I was born and reared in Harper City, Maryland County. If you check the map of Liberia, geographically, Maryland is located in the keyhole, deep in the belly of the southeastern region. There I spent my formative days. Until I returned from outside Liberia, the things I saw and continue to see beat every inch of my imagination. That’s the bad part of my experience.
But there’s a good part.
Until now, when I returned home after being away for years, I will admit, I did not know much about my hometown and people as I know now. As a young man growing up in Maryland, there were lots of people that I didn’t know very well but left an impact and indelible print on my life. And the late Bishop Boniface Nyema Dalieh happened to be one of those people.
I didn’t know Bishop Dalieh when I was growing up. Maybe I did. But I don’t remember.
I can recall in Harper, a Liberian Catholic Bishop passed on; I thoght it was Bishop Juwle. We buried him in Harper City adjacent to The St. Theresa Cathedral on Maryland Avenue, right opposite the Catholic ballpark. As kids, we all were in the funeral procession in our school uniforms. Suddenly, for whatever reason (s), I lost touch with the Catholic Church in Harper. Not in a negative way; But I just didn’t follow up anything else about the Catholic Church and its administration.
I cannot explain why and how this happened. But it did!
On May 1, 2007, I touched ground in Liberia. I came from abroad. I had been away far too long traveling few countries around the globe and ending up in the United States of America.
While I was away, a civil war engulfed Liberia and caused so much damage to infrastructure and human resource. So upon my return, noticeably, things dramatically changed; the people and infrastructures were different. That made my work back home rather a whole new “ball game” forcing me to adopt and tailor my strategies to fit such reality.
Now, I can understand if Monrovia had dramatically changed. Because, whatever the changes were, would not and did not affect my psyche. Why? Because I wasn’t born and reared in Monrovia. But when I got home in Maryland (my hometown) where I was born and reared, the stark difference painfully hit me on the forehead. And it drove me nuts!
Most of my friends I grew up with left and traveled far away. So they were nowhere to be found. Others passed on. Those I met at home had terribly aged. And I was strangely dismayed. But all the same, I contained the shocked as it ran through my spinal cord. The shock penetrated the abyss of my soul. So I could not pretend that it did not hurt. So I accepted the condition and treated it with calm and understanding.
With all of these uninmaginable happenings around me, others like Mr. Pike Mike Jury, who shared my views, wanted us to bring back the “old” days and revive some of the things needed for renewal. So a county reunion idea clicked in and we embarked upon the implementation.
Prior to our work in this direction, series of attempts were made by other Marylanders before my arrival back home. And so, the idea wasn’t new, except that I introduced a new approach.
By getting involved in the reunion activities, I was able to come face-to-face with Bishop Dalieh for the very first time in my life.
And this is the essence of this testimonial.
When we formed The Reunion Committee, Bishop Dalieh became the Chair. He made me his secretary. The man (Bishop Dalieh) whose secretary I became was a religious man. Everyone including myself knew that. I, on the other hand, wasn’t much religious. No one knew that in Maryland at the time.
See, I am an unorthodox Christian. And that speaks volumes in Liberian reality. I talk Liberation Theology, which is not new to the Catholic Church. Because, there’s where it derived. Quickly, I think the Bishop figured all that out as an experienced man, well-learned and familiar with the different views of religion and made a quick shift after I authored my first letter to the public.
My first letter for the reunion was critical of the Maryland Legislative Caucus. Because, in my view, in order for us to begin to heal our wounds as a society, we needed to begin to provide justice to all. So, the letter placed a serious question mark on the integrity of the Maryland Legislative Caucus. Soon, Bishop instructed his views to be produced from his Catholic Diocese’s office instead of coming from me. I didn’t ask any question. I just adjusted myself. Because a man of his caliber needed to have someone who understood his philosophy in life and his work to author his views. I was not qualified in that strict sense. So I took on another responsibility mobilizing Marylanders in Monrovia and the Diaspora.
We all began working together. We tried hosting the first reunion, which would have been the third of Bishop’s participation; it did not succeed. We went after it again the following year. That year was my second attempt. It too partly succeeded. Soon we realized (I knew from the get-go) that the problem holding us back as a county had its genesis in the aucus. So every time we tried and tried limited lights came on in the tunnel. The lack of funding broke us apart. So each of us when our separate ways. But we kept the camaraderie alive.
Within this period of separation, Bishop and I came into a loggerhead position. I use “loggerhead” in this post not in a negative way. It is not the kind of “loggerhead” that makes Liberian hunt each other down fiercely. Ours was ideological and civil.
This is what happened:
As a social justice advocate, I organized nonviolent protest demonstrations and defiance campaigns in Maryland. And this was strange in Maryland especially so, when demonstrations caused too much infrastructural destruction. And nobody wanted to see that happening anymore. But I managed successfully that all of the demonstrations and campaigns I led did not degenerate into chaos. But all the same, coming out of the experience of generalized anarchy of violence, some people of Maryland were still scare to march in the streets protesting.
I quickly found out that Bishop did not like my style of advocacy at first. He never told me so. But knowing Liberian people as we all do, those he mentioned it to informed me. So I got the news from the grapevine. No harm meant! I knew that much!
For example, I advocated for the shipwreck victims. Tens and tens of women’s revenue and goods rest in the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Others lost their lives. I held the Liberian government responsible for allowing vessels that were not seaworthy plying our waters and killing our citizens and residents.
The process of advocacy lasted for three years. In the end, the Liberian government agreed with me and paid reparation to the victims.
Prior to that, I conducted a nonviolent peaceful demonstration and sit-in action with more than 10,000 men and women. We shut down the entire county for three unbroken days. UNMIL sea vessels were unable to dock. And this captured national and international headlines. President Sirleaf, via cell phone, called us asking us to discontinue the protest demonstration. We didn’t immediately disengage. So some of those who marched with us, including Bishop Dalieh, took on a different posture. Bishop then began to look at me negatively. He didn’t say this to me, personally. But at some point, he spoke with others in the community. And those he spoke with told me. But I ignored it. I didn’t ignore it in a disrespectful manner to the Bishop. But I had a job to do. The people were confiding in me and the protest demonstrations for the first time in Maryland were not degenerating into chaos; and the direct goals of reparations were being achieved.
As a man of God, I knew Bishop understood where I was coming from and where I was heading. But I think he was afraid of past mistakes being repeated. As an honorable man I couldn’t argue with him.
What made me see him more as a man of God is that Bishop agreed that Jesus set the example for servant ministry. And that in Jesus’ life and ministry, He gave priority to the least, the last, the lost and the left out. And that we as Christians would follow in His footsteps by serving the needs of people. I believe Bishop knew that the Holy Spirit equips us for service by giving us gifts for ministry and by giving us a passion for serving the needs of others. And so he (Bishop) live his life encouraging others to invest their lives in ministries of compassion and justice, moving towards God’s vision. When Bishop prayed for me at my residence, he prayed that our service that we have and continue to render to our fellow Brethren and Sistren will create a ripple of grace that touches and transforms people’s lives throughout our one world.
Without a doubt, Bishop understood all this better than I do. So I prayed and looked up to God for my help so that one day Bishop would get to know me better and understand what I stand for while he was alive.
God heard my prayer.
As a true man of God, Bishop, he did exactly what God asked him to – he visited with me. From that day, I received a new and powerful lesson to forge my future in my advocacy work.
Here’s how it happened:
One day, I came from Downtown Harper. Just as I got closed to my residence, Bishop was sitting at my next door neighbor’s place. I didn’t see him until he called my attention. When I looked in his direction, he told me that he had come to see me. Not that I didn’t believe him, but I was shocked. Why? Because I did not expect the Bishop to come to my residence to see me. I expected him to call me to come over to his office or house to see him. Not the other way around.
So I kept walking. Then he reechoed his call. Immediately, I had to stop. So I walked in his direction. Next thing I know, he was on his feet. He wasn’t sitting anymore. He took few baby-steps towards me. Mind you, Bishop was quite over the proverbial hill. I had to say something to him. I said, “Bishop, please wait for me, I’m coming to you.” He replied, “No, Bedell, I’m behind you. I’m coming upstairs to your apartment.” Judging from the many steps that one had to take to go upstairs my residence, I concluded that Bishop could not make it. Why? Because I thought he was an elderly man. And his knees were no longer stronger. But Bishop convinced me he could make it upstairs. And he did! He followed me. when I got up, I put my keys in the door and unlocked it. I stood right at the entrance and waited for Bishop. He slowly took one step at a time, soon he was upstairs. I showed him in and offered him a seat. And he sat down.
Then all began to unravel.
He first told me that Sen. Ballout had complained to him that I was not giving him (Ballout) support. And so he asked that I work with Sen. Ballout. It was a pure appeal that the Bishop offered me. So I did not ask him what exactly Sen. Ballout said about me. From the manner in which Bishop made the appeal and giving the fact that he climbed upstairs to speak with me, and he came all the way from his residence to my neck of the woods to see me, I knew he was very serious and he meant every word he spoke from his lips.
Without any hesitation, I did what he asked me: I immediately dialed Sen. Ballout’s cell phone digits and spoke with him. I told the Senator what had just transpired. It was spiritual! As such, I promised to work with him once he’s willing to do the same. I think Sen. Ballout agreed. And all was set. Bishop thanked me for listening to him and doing what he asked of me. I too thanked Bishop for coming over to see me and talk to me. I told him how surprised and shocked I was. And asked him to forgive me for walking away at first when he told me he was there to see me. We were done for the day. And Bishop got ready to depart my residence. I held one of his hands. He used the other hand to hold his cane. And down the stairs we went. Bishop got in his brand new truck; In Liberia they don’t say “truck” they say “Jeep” and pulled off.
I turned around to go back to my residence.
That’s when my eyes caught a good number of neighbors looking in my direction. I think they did so with apprehension. I think they were as surprise as I was. It seemed to me that those neighbors who were looking at me were either shocked to see the Bishop visit me or maybe they had other things running around their brains. Whatever the case was, I couldn’t say.
I walked through my door and took a seat in the living room just where Bishop and I were sitting and talking. Then I began to recollect and reflect. For a minute, it seemed to me that what had just happened was a dream. Imagine the Bishop Emeritus of The Catholic Diocese of Cape Palmas, who did not like my style of advocacy, came over at my residence to see me. Such a thought haunted me for the rest of the week until there was a replay of the same incident but for a different reason.
One week later, Bishop Dalieh came over again to see me. This time, I wasn’t shocked. I was mesmerized.
I was talking with friends in the yard when Bishop approached in his vehicle. I looked his way as if I were expecting him to visit with me. Then I saw him disembarked his vehicle. I tried to return to my conversation with my friends when I noticed something strange: the Bishop sternly looked at me. That look that came from the Bishop recaptured my attention. So I kept my eyes on him until I heard him say, “Mr. Bedell, I’m here to see you.” I rushed to him immediately. Then he said, “Let’s go upstairs.” Again, I thought of the many steps to go up to my flat where we earlier met. Slowly but surely, we got upstairs. He sat in the same seat he used the last time he was at my place. He probably loved that particular seat. I think because it was very soft and comfortable. The back of the sofa was turned towards the window facing the Atlantic Ocean. And there’s where the nice breeze came blowing from. Strategically, I used that particular seat because it faces the best part of my residence – the kitchen.
Then Bishop began to speak to me.
This time it was different. He frowned for a minute. I asked him why. He answered, “Bedell, my knees are not what they used to be.” In a minute, he was ok. He put up a smile. And I did too. Then he asked me to come closer. I did. He didn’t hesitate. He asked me if at all I heard anything he said about me. I didn’t want to say “yes.” So I said, “No.” Then he asked me to bow my head for a prayer. I did. He prayed and all was well. I was still wondering as to what was in the pipeline. But I kept hope alive.
It seemed like Bishop knew that I knew what he was about to tell me. Why? Because that’s what wisdom is all about. When you have lived long enough and passed through a whole lot of things that you learned from and you are a man of God like Bishop, you would know a lot of things especially, when someone is pretending, like I was doing.
Then he made his opening remarks.
He asked me to forgive him. I asked why. He told me it was something that he said about me when I newly came to Maryland that he should not have said. He told me what that was. It was all about my style of advocacy. Did I hear it? I answered in the affirmative. Because, truly, I heard it around town many times.
Why did I have to admit that to him so quickly? Simple!
Here is a man of God who has been around longer than me and probably my dad; he’s come to my residence to say something that probably troubled him for a while. Who am I then not to cooperate with him?
I had to cooperate.
I wanted to say to Bishop, forget. It’s ok. Then he said, “Let me finish.” I shut up immediately and waited for him to conclude. And when he did, I knelt before his Bishopship and apologized for anything I also may have done that may have troubled him. After that, he took me by the tip of my fingers and asked me to stand. I did. Then he prayed again and said, “Bedell, I have to leave. I am expecting an important call from abroad.” As I did previously when Bishop came to see me, I escorted him down the stairs and he departed.
I looked around again to see who was watching.
See, in Liberia, people poke their noses in other people’s business. So of course, some folks were watching again. This time, I just ignored them and walked in.
Few days later, Bishop was passing by in his vehicle ( he always went by my way almost every day to visit his sibling living around my area) when he saw me. He stopped and spoke with me briefly. Since that time, I have never had the opportunity to see Bishop nor talk with him again until I heard his knees were letting him down. Something inside me told me to go and find him. And I did.
See, where Bishop was living in Harper was a walking distance from me. But I got a ride to go and visit with him. When I got to his residence, I was told that he was asleep. So I couldn’t see him. But his staff assured me that they would inform him of my impromptu visit.
After I left his residence, I never saw or talk to Bishop Dalieh again until I heard that he had passed on in the United States of America. Indeed, his death news devastated me and broke my heart!
Right away, I began to reflect on his visits with me and the things he said to me. They were resounding in my head. So I bowed my head momentarily, not in prayer, but with a broken heart. Later on few tears dropped from my eyes. That was a sign of regret. Later on I raised my head and I said to myself, “Who knows better than God? Bishop’s death is God’s will. And as our Creator, His Will will always be done!” I had to accept the condition and reality that Bishop Boniface Nyema Dalieh had finally left us, permanently!
Indeed, Bishop Boniface Nyema Dalieh was truly a man of God. I know that! And I can testify!
The short time I got to know Bishop Nyema Dalieh, he impacted my life significantly. Some changes that have occurred in me are because of my meetings with him in a strange but divine way! For me not to make record of such a humongous and historic meeting will not be fair to him or I.
Our two meetings make my life not to be the same again. It’s better! I owe this to the late Bishop Emeritus of The Catholic Cape Palmas Diocese, The Right Reverend Honorable Boniface Nyema Dalieh!
May his soul and the souls of our dear departed rest in Perfect Peace, and Light Perpetual shine upon him!
Goodbye Bishop! And God be with you till we meet again!
T. Gbuo-Mle Bedell, a social justice advocate, works and speaks on the ground in Liberia, and a victim of police brutality. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org,email@example.com, or at +231.886.920.151.