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First Baptist collecting relief items for Liberia

By Trina Trice

When Esther Worthington went to Liberia in May 2002, she saw a beautiful and tropical country.

But she also saw a country ravaged by civil unrest.

"The country has been decimated by war," she said.

To help First Baptist Church Jonesboro is sending a large shipment of items, following several months of collecting donations from church members locally and from surrounding states, such as Alabama and Tennessee.

Worthington has been assisting the campaign.

She volunteers for the Georgia Liberia Mission Partnership, a group of Baptist churches that have sent missionaries to the country since the 1980s.

Members of First Baptist Church Jonesboro helped build Peaceful Baptist Church in Monrovia, Liberia's capital.

"We've had an ongoing interest with that church," Worthington said.

Stored in the basement of the FBC's Recreational Outreach Center are more than three tons of long grain rice. Other items include boxes of medical supplies with bandages and vitamins; clothing; bicycles; generators; baby food; diapers; schoolbooks and supplies; and canned meat and vegetables.

"We hope to send it out by next week," Worthington said. "But we have to make sure the port in Liberia is secure."

Pressured by fellow West African leaders, Liberian President Charles Taylor promised Saturday to resign Aug. 11 after the expected arrival of peacekeepers, as his forces stepped up their battle against rebels for Monrovia's port.

But he refused to say when he would leave Liberia, as he has promised to do previously, and as West African leaders and the United States have demanded.

"The most important thing is, everything that we have said about resigning and leaving will happen," said Taylor, who has been offered asylum by Nigeria.

Taylor has said he will hand power to one of two longtime colleagues ? Nyundueh Monkomana, Liberia's speaker of the house, or Moses Blah, his vice president.

Taylor has been promising to surrender power since June 4, when a U.N.-Sierra Leone court announced a war-crimes indictment against him for his support of rebels there in a brutal civil war.

He also has made and broken other accords in 14 years of Liberian conflict, which Taylor, then a warlord, started as the leader of a small insurgency in 1989.

The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved deployment of the multinational force to Liberia, which is to last two months and be followed by U.N. peacekeepers.

It was still unclear whether U.S. Marines on three warships that are expected to arrive off Liberia's coast soon will go ashore. The Bush administration has insisted that the force being assembled by the Economic Community of West African States, known as ECOWAS, take the lead.

Liberians ? who feel a historical and cultural bond with the United States ? have clamored for U.S. forces to help end the fighting in their country, founded by freed American slaves in the 19th century. Liberia remained a commercial and then strategic partner of the United States up to the end of the Cold War.

Fighting accompanying the rebel offensives has killed well over 1,000 civilians in Monrovia. Hostilities have cut off the port and the main water plant, leaving the city of more than 1.3 million residents and refugees desperately short of food and water, and plagued by cholera.

"(Liberians) have always been loyal to the U.S. in its military efforts," Worthington said. "I think we need to be there for them."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.