As a young man in a war-torn country, the Rev. Henry Peabody had the opportunity to come to the United States to further his education in the late 1990s. Today, the Mercer University alumnus strives to return the kindness shown to him through mission work in Liberia.
Peabody was a teenager when civil war broke out in Liberia, a conflict that would continue for nearly 15 years and displace millions of people into neighboring countries. Unable to return to his home and separated from his family, Peabody fled to Ghana and lived in a refugee camp for several years.
When he returned to Liberia in 1996, he forged a friendship with a Georgia pastor named the Rev. Dr. Michael Helms, who was there on a mission trip. They stayed in touch, even as Peabody went back to Ghana during the second wave of the Civil War.
Peabody said he dreamed of going to college in America, and Dr. Helms navigated many hurdles to make that happen for him. Peabody received a scholarship to attend Truett McConnell College in Cleveland, Georgia, for his associate’s degree and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a minor in Christianity at Mercer and a master’s degree in human services administration at Wilmington University in Delaware.
While a student at Mercer, Peabody traveled to Liberia a couple times to minister to schoolchildren.
“That’s when I realized a lot of people did not have safe drinking water in Liberia. The village I came from, it was devastating,” he said. “They did not have clean water to drink, and people were dying from water-borne illnesses. I could not change the whole village, but I could provide something sustainable that would be helpful to them.”
Peabody had hoped to return to Liberia after graduating from Mercer in 2002 to give back to his country, but the war prevented him from moving back permanently. So he relocated to Bensalem, Pennsylvania, about 30 minutes from New Jersey, in 2004, where his parents had settled.
He has served as a social worker in Philadelphia and a staff member at a church in Trenton, New Jersey. He currently works as a family service specialist investigator for the state of New Jersey’s Department of Child Protection and Permanency. He began to focus on mission work in Liberia about five years ago with Liberia Mission Outreach International, the organization he founded.
Peabody, now an ordained Southern Baptist minister, raises funds and builds community partnerships from Pennsylvania and travels to Liberia two to three times a year with a team to work on construction projects, share the gospel, and help with other needs. He has received donations for his organization from across the United States, including Pennsylvania, Georgia, New Hampshire, Ohio and North Carolina.
“We go into villages, we build these clean water (pumps), but we also spend time sharing the Gospel, and we work with young children as well,” said Peabody, who has three children with wife Louise.
Liberia Mission has built more than 25 water wells with hand pumps in more than eight counties, providing clean water to thousands of villagers in the process. The organization has also built two school buildings, including in the Owensgrove district in Grand Bassa County where Peabody grew up. The school he once attended was damaged during the war and no longer had a roof.
“We have been able to change the lives of those children by not only providing clean water but by building a school and giving them opportunity,” Peabody said. “When you see those villages and those towns have changed, when you see a mother who is no longer drinking from a pond but drinking clean water that is saving her life, it makes a big difference, and it continues to motivate you to do more.”
In addition, Liberia Mission has built latrines; donated food, school supplies and personal hygiene products; provided medical services and medications; and awarded educational scholarships to Liberian students. Three years ago, the organization brought a young man to Massachusetts for a complex surgery that he needed. In 2022, the organization rebuilt a home for a woman who was caring for orphaned children.
In recognition of his work in Liberia, Peabody was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by the Liberia Baptist Theological Seminary.
“When we go into these places and there is a need, we pray over it and see how the Lord provides a blessing. It has really been rewarding,” Peabody said. “We are basically everywhere, doing what we can to help. I was given an opportunity at Mercer. Looking back at that opportunity, you don’t just hold it … you go back and share it with other people who need it. That’s one of the things that Mercer did for me.”