Farmer to Farmer Ministry Changing Lives in Harrisburg, Liberia

By Pryde Bass*

The East Ohio Conference Farmer-to-Farmer ministry (Advance Special EOC 9026) is now in its ninth year of changing lives in Harrisburg, Liberia. The West Africa community used to be an agricultural bread basket before the Liberia Civil War. In 2010 Farmer to Farmer was created so that farmers from the East Ohio Conference could work beside farmers in Liberia to teach new farming methods. In appreciation of this shared ministry, the people of Harrisburg, Liberia gave to the partnership of their home church, St. John UMC, and Farmer to Farmer 37 acres of land, on which to build an agriculture high school and grow crops.

I was blessed in November to lead a team of six clergy and lay, representing several of our Conference churches, to continue this life-changing work. During our two weeks in Harrisburg, we met with leaders from the Liberia Annual Conference, leaders from the Harrisburg community, and principals of the seven elementary schools in the community to listen and get their input about the proposed school.

On a wall, we taped the floor plan of the new school that shows a computer lab, and classrooms for physics, chemistry, and biology. Everyone who believed in the vision and its potential to benefit the children and community was encouraged to sign their name on the drawing. It was amazing to see the drawing covered with signatures! Everyone expressed their joy and appreciation to the East Ohio Conference, the Liberia Annual Conference, and Farmer to Farmer, saying that this high school is needed to prepare future leaders of Liberia.

Our team’s main focus during our trip was to clear the land and portion out the area that would be used for the school and the part that would be used for farming. This was done with 60 men working two days. The farmland will now be used to plant vegetables for the local market and the campus area will be planted with Kentucky Blue grass to keep the vegetation from growing back before the school is built.

If you are interested in supporting the purchase of the needed 400 seven-pound bags of seed (at $10/bag), you can make a check payable to EOC Fund 9026. Write Farmer to Farmer on the memo line and mail the check to PO Box 76019, Cleveland, OH 44101-4755.

When our team of six left Liberia to head home, the Revs. Ray and Cathy Ake were early into their year of living in Harrisburg as mission volunteers with Global Ministries. On January 4, 2019, Cathy sent this report:

“Ray and I have lived in Harrisburg, Liberia, for two months now. As I began writing this report, our very good friend, Charles A. Roberts, stopped in. When I asked him what he saw happening since we have been here, he came up with four things. The first is our work with the children. Both Ray and I laughed because we cannot do anything without being surrounded by children. ‘Father Ray,’ ‘Mother Ray,’ ‘Pastor Ray,’ ‘Father,’ ‘Mother!’ that’s all we hear when we step out of our house. Sometimes we can be so swamped with children they almost knock us off our feet. Loving these children has been really easy, as well as exhausting!! Ray can do no work without lots of little hands helping! I often open the porch and have coloring sessions. 

“Our first priority here is to build a high school because there is none in the area. A lot of children do not go to any school and those that attend the local elementary schools don’t go on to high school because it is very difficult. They must live away from home if they are going to attend high school. These children that surround us will be those whose lives are changed because they will have access to more education. The principals from the feeder schools have been sharing their wisdom as we consider how best to introduce the high school into the area. They are coming together to form an association which will improve communication and possibilities for the children. The high school is hope for this community and beyond.

“Charles is the church secretary and he says that the increase in the number of people coming to St. John UMC since we have come has been a significant ministry. We had three days of revival right after Christmas and each night people came forward to give their life to Jesus. The New Year’s Eve Watch Night Service ended with an early morning walk to St. Paul river where over 30 people were baptized. Pastor Lawrenzo Gbuie and I talked about the challenge now to keep all these new Christians involved and active. Our more sedate and shorter services, as I have experienced them, in the states has nothing on these here in Harrisburg!! When I get back you may have to excuse me while I get up to dance in the aisle!

“Charles said we have brought a ‘little light to Harrisburg’. It has been a very humbling part of the journey to be used by God to bring such hope. Ray and I are just simple people, but God has been able to use us in incredible ways to offer light and hope and joy. Just being present here and willing to live with these people gives them hope and is a vital act of ministry. They are a beautiful people and make it very easy for us to be here. 

“Ray has been working on the 37 acres that were deeded to St. John UMC and Farmer to Farmer. Part of it will be used for the high school and now for the St. John elementary school as well.  The other part will be the agricultural training center and experimental farm. He is currently at the field (where he is most days) working with the men, planting different varieties of cassava sticks in a demonstration plot to discover what is the best way and best variety to grow for the most production. As a part of the farm Ray is also introducing a chicken operation to help produce the much-needed fertilizer for the crops.

“I am working with the Women’s Empowerment Center to create a Uniform Production Company. Students are required by the government to wear uniforms so there is a ready market once we learn how to make quality uniforms. People also rely on tailors to make their clothes so there is income potential in training people to sew well.

“The last thing that Charles said was how important our writing on the Farmer to Farmer Facebook page is. He sees people on both sides commenting and liking what is shared. That has been a surprise to us. We did not realize so many people from here as well as back home would follow our stories. Charles has made many American friends now and there is communication between people as they respond to the posts. My Liberian friends are learning about America and my American friends are learning about Liberia.

“Thank you for your continued prayers.”

If you would like to support Ray and Cathy Ake’s mission volunteers ministry with Global Ministries, click on this link.

*Pryde Bass is a member of Celebration UMC (North Coast District) and a co-leader of the Farmer to Farmer ministry. Rev. Cathy Ake served Thoburn, New London, Vienna, and Ellsworth UMCs during her 19 years of ordained ministry in the East Ohio Conference.