Re-interment Rekindles Memories of Rt. Rev. Ezra D. Keller

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At the re-interment ceremony of Rt. Reverend Ezra D. Keller Sr., first president of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, (LCL) on January 20, on his farm near Haindii, several people turned out to pay homage and reflect on his life and the role he played in theirs.
Leaders of the Lutheran Church in Liberia, the clergy, government officials, local authorities, family members, and friends came together to witness the reburial.

Rev. Keller, his cousin, Senator Byron Z. Traub, also a Lutheran pastor, and their nephew Dr. Zolu Dumah Traub were previously buried at the Duport Road South Cemetery, one of the most desecrated burial grounds in the nation. Their interment in Monrovia was due to the inability of the family to lay them to rest in Haindii, their ancestral home in Fuamah District, Bong County when they died during the Liberian civil war.

About three years ago the families of the three deceased, acknowledging that they could not leave the remains of their loved ones in such dishonor, agreed to exhume and reinter them in Haindii.

The first to be reinterred were Rev. Traub and nephew Dr. Traub, M.D., Liberia’s first Ophthalmologist, on January 7 in the family burial site at Kweinta near Haindii.

On January 20, the Kellers from far and wide gathered on the deceased’s farm to participate in his re-interment rites. The following day about two hundred family, government officials, friends and supporters of the Kellers and Traubs once again traveled to Haindii for a memorial service for the three deceased.
Among family members of the Kellers and Traubs at the occasion were Joseph P. Keller, Mildred Keller, Winniedel Suakweli, Ezra D. Keller Jr., among many. An from the Traubs: Mae-Gene Best, Gola Traub, Juanita Traub, Madam Zoe Peaches Traub, widow of Dr. Traub, and many more.

The occasion was an opportunity to be enlightened on Pastor Keller’s works in the Lutheran Church of Liberia, which benefited urban and rural communities in many ways.

Representing Rt. Rev. Dr. D. Jensen Seyenkulo, Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Liberia (LCL), Rev. Peter Logan, the Bishop’s special assistant, in his reflection, pointed out that something must be done to commemorate the life of Rt. Rev. Ezra D. Keller. He recalled that “It was during his administration that the airplane ministry was inaugurated, which enabled the Lutheran church to spread the Gospel into the interior of Liberia so we need to keep our history.”

Ending his reflection, Rev. Logan expressed appreciation for the great step taken by the family to remember and honor “our fallen hero today as we learn of his life so that posterity can be helped by the positive and negative aspects of his life.”

More reflections were given by relatives and friends on the generosity of Pastor Keller which changed their lives. They sang songs he used to love to sing and how he always shared the gospel with them.

The officiating Clergy were Rev. Peter Logan Bishop Assistant LCL, represented Rt. Rev. Dr. D. Jensen Seyenkulo, Bishop Lutheran Church of Liberia (LCL), Rev. Wuo Laywhyee Pastor, Pkolopele Parish Lutheran Church of Liberia, Rev. Issac S. Dowah – Pastor in charge, St. Peter Lutheran Church, and Rev.
Dr. Eric M. Allison – Lutheran Liaison Officer Gbarnga School of Theology United Methodist University and all Ordained Ministers, Lutheran Church of Liberia, including Pastor Nathaniel Garpu of the Barnesville Lutheran Church.
Pastor Keller will forever be remembered for his resilient evangelism and spread of literacy in the urban and rural parts of Liberia (See the excerpt of the life account which started from a small village at the tail of Dobli Island).

Obituary of Reverend Ezra Dahn Keller Sr.

Pastor Ezra Dahn Keller, grandson of Fama Nduso of Ndamu, Lofa County, known to many of his people only as “teacher”, and a self-made man, was born in May 1910 in Fuamah Chiefdom (now Fuamah District) in Ting Keyan on the St. Paul River bank below Dobli Island, near Haindi. He was born unto the union of Nwobeh Gono and Nae Kor-pu Kanae. Young Dahn grew up the under strict discipline of his father whose ambition was to make him industrious and knowledgeable in the best traditions of his people, the Gbandi of Lofa County.

Nwobeh’s ancestors had migrated to an area predominantly occupied by the Gola and Kpelle ethnic group. The demand on them to be industrious and independent was great. Nwobeh thought his son how to hunt, fish, and make farm as well as all he knew about the culture and traditional values of his people. But it soon became clear that Dahn was destined to play an even more meaningful role in life than being the ideal tribesman.

Near Ting Keyan was a small Lutheran mission outstation where missionaries educated and Christianized young boys recruited in neighboring villages. Whenever these youths visited Ting Keyan, Dahn was quite impressed by their fine, khaki short pants and shirts and their ability to speak English: The young
Dahn was soon attracted to the mission, which was called Kpolopele, the Kpelle word for “House of Bread.” Without being aware of it, Dahn was called by divine providence to feed the hungry souls and the blind, his pupils, with the “bread of life.”

Against the wishes of his parents, he commenced his school career in 1920 and was admitted to the mission’s two years preschool inducement before going to begin actual school.

Tragedy hit the ambitious youth when his father suddenly died the year he began his schooling. But having put his hands on the plow he could not afford to look back. He continued his studies in spite of the tragedy. Much to his dismay, the mission closed down in 1922. For the next two years he lived with one of his teachers, Mr. Henry Rollack, who was later employed as a teacher in Sanoyea Lutheran mission. In 1927, when Dahn, who had now adopted the “civilized” name of Ezra Keller in keeping with the tradition of those days, completed the fifth grade, the mission again closed. There was little he could do but find a job. Much to his delight, the missionaries employed him as a teacher and evangelist. By 1933, through the help of the missionary, he enrolled at the Lutheran Mission of Muhlenberg which later became the Lutheran Training Institute (LTI). By 1935 he graduated from the eighth grade and was assigned at his home, Fuamah Chiefdom, where he carried on preaching and evangelism.

Dahn ventured to Kpolopele. His cousin Byron Z. Traub had earlier served as another encouragement. Thinking that his formal schooling was over, he married a young lady called Lorpu; they had one son whom he named Samuel, who he received as an answer to his prayer to God for a son. Consumed by the burning desire for further education, the young Keller terminated the marriage to continue his education in Monrovia in the College of West Africa through the assistance of Prof. Furbey and Pastor Donat. He supported himself as a janitor and a librarian for CWA, and by carrying on evangelistic work in Monrovia for the Lutheran Church.

He was instrumental in the building of the Lutheran Mission House in Sinkor. Meanwhile, he lived with Cousin Traub who was attending Liberia College at the time.

After graduating from CWA in 1941, Pastor Keller commenced theological training in Lutheran Training Institute (LTI) in 1942. He also took correspondence courses (from Moody Bible institute in the United States of America). He was assigned at Belefanai for internship; there he taught school with Pastor Joseph
Diggs and Byron Traub. In 1944 he moved to Totota where he carried on his mission of teaching and evangelism under the supervision of the missionary Louis T. Bowers. One of his successful students was Peter Naigao who later became Minister of Information in the Liberian Government.

Pastor Keller distinguished himself in Totota as an accomplished teacher, evangelist, and church leader. In a report to the Lutheran Church of America in 1946, Pastor Bowers had this to say about his achievements:

“Now the other name that ought to be written in history is that of a young preacher, Ezra Keller. Rev. Ezra Keller in about two years after he had completed his theological course in the new Lutheran Training Institute is proving his ministerial capacity by evangelistic work. He was assigned to open the new station at Totota. Our first Liberian national pastor, John Clinton, reopened old Kpolopele station. But Ezra Keller is the first national to go to a new place and really open a station. He has all the gifts for the new task. He is friendly, and within two months the people and chiefs were begging the missionary never to move their ‘teacher’ from Totota. He has a gift for clear persuasive preaching and this was matched by respecting people so that already he has 48 people under catechetical instruction in one town alone, with the expectation of many being baptized next February. He is reaching four other towns with similar results.

“Mr. Keller is also a good young people’s leader. While in Bible school at Muhlenberg he used to teach catechetical classes in the E.V. Day Girls’ School and Muhlenberg Boys’ School. Nowadays if Teacher Keller visits either of these schools, the pupils rise and cheer and then surround him. So he used the same talents in Totota.”

By 1945 Pastor Keller went to Muhlenberg to complete his theological training year and returned to Totota to join Pastor Joseph Diggs. They graduated and worked with Pastor Bowers.

In 1946 he met a charming young lady called Louise Brown who was a nurse. They fell in love and married that year. Pastor Keller was highly delighted to marry a nurse. He had in the past hoped to become a medical doctor; since circumstances had not made it possible, he was happy to have a wife who would carry on the healing ministry. The young couple were assigned to Palakwelle where Mrs. Keller ran a clinic, while her husband carried on his evangelistic and educational missions. Their efforts were characterized by remarkable successes.

In 1947 Pastor Keller was ordained. During his mission in Palakwelle, he and his wife had their first three children: Winnidel, Joseph, and Daniel, in Palakwelle. The Keller’s suffered the misfortune of losing several relatives including Pastor Keller’s sister Yanga.

In 1952 they were transferred to Dobli Island—Haindii in particular. The missionary Miriam Miller was in charge of Kpolopele. The Keller’s worked with Ma Miller to conduct educational, medical, and evangelistic missions throughout Fuamah Chiefdom. In 1952 Pastor Keller was elected Vice President of the Lutheran Church in Liberia and as President in 1957 because of his tremendous contributions to the development and progress of the Church.

During his administration, the Lutheran Church experienced great strides in progress: Numerous schools and airstrips were built in many parts of the Central and Western Provinces, including Palakwelle, Kologbanei, Belefanai, Salayea, and Kpolopele, to facilitate the work of the church. He ably represented his church at conferences, including the Lutheran World Federation held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, U.S.A. in 1957 and the All Africa Lutheran Conference in Madagascar in 1958.

In Haindii the Keller’s were blessed with four more children: Ezra Jr., Nathan, Ruth and Jerry.

One of the tragic ironies of life is that great men often have great weaknesses. So it was with Pastor Keller in 1968 he was asked to resign his post as President of the Lutheran Church of Liberia because of drinking and extramarital affairs that came to the attention of the Executive Council of the Church. “I admitted and confessed my action,” Pastor Keller declares in his autobiographic. “And when I was asked, ‘What shall we do?’ I declared that I was not worthy to continue in the ministry.”

Pastor Keller went to great length to explain how he repented of his sin and openly confessed it to a number of congregations in the Church. This positive attitude of his was obviously an act of faith and courage; courage, because it takes great man to admit his mistakes and take responsibility for them. Faith – because he was assured of God’s infinite love and mercy; perhaps his fellow Christians would learn from his mistakes and live right in the sight of God; perhaps they might understand his troubles – regrettably some might not understand. One man he knew would understand was the Lord Jesus Christ and it was his understanding that mattered.

This unfortunate development never deterred Pastor Keller from serving his Lord and Savior. He helped establish the Bong Community Church at Bong Mines, continued his preaching ministry. A tragedy hit the family when their son Daniel Keller drowned in St. Paul River in 1965. These family tragedies took a heavy toll on the health of his dear wife who developed heart trouble and died in 1968. Pastor Keller himself developed eye trouble in 1969 which led to complete loss of sight.

His life cannot be measured in terms of financial dollars of material success. He was a man for others. He embraced life with all his might and gave all he had to it. If success is to be measured it is in what you do for your country rather than what it does for you. We must say that Ezra Dahn Keller Sr. lived his life to leave indelible imprints on the lives and progress of countless numbers of his fellow countrymen.

Rev. Ezra D. Keller passed away on June 9, 1995 at the home of Rev. Byron Z. Traub on Cheeseman Avenue, Fiamah, Monrovia, Liberia. He leaves behind family, relatives and friends who are deeply grateful for his hard work, love, compassion and self-sacrifice, generously given to all. This includes large number of Kellers and Traubs, the Daniel B. Warner family, the Suakweli family and many others.

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