Franci Neely Recalls Her Most Memorable Moments in Liberia
Traversing the globe with an open mind and an open heart, Franci Neely says every place she’s visited has impacted her in some way. But she confides her November trip to Liberia was magically moving. Neely visited the historic Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, the capital of the West African country, and met the administrative pastor of the church, the Rev. Charles Diggs.
Although the church is typically closed on Mondays, Franci Neely says Diggs opened the church for her and welcomed her inside.
The History of Providence Baptist Church.
It’s no wonder the celebrated house of worship was a must-see stop for the consummate wanderer. “This church is original [and it was] finished around 1835 by the Americo-Liberians who founded what became Liberia,” Neely shares. “It’s called ‘the cornerstone of the nation.’ The Liberian Declaration of Independence was signed inside the church in 1847.”
Those whose interest has been piqued by Neely’s expedition but aren’t prepared to make such a long journey right now, may want to pick up the book How Baptists Birthed, Led, and Influenced the Growth of Christianity in Liberia: The History of Providence Baptist Church, which was released earlier this year. The tome, available on amazon.com, chronicles the resilience of the Liberian people and their quest for independence.
While the congregation enjoys the historic architectural aspects of the classic edifice, progress and service are at the forefront of the church’s mission. In a Facebook video, the church announced in the upcoming year, they will be constructing a four-story day care center and elementary facility, for which they’re seeking $125,000 in donations.
“[2021 was] our 200th bicentennial anniversary as a church and it’s also a celebration of Liberia. This nation was born in this church so whatever we do here is part of the history of the republic of Liberia,” PBC’s senior pastor, the Rev. Samuel B. Reeves Jr., Ph.D., said in a Facebook video. “We’re here because many, many years ago, a group of our own people who were sold into slavery went into the Western Hemisphere and decided to return to what is known today as Liberia. They got here and formed a church called the Providence Baptist Church.”
Reeves explained that many years later, Liberia decided to become an independent nation. “It was the first on the continent of Africa, and they sat in an old building behind this one and signed the Declaration of Independence and declared this republic a new republic. We have come to celebrate that and learn as a people who we are so we can continue to live and promote this nation to do what we believe God has called us to do. In 1821, this church was founded in Richmond, Virginia, in the United States of America. They set sail and got here and then formed this church.”
Reeves makes clear that the history of Liberia cannot be separated from the legacy of the Providence Baptist Church.
Reeves added that learning who they are and where they came from will continue to guide the Liberian people, especially in the new year.
The rich histories of Liberia and PBC doesn’t stop there. Philomena Bloh Saye, vice chair for administration and customer service at Providence Baptist Church, says oral tradition, dancing, and singing have been instrumental in preserving the history of Liberia.
“Most of them came back to Liberia as freed slaves. To understand Liberia, we must take a look at what American slavery was like. Slavery was not a condition any human being is willing to accept,” Saye, who taught West African history at the University of Liberia, explained in a video. “There was resistance. The slavery system was very brutal. Some of the slaves sought solace in Christianity while others retained traditional African religions. Others continued to resist with self-mutilation and suicides. Sometimes the resistance led to full-scale rebellions.”
Franci Neely Lays Out the Liberian World Cup Connection
What makes the landmark Providence Baptist Church even more special are its unique links with the United States. “[It’s a] wonderful church,” Neely says while pointing out the close connections the two countries share, including Diggs’ divinity school studies in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
On the more secular side, Franci Neely explains how the international sporting phenomenon which is the World Cup soccer tournament reveals an athletic affiliation.
“In the first round of the World Cup, Tim Weah, son of the Liberian President George Weah [who] (himself [is] a former professional soccer/football player), scored the only goal for the U.S. team. All of Liberia watched and erupted with gladness,” Neely says.
NPR reports George Weah remains the only African to win FIFA’s World Player of the Year award and the Ballon d’Or trophy, which is granted to the world’s best player. Now, passing the baton to his talented son, George Weah is bursting with paternal pride. “I’m very happy,” George Weah told npr.com. “My wife and I [are] happy and I think it justified our journey to Qatar. God has a plan for everyone you know, and God’s plan for me was to not play in the World Cup.”
Franci Neely Puts Out a Fire in Liberia
While her sojourn at the Providence Baptist Church was nothing short of heavenly, Franci Neely’s experience in Liberia took an unexpected turn during a drive when she and her guide were stopped multiple times by officials. Not for speeding or for breaking traffic regulations — Neely’s ride was intercepted by authorities inspecting the car she was traveling in to ensure it was equipped with a fire extinguisher.
“Apparently, that is a legal requirement but one that is mainly ignored,” Neely explains. “Basically, these stops were shakedown opportunities. [Offering] $20 would buy you out of further delay. One ‘official’ was particularly offensive. He took our guide’s driver’s license and began to walk away.”
But the feisty Houston humanitarian isn’t one to toy with. Neely knew just how to defuse the situation.
“I stopped him by asking, ‘Where is the U.S. Embassy?’ Franci Neely recalls. “As soon as he heard U.S., his demeanor changed from snarls to smiles. He returned the driver’s license with alacrity and said he hoped to visit the U.S. someday. I didn’t mention that the U.S. didn’t require cars to carry fire extinguishers.”
Battete, Equitaorial Guinea
Here I am making new friends again. Meet Roberto Selso, a man in a pretty colonial village called Battete in the south province of Bioko Island, Equatorial. I met him today, Monday, November 28, 2022. Depicted is a 200-year-old home that originally belonged to his grandfather or great-grandfather. It’s wooden, as you see, these structures are vestiges of the colonial history of this country, populated by Portuguese and then Spanish. Roberto was very happy to share history and a handshake with me.
historic Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia. Today, 11/21/22 I met the administrative pastor of the church, Reverend Charles Diggs, see below, and he opened the church to me, even though it’s closed on Mondays. This church is original, finished around 1835, by the Americo-Liberians who founded what became Liberia. It’s called “the cornerstone of the nation.”The Liberian declaration of independence was signed inside the church in 1847. Reverend Diggs went to divinity school in Grand Rapids. Let’s create a wonderful piece about this wonderful church.
Franci Neely at Madain Saleh Saudi Arabia