“It is a delight to come home to Wartburg. Wartburg has strengthened me and formed me in who I am today.”
Dr. Winston Persaud introduced her Excellency Marie Jilo Barnett to the Wartburg community at a dinner given in her honor this Spring. Appointed in 2008, she is Sierra Leone’s first female ambassador to Liberia, as well as to Core d’Ivoire. Marie studied at Wartburg from 1990 to 1994, when she received her M.Div. degree.
Reverend Barnett was passionate and invoked hope with each word that she spoke about teaching men and women to co-exist in the Image of God. “It is possible,” she said.
Ambassador Barnett is zealous about negotiating peace and promoting women. She was the first Lutheran woman to be ordained in Western Africa. Her position as Ambassador is about building bridges between Liberia and Sierra Leone; this, she said, is the essence of her appointment.
She encourages women to take action. “Do what you can. Avoid Chaos. Pray with one another, do not pray alone. Get everyone of all races and religions involved. Say ‘NO’ to injustice.”
Ambassador Barnett is called to serve. She did not campaign, nor did she join a political party. She is doing what she believes is hers to do. She depends on her faith and is strong in prayer. “Seek the kingdom and all will be given to you.” Her faith gives her the strength to sit on parliament and represent women and their rights. She believes strength comes when women come together and support one another. She said, “We do not do it on our own.” She is involved with a network of women: women lawyers, women doctors, and women from the market. “Together we make a difference. In the nothingness that we have, we share, and we have much.”
Marie has seen a lot of hardship and constantly worked in ministries of reconciliation. She sees the need to build bridges of peace. In her role now as Ambassador and also through Lutheran World Federation she has had many opportunities to serve. “God has been with me everywhere I have been all over the world.”
Ambassador Barnett had worked with Laymeh Gbowoee, well-known Lutheran laywoman who led the peace-movement in Liberia. She said to Gbowe, “Don’t sit alone.” Barnett and other women supported the women from Liberia in the peace talks. Ambassador Barnett now works with Liberian President Serlief. Gbowe and Serlief both became Nobel Peace Prize recipients.
When asked what is most important for her theologically, Ambassador Barnett said, “Justification by grace through faith. If we have faith, the Holy Spirit will guide us.” She told of times when she needed to speak publicly in crucial diplomatic situations. “The Holy Spirit would guide my words. Be strong in prayer.”
Marie’s husband, Tom, also received his M.Div from Wartburg in 1994 and now serves as the bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Sierre Leone. Dr. Dan Olson, WTS professor emeritus, preached at their ordination in Sierre Leone. In a church of lay leadership, the Barnetts were the first to be ordained. Marie served as pastor of Faith Community Lutheran Church, Freetown.
While at Wartburg Marie said that she and Tom were welcomed and supported as international students. She said, “The international students saw some American students for whom ends did not meet.” Together with others started the food pantry for students , which continues to this day.
When asked about the demands of her busy life, Marie responded, “When I’m helping people, I’m revived.” She concluded with Christ’s mandate: “Go and baptize all nations. Do not be afraid. I will be with you to the end of the age.”
From 1996 – 2002 Marie was a member of Parliament in Sierre Leonne, serving on various Committees asfollows:
1. Foreign Affairs and International
Cooperation Founded the Network of Women Ministers and Parliamentarians and served as Vice President.
2. Health and Environment Pioneered the settingup of the National AIDS Secretariate.
3. Education – Participated in the oversight that saw the University of Sierra Leone
locate campuses in the different Geographical Regions.
4. Defence – The only female member of the drafting committee of the much celebrated
“Lome Peace Accord” that brought lasting peace to Sierra Leone in 2002.
5. Works and Infrastructure – Pioneered the setting up of the Social Action for Poverty
Alleviation under the National Commission for Re-integration, Repatriation and Resettlement.
6. Social Welfare, Gender and Children
Set up the network of women Ministers