By Linda Green

GRAND BASSA COUNTY, Liberia (UMNS) - The Rev. JoJoe Vah, his mother and 16 other relatives live in a house that would be condemned by U.S. standards.

The home was heavily damaged and looted by rebels during Liberia's long civil war, and now it stands as a burned-out shell.

Vah, 78, who retired from active ministry in 2002, was a United Methodist pastor for 53 years. He has no money to repair the damage to his home caused by fire, bullets, water and weather. Receiving no income other than a quarterly pension of US$60, he and his family subsist on rice, soup made from a local nut and items they receive from others.

"The only income coming in is from the Board of Pension," he says, referring to the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits. "That buys just a bag of rice to sustain the rest of the family," he says of the hundred-pound bag that sometimes lasts a month.

The pension "is not enough to sustain me and my family," he says.

The United Methodist Church, directed by its 2000 and 2004 General Conferences, has been working to develop pension models to help pastors and church lay workers in Liberia and other countries retire with an adequate pension. The church's effort, known as the Central Conference Pension Initiative, is focusing on Africa, Eastern Europe and the Philippines.

A campaign to raise $20 million is under way to fully fund pensions for retired central conference clergy and surviving spouses. More than $4.6 million has been raised, says Chad Peddicord, the campaign director for the Board of Pension and vice president of CCS (Community Counseling Services) of New York.

The initiative is led by a Central Conference Pension Committee with representatives from five church agencies: the Board of Pension and Health Benefits, General Council on Finance and Administration, Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Publishing House and United Methodist Communications.

In November 2006, the committee selected the Liberia Conference to implement a pilot pension program for clergy and church lay workers, beginning in 2007.

"This is groundbreaking and is a celebration of the church's global nature and that we are in mission together," says Bishop John Innis of Liberia. For the Liberia Conference to be chosen as the pilot project in Africa is "commendable" and "falls under the umbrella of making disciples for the transformation of the world," he says.

The Liberia Conference, comprising more than 170,000 United Methodists, has 382 active clergy, 230 retired clergy and 264 surviving clergy spouses.