Newton’s Voteau receives calling to ministry while in Liberia

Provided photo

Donna Voteau, far right, is pictured with Imogene Collins, center, and Victoria “Mother” Dukuly, far left, who adopted Voteau as her own during her two-year mission in Liberia.

By Blake Spurney

Harvey County Now Staff

NEWTON—The Rev. Donna Voteau received her calling to the ministry during a two-year mission trip in Liberia between 1981 and 1983.

“I have been absolutely amazed about how spending two years there in my life has influenced my life and the people I’ve met,” she said.

Voteau said when she came back to the United States, she started thinking about the need to think through racism before people enter the mission field.

“Although missionaries can have a wonderful heart, I’m not certain that all missionaries don’t bring some of their inherent racism with them also, to think that we’re better than [them],” she said.

The one who did the most to change her perspective was Victoria Dukuly, the wife of a former Liberian foreign minister who was called “Mother” by nearly everyone. She said Dukuly adopted her as a child, and the two got to be very close during trips from one end of the nation to the other. She said Dukuly owned the land on which the presidential palace and other government buildings stood.

“Oh my gosh, she showed me all of the country,” she said. “And you can’t imagine showing up with her saying I was her daughter.”

If someone asked about her having a white child, Dukuly would confirm that she had one.

“She was helpful to me at times to say, ‘You do not realize the racism,’” she said. “’All of you white people know how to tell us how to do things.’ I just think she was brilliant at getting me to comprehend my own inherent racism.”

Voteau said she could think in her heart that she did a lot of good by building in one village and by paying a yard boy for work, but she asked what would happen to the boy’s family after she left because she could no longer provide a source of income.

“In your effort to do good, have you really helped?” she asked. “I find myself grappling with those questions.”

During her time in Liberia, Voteau got to personally know one of the most infamous war criminals of the past 50 years, Charles Taylor, who is serving a life sentence at The Hague in the Netherlands. Taylor used child soldiers during his six-year regime, which became noted for the slogan, “He killed my ma, he killed my pa. I’ll vote for you.”

Voteau said she and other missionaries commented about how they hoped Taylor, who was a student at Rick’s Institute, stayed within the realm of the church because they saw that he could be dangerous if he went down the wrong path. Taylor at the time already displayed a tremendous charisma as the president of his class.

“Charles also had an inherent understanding of what inherent racism meant,” she said.

Voteau said Taylor also had knowledge of the massive rubber plantation that Firestone opened in 1926. She said people naturally listened to and followed Taylor due to his leadership qualities. She said he thought about becoming a pastor, and she and others said he would have the largest church in Africa.

Taylor, who was educated in the United States, eventually got a job in the administration of President Samuel Doe. He fled to the United States in 1983 after he was accused of embezzlement. He then returned to Cote d’Ivoire, where he recruited an insurgent army for the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. Taylor led those forces on an invasion of Liberia in 1989, which sparked the First Liberian Civil War. The war lasted seven years, and Taylor was elected president in 1997.

Voteau said she wondered if the infiltration of drugs and alcohol affected Taylor’s decisions. She said Taylor began to ask why Goodyear and Firestone were taking all of the rubber out of the nation. She said Liberia also had some of the richest iron ore mines in the world.

“You could not believe the huge holes everywhere that you’re just leaving in the country, and you don’t have to fix it,” she said.

Voteau said she followed along the news reports about the wars in Liberia. She said she was extremely concerned to know whether some of the female students with whom she worked got caught up in the violence.

“These girls were amazing,” she said. “We would just have fun together.”

Voteau said she didn’t think Liberia would ever recover from the Taylor regime because many of the most educated residents fled. She said the nation didn’t have enough ways for residents to have a decent gross domestic product now that the rubber plantations closed. She also said she didn’t think that all the money that Taylor stole would ever be recovered.

Voteau said she had not mentioned Taylor to her parishioners at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church, but occasionally she reflects on the bad side of charisma. She said her fellow missionaries thought he had the ability to help his nation, whose history is intertwined with the United States. The American Colonization Society began shipping freed American slaves there in 1822, and its capital, Monrovia, is named after President James Monroe. Liberia’s flag is modeled after the American flag.

Voteau said Dukuly was able to get out of Liberia during the First Civil War. She said Dukuly was lucky to be alive after President Doe staged a coup in 1980. Dukuly took her to a balcony and pointed out to a beach where Doe’s forces murdered a lot of people in 1980. She died of breast cancer while Voteau was in seminary.

Voteau said she selected Liberia as her destination because the Women’s Missionary Union needed a basketball coach. While there, she experienced a wide-ranging diet that included snake, monkey, dog and cat.

“They’re so loving,” she said. “They’re so giving. I love the fact that they don’t care about time. I love the fact they share their food with you.”

Voteau said the landscape of tropical rain forest was beautiful. She said Liberia was close enough to the equator that every day was evenly split between daylight and dark. She said the nation was the setting for the dozen Johnny Weismuller movies filmed in the 1930s and ’40s.

“I have been absolutely amazed about how spending two years there in my life has influenced my life and the people I’ve met,” she said.

0 replies on “Newton’s Voteau receives calling to ministry while in Liberia”