ST. PETERSBURG – Disease, poverty, and the destructive effects of civil war.
These brutal hardships and others have all taken their toll on the west African country of Liberia. Fortunately for the men, women and children there who yearn for a shining light of hope, there is the Bahnhill Lighthouse Mission, Inc. (BLMI), established by the Rev. George Graham.
Three years ago Graham founded BLMI with the aim of restoring and providing services to Liberians, encouraging entrepreneurism and building homes, schools, churches and clinics. Graham, 65, was a student at bible college in Atlanta when he first truly realized the west African country’s need for missionaries.
“I felt that God wanted me to go,” said Graham, who began his missionary service to Liberia in 1974.
With its executive board based in St. Pete, BLMI is a nonprofit Florida corporation that works in five ministry areas: Building construction, education, agriculture, Christian growth and development, and medical.
“All of these areas provide opportunities for employment,” Graham explained, “but along with that they’re also providing training and skills as well.”
With its agriculture ministry, BLMI strives to provide essentials such as tools, fertilizer, pesticide and seeds to assist families in planting various crops.
“Agriculture is the basic way of living for most of the Liberians,” Graham said. “So most of them know a lot about growing things, but then we also have people who are trained in agriculture for technical assistance.”
The medical ministry provides for medical diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and diseases, and its goal is to someday build and staff multi-facility clinics for the Liberian citizens, which are sorely needed.
Graham’s sister Beatrice Fuller, who is the secretary on the executive board of BLMI, heads the medical ministry.
“My dream is to have a clinic there since I am in the health field,” Fuller stated. “That is a passion for me.”
The medical ministry provides over-the-counter medications and medical equipment and supplies. For Fuller, it would be truly rewarding to see the Liberian citizens receive proper medical attention when they need it.
“They have to walk miles trying to find a doctor,” she said, “and some of them actually die because of lack of medical help. So if we can get that clinic built, that will really be a great help!”
Graham described the state of Liberia these days as being “on the way up,” as there has been quite a bit of development, he said.
“Of course we’ve had the additional set back with the Ebola virus,” he said. “We have been declared Ebola free since April, but there have been a few other cases emerged and then I just learned from the Internet that they have found a vaccine for Ebola, so hallelujah!”
He noted that they are combatting other illnesses that plague Liberians as well, such as malaria, high blood pressure, diabetes, and typhoid.
Overall, Graham said that he has seen incremental progress since he established BLMI.
“In last three years, we’ve established several schools, we’ve got them organized,” he said. “We don’t have our buildings yet, be we have an existing situation where we can have classes, so we are looking to begin our building program in the next term coming up, which would begin in October. We’re looking to get funds to get all this moving. We’ve also established several agricultural projects—pretty productive but not where we wanted it. My biggest need has been funding. Just being able to buy the stuff that I need to move the mission forward.”
Liberia was established in 1822, as a settlement colony for former American slaves, and in 1847 officially became the Republic of Liberia. A military coup in 1980 heralded the beginning of the country’s political instability, which ultimately resulted in separate civil wars.
“When the war started I had come home in 1981 after a missionary tour,” Graham remembered, “and the unrest had already begun because the president at the time was overthrown in 1980. I was there. So when I came home in 1981, I was unable to go back because of that.”
War lasted until 2003, said Graham, who during that time was keeping a close eye on what was going on and looking for the opportunity to go back and continue his missionary service.
“I was not able to get back into the country until 2009,” he said. “I went to work with another mission at the time. When the war started, the people who are there now were children and teenagers running for their lives. And so now they are back and they’re coming back to nothing, so they’re starting all over again. That’s the vision behind the Bahnhill Lighthouse Mission: to give these people an opportunity to start life again. We are restoring a lot that was lost.”
“We are also planning short-term mission trips if you want to come over to help,” he pointed out. “In all five of the ministry areas we accept donations.”
For Graham, the most rewarding thing is witnessing actual development taking place, and seeing firsthand what it does to the change the lives of so many grateful people.
“I’m there because God has sent me there,” he attested. “All persons are one family. From time to time, God sends members of the family to see about other members of the family, so He has sent me to Liberia to see about my sisters and brothers, and I’ve been obedient.”