A different kind of brand
Marketers say that a brand is what people think when they consider a product. Rolls Royce, for instance, has branded itself differently from a Yugo; a Rolex is different from a Timex.
For the last six days I have been interested to see what the United Methodist brand is in Liberia. I have learned that the Cross and Flame on a shirt will let you sail through customs without your bags being opened. A Cross and Flame on the front of a van at a checkpoint gets you waved past the line of cars waiting and a respectful nod from the officer in charge.
In the last Liberian presidential election there were 18 viable candidates. 11 of them were United Methodists. All 11 attend the same church in Monrovia. Being United Methodist is a good item to have on your resume, it seems.
This respect was earned by the church, not given.
The church has been in Liberia for 181 years, longer than it has been in East Ohio. Camphor Mission has educated generations of students and cared for hundreds of babies. The Ganta Mission Hospital has one of five dentists in the country, removes cataracts, does fairly major surgery and has the country’s most respected nursing school. The United Methodist Church educates more children in the country than the Liberian government.
In these six days I have been very very proud of a church that is so active and effective in such a difficult part of the world.
But then I look at the United Methodist brand back home. I’m not counting on the cross and flame to get me through customs in New York. I imagine if I went into my town or yours and asked about the work of the church I would get a shrug or a blank stare.
This week I have seen UM churches with bullet holes in the walls. But not even 15 or so years of political strife and unchecked violence could kill a church that is so mission driven. But then I hear churches back home saying that a certain pastor is going to kill this church, or a battle over worship styles or any of the other silly things we argue about.
I don’t think the Liberian church survives in spite of its mission bend, but the opposite. Because people need the church, it is respected and grows. I’m afraid that apathy could do to the United Methodist Church in the U.S. what a decade and a half of unrest could not do to the church in Liberia.