country, for which we should all continue to be grateful to the Almighty, our world and our country will remain with some degree of fear, because we are now living in an uncertain time, looking for answers when there might not be any.
While I do not intend to be bearer of bad news, another reality is that you are matriculating in an uncertain time due to political uncertainties in our country, occasioned by the noisiest, divisive, and unpredictable presidential and general elections season as 2023 approaches. Uncertainty may also exist in the job market by the time you graduate; however, this does not mean that you will not ultimately profit from your years of hard work and dedication in getting your degrees. I therefore urge you to have no self-doubt and, especially, do not give in to the forces of darkness and despair we are presently experiencing in Liberia.
This pandemic period in which we now live will forever change our ways of life; anyway, I urge you to still remain resilient – continue to take risks, fear no failure, and re-enforce your ability to overcome adversity. As a Baptist deacon myself, I further call on you, in these troubling times, to rededicate yourselves to the Lord Almighty, for He is in Control!
Allow me to make a Disclaimer: most convocation speakers do their best not to express any political views at all. But, today, your Convocation speaker has decided not to follow that protocol. Because, for me, it is difficult, especially at this crucial time in our country’s development, to divorce myself from political views, as I serve both as the Standard Bearer of Unity Party (UP) and as one of the four Political Leaders in the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP).
So, please bear with me as I endeavor to demonstrate the historical coincidence and parallelism in the most recent histories of our Country and your Seminary.
In 2012, the Cabinet had one of its retreats on this campus during which former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, speaking in this same Chapel, uttered the word that is currently being used to criticize the then ruling Unity Party-led government. She said, and I paraphrase her, “Our Education System is a MESS.” Nobody then could deny it was not. Fast forward, today, standing in this same Chapel, I want to reiterate that our educational system is not only still messy but is now even more DEPLORABLE.
From the beginning of our brutal and ruinous Civil War in 1989 to its ending in 2003, both the Country and this Seminary were visited with untold devastation, both institutionally and infrastructural.
During the 12 years of the Unity Party-led government, much efforts and sacrifices were made to rehabilitate and restore many of those damaged infrastructures, not to talk about the restoration of the country’s image and the psychological impact the war had on our people. Yet, today, we are told that NOTHING was done by the past government in which I served as Vice President. But HISTORY will be the best judge of that!
In preparation for this convocation address, I came across many information about the infrastructural and institutional damages this Seminary also suffered: the campus was closed down in 1990; rebel looters raped its facilities until Peacekeeping troops from Ghana were lodged here to protect it from those looters; but the Seminary still offered classes at a temporary location between 1993 and 1996; and when the campus was reopened in 1999, about 95 students enrolled.
Such resilience has been characteristic of this institution and our country since the end of our Civil War.
However, Good Leadership at this Seminary has improved education as its mission mandated, giving students quality education with limited funds. For example, besides the revised and updated Curriculum, the administrators have accomplished other achievements, most notably in the academic year of 2020-2021, such as the dedication of a well-furnished and modern computer laboratory facility, known as ‘Smart Classroom’, valued at US Thirty Thousand Dollars; and the installation of a Solar system, comprised of 20 AMPS solar power and 28 poles, lighting up the campus from the main gate to various dormitories and offices.
Unfortunately, in our country, we are suffering from Poor Leadership. The officials of the Ministry of Education have piled up policies and plans, but the education system remains deplorable because this Government is doing a poor job of improving the learning facilities in majority of our public schools that are in dire need of transformation to create the enabling environment for students to get quality basic and tertiary education in the last three years.
Even as we persevere to make our Country better and to remove our Education from mess to better, we can do so with some of the following reforms:
For example, using the Executive Law to introduce several innovative policies and programs to uplift education from this abyss state of existence such as:
- To INCREASE the National Budget for education, as Liberia is far below the average percentage allocated for education by other countries in our sub-region.
Ø Strict Accountability for expenditure of education resources to be enforced at all levels.
- To BAN appointed government officials sending their children out of the country or abroad to undertake the study of basic education, K-12.
Ø EXCEPTION to this policy will only be allowed for Children who are born abroad of Liberian parents.
Ø Children of government officials to be allowed to study outside Liberia ONLY for undergraduate and/or graduate studies.
Ø Officials found in violation shall be immediately replaced so that they do not use public money to support the education of their children abroad while other children are left to cope with dilapidated schools all over our country.
- To ban all officials of the Ministry of Education from operating their own private schools, a Conflict of Interest that has diverted visionary attention from developing public schools around the country, and especially in the Greater Monrovia area.
Ø Officials who want to run private schools will be encouraged to do so by entering the private sector and abiding by the rules and regulations of the Ministry of Education.
- To RE-INTRODUCE the granting of Government’s foreign scholarships. They will be funded in the National Budget and made available only to high school graduates based on academic excellence with good conduct.
Ø At this level, scholarships shall be merit-based, fully budgeted, and supportive of our young people to further advance themselves, with the caveat that they would later return home to be engaged in all aspects of the development of their country. They would be assured of employment.
- To make available local scholarships for tertiary education and therein institute an agreement for graduates to participate in NATIONAL YOUTH SERVICE for two years as recipients of such scholarships upon graduation from their fields of study.
These initial policies on education reform are based on my belief that if all children, whether from rich or poor families, received their free and compulsory basic education in Liberia, every stakeholder, especially parents, will be involved in making sure that our schools around the country, especially the public schools, are transformed to provide the enabling environment for every child to receive equality education, regardless of the socio-economic, political, and ethnic backgrounds of their parents, because they would all contribute to the development of our country.
Sometimes I rather be referred to as a statesman than a politician, because someone has said, a politician always thinks about the next election, I rather think about the next generation; a politician thinks about the party’s success, I want to think about the nation’s success, a politician drifts, but a statesman steers.
In short, I want you to join me to THINK Liberia, LOVE Liberia, and BUILD Liberia. I strongly believe that all hands must be on deck when it comes to the total development of our common patrimony, LIBERIA. I also believe in fostering and promoting an EQUAL AND OPEN field of participation for all Liberians.
Thanks again for your indulgence in allowing me to make the above detour. Now, let me come back to the purpose for which you invited me as your Convocation speaker.
So, in concluding, I leave you, my fellow students, with these ten (10) charges or famous Quotable Quotations that I hope will guide you during the next four years of your academic sojourn:
- You’re about to enter into a world filled with hypocrisy and doublespeak, so don’t be judgmental too quickly until you know the facts, as the Truth shall always triumph!
- Sometimes life has the habit of hitting you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith!
- It doesn’t matter how far you might rise, but don’t forget where you came from!
- You are bound to stumble in life, but there is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction!
- In this technological era, you have all the information that mankind has gathered right in your smartphone, but be sensitive to use the information to find the facts in order to make the world a better place than the one we have today by remembering to take care of each other!
- Don’t be afraid to rage and cry against injustice, for that is one way you can help to build a nation, and bring about the change you wish to see in the world!
- You are future leaders so be strong and diplomatic, and be not afraid of those who are different from you in their views!
- Become leaders who criticize ideas, who are strong enough to debate ideas, but who will not insult or bully others, and thereby you will afford dignity to your people from all walks of life!
- Don’t settle for what you have already reached, but work hard to continue learning and to join other tracks of study!
- Remember to keep a vision before you; stay humble, keep thinking of your mission in life, and place Jesus at the center of everything you do!
Let me also leave you with one of the best quotes of life by Pope Francis which I consider is part of your calling as Seminarians. It says, “Rivers do not drink their own water; trees do not eat their own fruits; the sun does not shine on itself and flowers do not spread their fragrance for themselves. Living for others is a rule of nature. We are all born to help each other. No matter how difficult it is…. Life is good when you are happy; but much better when others are happy because of you.”
Have a great Matriculation!
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