By Wayne Crenshaw
Until a high court ruling earlier this month, a Mercer University professor was a wanted man in Liberia.
Richard F. Wilson, who’s also chairman of Mercer’s Christianity department, is serving as president of the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary. He spends about a month at a time, four times a year, in the West African country, which is among the poorest in the world.
In his efforts to help Liberia he has contracted malaria, dodged Ebola and more recently, faced the threat of arrest. Until the Supreme Court of Liberia ruled in his favor June 17, that threat was very real.
It all stemmed from a lawsuit that a man named Lincoln S. Brownell filed against the seminary. Brownell, who is from Liberia, alleged that he had been wrongfully terminated as seminary president in 2012. He was awarded $240,000 in damages.
An arrest warrant was issued for Wilson on the grounds that the seminary had not paid $33,000 owed to Brownell. However, the seminary’s attorney produced a cleared check that showed it had paid the money to a “sheriff,” which Wilson described as the equivalent of a court bailiff in the United States.
The sheriff was supposed to have given the money to Brownell, and Wilson said there is now an investigation into what actually happened to the money. He said there is evidence that the sheriff cashed the check at a bank.
Along with the arrest warrant was an order to close the seminary and sell it to pay Brownell. The high court also rescinded that order.
In a telephone interview from Liberia, Wilson said he had been confident all along that the situation would work out.
“I haven’t been too worried about it,” he said. “It’s a distraction from the work that I’ve got to do. I’ve never felt in any danger. I’ve just been inconvenienced.”
For the past couple of weeks, he said, he had to stay away from the seminary and his home in order to avoid arrest.
“I’ve been experiencing Liberian culture like a Liberian,” he said. “It’s quite interesting.”
The arrest warrant and order to close the school has been front page news in Liberia.
Wilson was named president of the seminary in January 2014. In August that year he was forced to leave the country due to an Ebola outbreak. Although he later returned, it was only earlier this year that Liberia was declared Ebola free. The World Health Organization has warned that west Africa may see flare-ups of the virus, however.
Wilson said the country is still struggling to recover from the crisis, and its impact will likely been seen for years to come.
His contract to run the seminary ends Dec. 31, and he does not expect it to be renewed. Wilson said the plan all along had been for him to restore the school to a good financial footing, then let the presidency return to someone from Liberia.
His current stint in the country ends and he expects to be back in Macon on Wednesday.
Despite the difficulties he has faced, Wilson said he enjoys his work and hopes to remain involved with Liberia even after his tenure as seminary president ends.
“It’s all very exciting,” he said. “I get to participate as an agent of change in a very challenging culture.” READ MORE OF THIS REPORT