A Mystery Of 40 Years: Rev. Dr. William R. Tolbert To Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves


A mystery of four decades (40 years) is a brilliant flashback of Rev. Dr. Williams R. Tolbert, a deceased President of Liberia, and Rev. Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, both of whom have Baptist orientation or background. These two passionate Baptist leadership experts shared similar leadership traits and are interested in the transformation of Liberia.

   Presently, Dr. Reeves is the President of the Liberia Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (LBM&EC) and senior official of the Providence Baptist Church, whose heritage is traced to Liberia’s foundation/independence in 1847.

Historical perspective

Rev. Tolbert was not only President of the Republic of Liberia, but he was also President of the Liberia Baptist Missionary & Educational Convention (LBM&EC) and the Baptist World Alliance (BWA). He was also Chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). He left a legacy of a vibrant, viable and visible Baptist Work, both in Liberia and around the world.  He was assassinated on April 12, 1980; and this is where the mystery of “40 years” begins.

   Forty (40) years after Rev. Dr. Tolbert, another minister, Dr. Samuel B. Reeves, has taken the helm and the mantle of the Baptist work in Liberia—in 2020. He has similar vibrancy and dreams like Dr. Tolbert. What is the meaning of that? This is the million-dollar question for one to professionally think about and answer through professional research.

   Like Dr. Tolbert, former President of Liberia, who was so passionate about education, Dr. Reeves is following a similar path to promote quality education, cater for the welfare of underprivileged individuals who are Liberians from diverse backgrounds in Liberia.

Biblical Analysis

Certain numbers have prophetic significance in the Holy Bible. For example, numbers (#s) 3 and 7 signify the Trinity and completion, respectively, in the Scriptures. However, this write-up is emphasizing 40 because of the theological significance of that number in the Holy Bible, as well as in world events and, seemingly, in the history of the Liberian Baptist Missionary and Educational Convention (LBM&EC).

   It seems like 40 signifies the fulfillment of dreams, prophecy and the actualization of God’s plan for his people. It also symbolizes renaissance, beginning of a new generation, transformation, and is used 146 times in the Holy Bible.

   Some leaders in Scripture ruled for 40 years. David ruled over Israel for 40 years (2 Samuel 5:4, I King 2:11). Solomon was King of Israel for 40 years, as David was his father (I King 11:42).

   Joash became King of Israel at age 7 and governed for 40 years in Jerusalem (2 King 12:1-2). Saul reigned 40 years (Acts 13:21, I Samuel 10:1).

   For example: For forty years Moses grew up in Pharoah’s estate in Egypt. There he learned their culture, politics, religion, and their language.

   He committed a murder in Egypt, escaped from justice, and became a fugitive in the desert. He spent 40 years wandering in the desert, learning the terrain and serving his father in-law, Jethro.

   After 40 years of wandering in the desert, God appeared to him in the burning bush and commissioned him to undertake the divine task he was destined to execute.

   After the emancipation of the Israelites, Moses spent another 40 years as he and Joshua led the people through the wilderness toward the Promised Land.  For those 40 years, the children of Israel ate manna in the wilderness, being led by God’s presence in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

   Fast forward into modern times, this write-up sees the same 40-year pattern in certain aspects of history.

   Consider Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was an African American icon and a prophetic voice not only to the American people, but to the whole world. He championed the emancipation of people of color from slavery and servitude. In his famous “I have a dream” speech, he hoped one day, especially in America, that a person will be judged not by the color of his or her skin but by the content of his or her character and for a society where justice knows no partiality. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis Tennessee. But his divine dream never dies.

   His dreams were not realized until after 40 years with the election of America’s first black President, Barack Obama, in 2008. Obama served two presidential terms.

   Those 40-year phenomena is mere coincidence, or is there something of profound significance or mystery involved? If so, then, what is it? One may not know the answer, but it is worth considering especially when one distills it into the Liberian Baptist historical context.

Liberia’s Baptist Historical Context and Dr. Tolbert’s Assassination

   Rev. Dr. William R. Tolbert was assassinated on April 12, 1980. Exactly Forty (40) years after his death, the distinguished Rev. Dr. Samuel Reeves became President of the LBM&EC, in February 2020. 

   One may or may not know, if there is any meaning to that. Maybe or not. Truly, one does not know what the Good Lord is up to but Baptists should surely keep their spiritual antennas up. Baptists should be prayerful and thoughtful for the Baptist Convention. Particularly, that they should pray for Rev. Reeves so that he will be keen to the vision and mission that God Himself had set before him.

   It is the sincere prayer and hope that the next 40 years, which include additional years of Rev. Dr. Reeves’s reign, will be a turning point for the good of the beloved convention and for the Baptist church in Liberia.

   Please note: one does not need any peer review articles to know that a divine dream might be kicked around, derailed, or deferred, but never dies. Dr. Tolbert and Dr. Reeves are the confluence or stream of two rivers. They are the historical synthesis of the number “40” in the history of Baptist work in Liberia.

Courtesy of Dr. Enoch G. David Nyakoon, PhD.
Principal, CAO, Ricks Institute

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