Project Canterbury

Within the Green Wall
The Story of Holy Cross Liberia Mission 1922-1957

By the Rt. Rev. Robert Erskine Campbell, O.H.C.
Formerly Prior of Bolahun and Bishop of Liberia

West Park, New York: Holy Cross Press, [1957]

Reproduced online by permission of the Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross, 2006.

Chapter 13. Post-war Years

DURING THE offering of the midnight Mass of Christmas '46, our Superior, Father Whittemore, slipped into church. He had made a rapid journey from the United States and of course had to walk the last part of the trip in order to reach here. But he brought joy to all by remaining in residence until Easter, the longest visit any Superior had as yet been able to make. As we have noted, Father Kroll had been recalled to West Park a few months before this, and at the Mother House of the community had been appointed Assistant Superior. While on the spot the Superior appointed Father Parsell to be the Prior, the sixth which Bolahun had seen. It is fortunate that there was such a competent, experienced man for this increasingly responsible post. It is difficult to evaluate the happenings so near to our own time, but at least we can record some of Father Parsell's outstanding accomplishments; and they have been many. Games of tennis, chess and the like had faded into the background long since, and just because there was no time [134/135] for them. Expanding missionary work and pressing local problems absorbed all our time and energy.

First there come the new outstations, with a catechist or an evangelist in each. In Pandemai, that ancient Loma war town, where a Christian work had been established by Bishop Overs in 1922, we began again in earnest in '47. In '48, in response to the request of the chiefs, teachers and evangelists were sent to Vahun among the Mende speaking people a day and a half to the southwest of Bolahun; and to Gondalahun, a Bandi center about the same distance directly south. In that same year Cyprian Ambulay was transferred to Ndambu, a town still farther to the east, a goodly town, and with a most eager, friendly population. Here Cyprian carried on till his most untimely death early in '56. If all this reads like dry statistics, one must remember that if a mission fails to grow it is sliding downhill. These outstations encircled Bolahun with effective centers from which to push ever farther afield.

In '45 Liberia lost Bishop Kroll. He felt compelled to retire from active ministry because of increasing infirmities, and shortly after he reached America he died. He looked after his diocese amid trying conditions and gave of his best, and for many reasons Bolahun felt that not only a diligent Father in God had left them, but that a personal friend had been taken away. To succeed him the House of Bishops elected the Ven. Bravid W. Harris, Archdeacon in Southern Virginia. He was consecrated in Norfolk in April '45 and flew to his diocese almost at once. Because of urgent problems to be met on the coast he found it impossible to visit Bolahun until '48. It was a joyful occasion for all the Christians to see their Father in God. At a meeting of the town people in the palaver house Cyprian Ambulay on their behalf presented him with a hand-carved wooden plaque representing our Lord holding a little child. On the afternoon of Sunday, May 2nd, the Bishop confirmed a class of 81 men, women and children. His welcome [135/136] visit terminated only too soon, but he wanted to see the station at Foya Dundu. He passed to Sierra Leone by that way, and so on back to Monrovia. His presence brought a blessing to us all.

As may well be imagined, it was a gala occasion when for Palm Sunday '49 His Excellency William V. S. Tubman, President of Liberia, spent a day with us. He was making a tour of inspection of the interior anyway, meeting the people and hearing their comments and complaints. Of course everybody, native people and foreign staff alike, felt highly gratified when from Kolahun he sent word that he and his official party would be coming. In former years both President C. D. B. King and President Edwin Barclay had stopped "to say how-do" as they passed through, but this was the first real visit from the Chief Executive of the Republic. The house Formerly used by Dr. Veatch was prepared for the presidential guests. Saturday afternoon local chieftains and their retinues in numbers came to greet His Excellency, and our schools offered some songs and a short play. Father Parsell, with other members of the staff, conducted a tour to the various hospital, school and church buildings, explaining the work and standards of each. The President and his party joined our worship in church at 8:30 Sunday morning. At dinner His Excellency paid high tribute to the work of the mission, and among themselves the guests subscribed a purse containing $244.00. Then, after a few words of encouragement and a warm farewell out in front of the church, the presidential party took its leave. Need we try to describe what a really great day it had been for us all? That the very highest officials of State should display such genuine interest and bestow such marked approval of our effort to produce Christian Liberian citizens made us feel that our work had not been in vain. Our policy of training Liberians for Liberia had won the highest praise.

In 1951 we had another "big" year, full of outstanding events. Bishop Harris licensed the Rt. Rev. Dr. Percy Jones, Assistant [136/137] Bishop of Sierra Leone, to act as his deputy for an official visitation. His Lordship arrived on June 2nd, and on the following Sunday confirmed a class of 96 persons, the largest number we had ever presented at one time. To establish thus such friendly relations with our British neighbors was most suitable. In Freetown the C.M.S. missionaries had always been most cordial in their welcome to any of our number who happened to be passing through: Until the formation of the Province of West Africa, the diocese of Sierra Leone had been under the jurisdiction of the Archbishop of Canterbury. For a number of reasons satisfactory to both the British and the American Church authorities, the Missionary District of Liberia did not join forces with the other West Coast churchmen to found the new Anglican Province. While ecclesiastical Liberia is not as yet an integral part of the Province, relations between the two groups is one of friendly cooperation and intercommunion

Then, after a gap of seven years with no resident doctor, two of them arrived; the one for a visit and the other to stay. Dr. E. Richmond Ware of the Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles, had been a college mate of Father Whittemore at Williams. His grandfather had been a shipmaster in the West African trade, so Dr. Ware decided to take a vacation from his routine duties to inspect the mission and the country for himself, and also to visit Father Whittemore who was stationed here temporarily as a "pinch hitter" for some of the staff at home on furlough. His welcome was doubled by the large supply of medicines and surgical appliances which he so thoughtfully brought for the use of the hospital. At the end of his stay, he and Father Whittemore journeyed back to America together. People still are asking when Dr. Ware will return to Bolahun.

The other doctor was William B. Rogers Beasley, of Memphis, Tennessee. He and his family arrived in October amid the loud rejoicing of missionaries and native people alike. Various members of the staff, but especially Sister Hilary and our [137/138] Brother Sydney had kept the dispensary open and had accomplished a first-class job doing so. Yet they would be the first to recognize that their devotion could be no substitute for the skill of a trained physician. From the very first day of his arrival Doctor Beasley's enthusiastic, consecrated attention to both individual and community health penetrated the entire mission. Not only did he organize the hospital on more up-to-date lines, but he was on call all day, every day, and not infrequently at night. He it was who founded and organized the leper colony at Mbalatahun, about a mile to the south. He it was who in the next year ('52) brought in our first motor car, a Landrover, which he drove up from Freetown, making a long loop up through French Guinea to get here. Because at that time there were no roads as we understand them, not infrequently he had to stop to build log bridges or clear the trail of brush before he could pass. Hinterland roads had never been constructed with a view to motor traffic.

In November of '51 we were proud to graduate our first class from grade XII of the St. Augustine's High School. Father Bessom had started this addition to our school system in '47, and the two young men who persevered successfully to win their certificates were Henry Ilali and Paul Moniba. For years we had been sending our brighter grammar school graduates to Cape Mount, Freetown or Monrovia for higher training, but all of us agreed that we could do a better job for our country boys ourselves. That is finding no fault with the schools on the coast, for they are excellent according to any standard. Yet we felt that even the brightest of our lads sent thither had not gotten the follow-up training they needed if they were to be of any real help to the mission as teachers or as evangelists. Thus our High School commencement really opened a fresh chapter in our educational programme. Let us say right here, at the risk of being charged with blowing our own horn too vigorously, from the very day of opening St. Augustine's has been a standard High [138/139] School, meeting every requirement of the Department of Pub- lie Instruction in Monrovia. It reminds us of Father Harrison's famous rule enunciated while he was Prior of St. Andrew's School in Tennessee: "If the Order of the Holy Cross is going to run a school, it must be the very best school possible." To which we add a fervent "Amen, so mote it be."

This same Fall ('51) we felt honoured to have a visit from Miss Norma Bloomquist, Director of the Literacy Campaign in Liberia, one of the objects of which was to teach the people to read printed matter in their own language. For years we had been conducting adult classes at Bolahun for the town folk. We had printed or mimeographed portions of the Bible, catechisms and the like in native dialects. Father Parsell was on the point of bringing out the "Bandi Manual" containing pages of familiar prayers, hymns and psalms, as well as instruction in faith and morals. Hence to learn of Miss Bloomquist's programme for educating the tribes-people to read and write in their own language stirred a keen interest among all the teachers. By Liberian law all instruction in regular grade schools must be in English. That is as it should be for the training of Liberian citizens. But it surely marks a step in the right direction when those deprived of more usual educational advantages through no fault of their own should have an opportunity to read as well as speak their native tongue. Miss Bloomquist's visit inspired us all mightily.

This was the season too which brought us a most welcome addition to our exchequer. The National Youth Offering of our Church in the United States was voted to be given to Bolahun. The gift which added to approximately $17,000 came as a substantial aid, for it is a tidy sum by any reckoning. As we announced at the time, these dollars have been invested largely in permanent buildings--i.e. brick walls and metal roofs, especially for the schools. Trying to keep native buildings of mud walls and a grass thatch roof in repair may sound picturesque [139/140] and artistic, but it also is an annual and endless humbug. Hence we feel glad to offer a word of commendation and thanks to the thousands of young people who contributed so generously to help supply one of our most pressing needs. Their gift has gone much farther than they will ever know, unless of course they come out to see for themselves. Trim cottages for teachers and other employees, for example, do boost morale, not to mention the vastly improved aspect of the compound.

Which reminds us that there is one very important person not mentioned thus far, one whose work is largely behind the scenes yet most essential. That is none other than the mission Commissary at Holy Cross. He it is who has the responsibility of raising our annual budget and of what is commonly called "publicity." He has issued for years, 35 of them now, the bimonthly bright little leaflet "Hinterland." He has to compose and illustrate all appeals for support from the faithful of the Church at home; and see that they are mailed. He acts as custodian of mission slides and the set of "movies," and tries to keep our literature right up-to-date. This comes as no insignificant assignment for an operation presenting such an array of sudden spectacular changes. Father Hughson carried these taxing duties till the infirmities of age sapped his strength. Father Parker succeeded him in '40 and for many years now has displayed his financial and literary genius. But just a couple of years ago ('55) Father Parker had to relinquish his challenging task; and Father Atkinson has been set in his room. Partly as an appreciation of his devoted efforts and partly to represent the Superior for an official visitation, Father Parker spent six weeks at Bolahun in the Fall of '50. This afforded him a chance to see at first hand what he had spent so much time and energy to maintain. Father Atkinson, his successor, had spent seven years at Bolahun before being appointed Master of Novices in '55. Even though his name fails to make front page spread in the daily papers, he fills a role not unlike that of Chief Steward on [140/141] an ocean liner, a person most necessary even if not always in evidence. And what is a ship without a Chief Steward?

When Bishop Campbell as the Superior made his official visit for Easter '52, he was able, with license from the Bishop of the diocese, to consecrate St. Mary's Church. There was no debt on the building and it stood on ground formally deeded to the mission. That was on April 23rd, and a gala festival it was. On the previous morning the Bishop had consecrated the convent chapel for the Sisters. Of course we held the usual large classes for confirmation. The congregations were so entranced watching the various ceremonies at the consecration of the church that at times they failed to respond to the liturgical salutations and prayers. After all, the solemn dedication of a House of God does not happen every day. The consecration of the altar, with its many washings, anointings, censings and the little fires on the altar stones supply a vivid beacon on the journey home, a landmark unmistakable.

Earlier this same year ('52) Father Bessom returned from furlough bringing with him one of our Companion Priests, the Rev. Arnold Krone, who had been stationed at our house on the outskirts of Santa Barbara, California. He had volunteered for Liberia (quite a contrast to Alaska where he had been ordained by Bishop Rowe), so the Superior assigned him to Bolahun. Very wiry, almost boyish in figure, Father Krone with his energy and competence, especially in first aid and dispensary affairs, soon proved himself an invaluable addition to the mission staff. Cheerful always, ever most willing to lend a hand, he endeared himself quickly to all with whom he had dealings. Towards the end of October the Father Prior sent him over to Sierra Leone on mission business. In performing this he evidently overstrained himself trying to walk too far and too fast, for upon his return he literally lay down and died. That was on October 29th and his passing cast a pall on the whole countryside. As he was laid to rest beside our dear Father Allen many a silent tear [141/142] attested to his worth. Fr. Krone was the second American at Bolahun who had given all he had for the uplift of whole tribes from heathenism to the glorious Gospel of our Lord.

For all the happenings this particular year we wish we had time and space to give a more comprehensive account. We have already noticed Dr. Beasley bringing the first motor car. This made imperative the construction of roads and bridges. The native chiefs and others had told us many times that if we could get a car they would build the roads. That was a sincere promise, but in Africa time means very little, and the people were not prepared lust then to fulfil their word. Hence we had to send mission laborers under Father Gill to begin constructing some of the 43 bridges between us and Foya Customs, a distance of 21 miles by the road.

We must not fail to record the filling of a real need just at this time. That was the arrival of the "Bandi Manual," compiled by Father Parsell and printed by the S.P.C.K. in London. Hymns in Bandi and Kisi, catechetical instructions for hearers and the newly baptized, form for Morning and Evening Prayer with an appropriate selection of psalms and hymns are all there, together with Holy Baptism and the text of the Mass. For these last two, simple explanations and directions were added. This compilation has proved of untold value not merely in outstation classes and services, but for the Christians at Bolahun itself. Thanks to the hymns, people can sing the Lord's song in their own tongue. Sisters, Fathers, catechists and teachers generally now have this standard torch to help show the way to prayer, sacraments and to God. For our Loma congregations a similar manual called "Galafai" has been issued, compiled by Father Bessom; and for those in Kisiland we have a small book of prayers and hymns in their tongue also. For the successful prosecution of our evangelistic work these manuals are indispensable. They stand as a convincing testimony to our zeal for the extension of the Kingdom of God among men.

[143] During August the entire mission was saddened by the death of Mrs. Jennie deCoteau after a long illness. She and Father deCoteau had come to Bolahun in 1950. She was from Sierra Leone, but Fr. deCoteau was a native of Trinidad. He was ordained by Bishop Daly of Bathurst in Gambia. Father deCoteau was sent to Konakry to look after the Anglicans in that French port, and during World War II was imprisoned because of his active care for stranded British seamen. Through the kind offices of the S.P.G. in London Father Parsell was fortunate to make contact with him to bring him to Bolahun. He proved himself an indefatigable missionary, soon ready to speak and to preach in Bandi, ever keen to be off "on trek" to various evangelistic centers. In '56 Father deCoteau severed his connection with the mission and entered upon work in the United States. For the presence and help of both him and his wife we shall always feel most grateful and appreciative.

Another item we must mention is the manufacture of a sort of crude rum called 'cane juice." For years after the suppression of the slave trade and the pacifying of insurgent tribes, the Liberian Government made stern laws against bringing firearms, ammunition or hard liquor into the Hinterland without a special license. This meant that aside from a few officials and chieftains, palm wine supplied the only potent beverage the natives had. When it is freshly drawn, palm wine looks like lemonade and has low alcoholic content. The Mohammedans of course touch no potables of this sort whatever. Out of respect for the Liberian law as well as the sensibilities of our Moslem neighbors, we allowed no liquor of any sort on the mission property, excepting, as might be expected, a modest supply of sacramental wine for the altar. That was in the years when the work was still in its infancy. But as conditions in the interior became more stable the Government relaxed its stern attitude gradually towards gin and guns, till in the middle '40's licenses were issued for the importation of cane mills and stills. This growing of sugar cane is the [143/144] first "money crop" Bandiland has ever known since the roaring days of the slavers. While without doubt it has brought more hard cash into circulation, the moral and physical results raise serious new problems. Within a radius of just a few miles of Bolahun no less than ten stills are busy all the time. Whole fields, formerly used for the growing of food crops, are now set out in sugar cane. Accustomed from childhood to nothing stronger than the palm wine, native men and women have no idea what havoc this firewater can spread. Fortunately the Church's standard of moderation in the use of all Cod's gifts has been well learned by most of our Christians, although the dissipation of ethical and physical integrity among the non-Christians is something dreadful to contemplate.

We have mentioned the opening of the leper colony at Mbalatahun. These poor afflicted men, women and children of all ages had been a problem to us for years. Each of our doctors had done what he could for individual cases, but it was neither desirable nor safe to allow them to gather here in large numbers. We had no adequate means for looking after them, and for obvious hygienic reasons it seemed imperative to keep them at a distance. Hence, when Dr. Beasley suggested building a town nearby just for them, Father Parsell agreed at once. Thanks to the generosity of the American Leprosy Mission, Inc., the new effective medicines were sent. The lepers themselves built their own town and elected one of their own number as the chief. Father Parsell, the Prior of the mission, in June of '52 blessed this "Town of Healing," as Mbalatahun means. The doctor and some of his assistants made regular trips for necessary injections and medication, and the Fathers, Sisters and catechists likewise for religious service and instructions. So, in even the few years that the settlement has been in operation it is no gloomy last stopping place for human derelicts, but rather a center of hope and joy. Not only have many been permanently cured, but all the 175 inmates know that with patience and perseverance they [144/145] too will become better. Leprosy is a strange disease, sometimes difficult to detect, sometimes obstinate in resisting curative techniques, always slow to depart. Several of the less crippled "graduates" of this veritable school of freedom are employed at the mission in specialized jobs. One cannot but admire the patience and skill they show in overcoming their handicap of missing toes or fingers. As might be expected, their gratitude is immense. Again, as with so many of our other discharged patients with a clean bill of health, we are at times called upon for a stern display of persuasive diplomacy to induce them to go back home to resume their normal life again.

Then, there is the matter of thieving. Some have written and many have said that all these people are thieves, no matter what their religion. We are in a position after years of observation and some distressing experiences to say that such a general accusation simply is not true. One does not have to come to Africa to find those with sticky fingers. 'When we realize that every European coming here seems to the people to be fabulously wealthy, poor though he may be by civilized standards, we begin to understand the situation. Again let it be remembered that when a native boy "follows the white man" (i.e. goes to school or is employed) he automatically joins that clan or family. What is the harm then in his appropriating a bit of money, or food or clothing if left lying about? 'Whatever is kept securely under lock and key is usually not molested. This standard holds in all country villages where, as we have noted, a type of primitive communism prevails. What belongs to the family belongs to all, so what can be the harm of "borrowing" what you may happen to need from the current supply? From the very first we were completely baffled by this philosophy. Christian teaching about the meaning of personal property has done much to ameliorate this plague of pilfering, especially among our own converts. But what about the professional kleptomaniacs? They are here as well as in all parts of the known world. Over the years [145/146] we have suffered some distressing burglaries, the latest being on the 14th of September, '54. It was an exceedingly rainy night and some rascals broke into the Prior's office and carried off two heavy steel safes. First they had plundered the carpenter shop to find the tools they wanted for the job, and in some fashion carried the safes to a nearby swamp to be pried open. They could not open one, but the other they wrecked pretty successfully. These men were obviously experienced thieves, for they knew what to do and how to do it. It was none other than our good cook, Son, who discovered the burglary when he arrived the next morning to prepare breakfast, for those of us asleep in the monastery had heard nothing.

In spite of some painful experiences with such rascals, let us record once and for all that we have found plenty of men and women who are thoroughly honest, dependable in every way. Native men have brought large sums of money from Monrovia over]and, and with the loss of never a copper. Valuable loads have been carried for us on trek time and again, and with everything accounted for at the end of the trip. If among us Americans it is an accepted truism that most men cannot be trusted to handle money, and human nature being pretty much the same everywhere, we will do well not to pass judgment on an entire continent because of the delinquencies of a few.

While Father Gorham was Prior he took a special interest in trying to improve the diet of the people. He planted a great number of pineapples, as well as of what are known locally as "butterpear trees," which are none other than avocadoes. Trees bearing mango plums are also scattered about, though for some reason these have never produced the expected fruit. Several attempts at chicken and duck farming have been tried also, but usually the driver ants terminate any such ambitious effort in a single night, especially if the fowls are penned up in a coop. Over the years there has been much discussion among the missionaries about the possibility of keeping a herd of milk cattle, [146/147] but even if we could gather them, who would know how to care for them; who would stand by with a fan to wave off the tsetse flies? We have not abandoned the idea of cows, but thus far we have never been able to hit on any scheme which would make any such move practicable. 'We have heard that at Cuttington College, Suococo, there are successful herds of cattle and thriving imported chickens too, so we shall have to investigate the possibility further. Our latest move is the construction of a fish pond for the breeding of edible fish, an item of diet always acceptable and nutritious. But of this more will be said later

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