April 30, 2022
“A tree has fallen! A tree has fallen! A young man said to his father”. The old man looked and walked in the direction of the fallen tree. “This is not just a tree”, he said to his son. This is a tree of all trees. It is an Iroko Tree”! – The great Tree is the irreplaceable Bishop Dr. William Benjamin Garmonsor Kporkpah Harris of the International Christian Fellowship Ministries (ICF) of Atlanta.
The Indomitable Role of the Iroko Tree in African Culture
Iroko Tree (also known as ọ́jị̀ in Igbo language, ‘uloho’ in the Urhobo language of Southern Nigeria, and as odum in the Kwa languages of Ghana) is a large hardwood tree from the west coast of tropical Africa that can live up to 500 years.
It grows in the tropics of Africa, particularly on the west coast in countries like Ghana, Guinea, Angola, Benin and Mozambique. While it’s also known as Nigerian or African Teak; the Iroko Tree is not in the teak family. In fact, the timber actually compares very favorably to teak, making it an increasingly popular and more affordable alternative.
The strength, durability and rot resistance of Iroko timber give it a number of potential applications, ranging from construction, furniture and joinery to paneling, boat building and flooring. Iroko wood was also chosen for the pews in the Our Lady of Peace Basilica. Iroko can also be used in herbal medicine, with the bark milled down and used to treat coughs and even heart problems, while the latex can clear stomach and throat obstructions. https://www.thorogood.co.uk/about/meet-the-team/
Born to Serve God and Humanity
In fact, William ‘Bill’ Harris was on Tuesday, April 11, 1953 in Suakoko, Bong County, Liberia on to the union of Hon. Melville F. Harris, Sr. (Agriculturist) of Greenville, Sinoe County and Mrs. Josephine Caranda Harris (Registered Nurse) of the Royal House of Bokomu, Liberia. He was the last of six children and was born when his parents were advanced in age; and could not speak until he was seven years of age.
William “Bill” Harris obtained his early education at the Mid-Liberian Baptist Mission School and the Totota Lutheran Mission in Totota, Liberia. Later on, he attended Booker Taliaferro Washington Institution (BWI) where he earned a Diploma in Electronics Technology. In the U.S., he obtained a BSEE degree in Electrical Engineering from Tuskegee University, Alabama. In addition, he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree, as well as a Master of Divinity degree from the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta.
While a student at Tuskegee University, Alabama, William “Bill” Harris came in contact with Emma Brandy and Queeta Etmonia Tolbert. From there on, he took interest in Queeta. He volunteered to driver them shopping and wherever they had to go. Bill did it for Emma to ‘burn his wire’ for Queeta to become his date. At first, Queeta gave Bill the run around; but with Bill’s persistence, she finally accepted to be his girlfriend and they got married August 16, 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia. Their union of 41 years produced seven children; and as the saying goes, the rest is history!
I met Pastor Harris in 1982 when I relocated to Georgia from Washington, DC. When we met, I noticed he and I had the same commitment to advocate for the rights and justice for all peoples, especially Liberians, since then, he and I became close inseparable buddies. We traveled together to New York, Washington, DC, Boston, Massachusetts, Connecticut, downtown Atlanta, Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tulsa, Oklahoma to rally and protest along with the Georgia Chapter (now LAMA) of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) against atrocities, injustices, abused of power and corruptions committed by authorities in our beloved country Liberia.
At one time in 2018, I was asked the question: What ICF reminds you of? Without hesitation, I respond on September 29, 2018 I wrote my answer to the question. I said in my response that ICF reminds me of a QUILT. To me, quilt represents togetherness, inclusiveness, and above all, FELLOWSHIP.
Quilt brings together lots of different elements that are made from different pieces of cloth. Quilt epitomizes the spirit of togetherness, which the International Christian Fellowship Ministries (ICF) truly represents – ordinary people meeting their spiritual, cultural, social and economic needs. Moreover, quilt produces comfort. The bright colors elevate ones mood! It is comforting in itself as a provider of warmth and by being handmade adds the individual’s personal touch – from concept (dream) to reality. The mood it produced is always cheerful (fellowship) and comforting. This is what ICF is to me. Besides Bishop William BGK Harris whom God gave the vision, his late mother-in-law Deaconess Victoria Dunn Tolbert epitomizes what a quilt truly means to me: warm, caring, friendliness, personal relationship, and overall, inclusiveness, that is what QUILT does in our experiences as human beings on this earth and in the ICF Ministries.
Elder Queeta calls me Brother Siah! One day she said to me, “I see why you and my husband get along so well; your share the same junk collecting hobby” (papers). My wife Pastor Lulu too, refers to me in similar manner. But what both of our spouses find hard to understand is, we are two of the same; we are researchers and writers; from Bishop’s junk (material he gathered), he wrote his Sermons, and from my junk (material I gathered) I write numerous researched articles and stories (I write Monthly and Quarterly Articles’ Updates which I sent emailed to individuals). For us, it is more of a passion to communicate than a hobby. Now Bishop has left me to join our ancestors, I remain the “Lone Ranger”, which will be difficult for me to handle; but I believe GOD will see me through this loneliness.
Results of His Passion
Bishop Harris’ Passion has produced over 20 religious and cultural books and community activism. The titles of some of his books are: “West African Traditional Gospel Music Documentary (with A Companion to A West African Gospel Musical CD/DVD Combo)”; “Walking Into Our Sanctification To Crossover Into Our Wonders (Joshua 3 Series, Volume 5)”; “It Is Your Season to Recover Your Cutting Edge – Sermon Series – Volume 3”; “Spiritual Lessons From Road Signs, Volume 7”; “By His Stripes We Are Healed: A Practical Handbook For Healing & Deliverance Through Faith By Studying And Applying The Word Of God”, and “Liberia’s Cultural Great Treasuries: Historic Overview, Customs, Proverbs, Spider Stories & Facts”.
Bishop Harris conducting the Wedding between Pastor Lulu Vera Cassell & Elder Siah on May 1, 2016
On October 5, 1986, a later over 35 years ago, he and few Liberians and Americans founded the International Christian Fellowship Ministries (ICF) in him and his wife’s small apartment located in Tucker, Georgia, and he was selected by the group as the Senior Pastor.
The organization became an extended family Ministries; where everyone is related through Yala, Glapo, Nyesuah – Almighty God, our Creator. Bishop was an individual who defied mortal people’s FEAR; and come Rain, Wind, Snowstorm, Blizzard, Tornado or Hurricane, when his help is needed, he would show up whether the person is a member of the ICF Ministries. Because of his love and the concern he had for everyone – he is referred to as “The People’s Pastor” in the Community and beyond. In 1988, he chose as his assistant, Rev. Theophilus K. Massaquoi; it was unanimously approved by the Board of Elders.
Under Bishop’s leadership, ICF operates as an international/interdenominational church, with a membership that grew from fifteen to over five hundred. Our membership consists of individuals from the United States, Jamaica, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Ivory Coast. The ministries are all about assisting “ordinary people meet their spiritual, cultural, social, and economic needs.” Since 1986, ICF has functioned as the engine of Atlanta’s Black community, moving individuals to serve the greater Pan-African community through welfare to work, adult education, computer training, clothing and food drives, scholarship funds, economic empowerment concerts and cultural exchanges. The ministries’ success is the result of the involvement and dedication of people who choose to reach out, connect, and uplift the lives of their brothers and sisters.
We worshipped in a tent for over two years and built a two-level brick building that we overgrew. Finally, we built our large Community Center that sits on eight acres property which is currently used for worship services and programs.
Pursuing the vision given to Bishop Harris and obeying the great commission of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ – to “Go Ye Therefore and Teach All Nations”; we took the leap of faith to establish the ICF Mission of Hope (MOH) in the Republic of Liberia, West Africa that gives hope to the needy. MOH operations include six churches, a school (k-9th), a mini clinic and agricultural project.
ICF Gwinnett was founded, and on August 27, 2017, ICF Gwinnett held its first worship service in Gwinnett County, GA with Rev. Clifford EB Hooke as the Head Pastor and Rev. Simeon T. Sepha as the Assistant Pastor. And on September 25, 2017, Rev. Dr. William BGK Harris was consecrated and ordained as ICF first Bishop during which a spiritually filled and uplifting service was held.
Since 1999, ICF has been operating a Bible Training Institute. Five of its first graduates are: Rev. Theophilus K. Massaquoi, Rev. Rasual Karnga, Rev. Victoria Gooding Harris, Rev. Gbegbe H. Fumbah and Rev. Simeon T. Sepha.
This reflects ICF’s mission statement that reads: “We are an instrument of God’s love and mercy, committed to our Spiritual growth, Cultural enhancement and Economic empowerment; working and walking in the footsteps of Jesus Christ; and planting Spiritual seeds for Christian Discipleship to the world”.
True to Bishop’s Iroko personalities and qualities of preaching and living by what he preached; he wrote and shared his sermon notes with not only his church family members; he emailed them to others as well. For these reasons he was referred to as a Good Husband & Father; Helper, True Friend, Peacemaker in the Home, among Family Members and in the Community; Accommodator, One Kind of a Person, Irreversible Character! ‘One Who Can Be Counted On’, Teacher, Uncle Boye, best Jolly Rice Cook in Georgia; Role Model, Brother, Community Prisoner, unselfish, Joseph (The Forgiver), Moses (The Lawgiver), Fearless, willing to share what he has with others; even boiling anti-freeze from his car that went in his eyes; knocked him ten feet from his car, sustained dislocated right shoulder could not stop him.
Some Words of Inspirations of Bishop Harris
According to him, “Once there is life, there is hope… “It is not over until God says it is over”. “When you take care of God’s business, He will take care of your business”. Bishop Harris was stubborn as a mule, and busy as a bee; he “Tried God and Found out He is Alright”; as the result, he dedicated his entire life to serve Him to the end.
More importantly, Bishop Harris rather not receives his salary in order for his staff to get theirs; because his main focus was for ICF to succeed. Considering all of these sacrifices and qualities of his; the officers and members felt indebted to him; therefore, decided to bare all his burial expenses to show our utmost appreciation to make his home going a celebratory event. And secondly, we promised to take good care of his darling wife of 42 years; the Mother of our Church, Elder Queeta Tolbert Harris, and to keep his Vision and Legacy alive.
Throughout of Bishop Harris’ life, he received countless awards and honors too numerous to mention in this tribute. His favorite Scripture is: Roman 8:28-31, and his favorite Hymn is ‘Blessed Assurance’.
Bishop is survived by his wife, Queeta Tolbert Harris; his children: Wilta F. Harris, Oliver Harris (Jandi), Lasanna Harris (Najah), Wiletta Harris, Wilneka Harris, Wilmonia Harris; his siblings: Melville F. Harris, Jr. (Erma), Charles B. Harris, Sr. (Victoria Gooding Harris), Melvilla Harris Noibi (Abayomi), Amelia Brown-Torbu, William E. Harris (Christina), Emma Gblee, Francis Harris, Rebecca Dumoe Scott, Enoh Cash (Cornelius), and Elizabeth Renner; his grandchildren: Halleli Harris, Haleima Harris, Hadara Harris, Luke Harris, Jude Harris and many other relatives and friends.
To continue Bishop Harris’ legacy, we must purchase his BOOKS, the funds and the financial contributions from individuals and organizations will be used to support his outreach ministry which includes the Mission of Hope (MOH) in Bong County, Liberia and the 3 sets of triplets he adopted in the County.
As one of the many who knew this great man, and served under his leadership, got to know him as a father; mentor, associate, confidant and leader. He was a teacher who shared the fountain of his knowledge freely. And while his untimely death was shocking and devastating to many people, to us – his flocks, the ICF family is prepared to carry on his Vision and Legacy.
Finally, Bishop Harris was not only my Pastor and teacher, he was my friend, brother and one I share the same passion of disseminating information freely. His sudden departure from this world has left a big vacuum and an irreparable damage to the hearts and souls of his family and friends. Words alone cannot describe how deeply the many lives he passionately touched will miss him.
I bid farewell to my Pastor, teacher, friend and brother in the LORD; he fought a good fight in the midst of the many problems in the world, today; therefore, death need not be proud, for there is nothing it could have done to STOP the course of his historic contributions before departing.
May his travel be smooth! And may he give our best regards to our brothers and sisters who went ahead of him to join our ancestors in Glory. Lastly, let me make it clear, if anyone wants to know about ICF, all he/she has to do, ask, the answer will be provided; because, transparency is the virtue Bishop Harris taught us live by and cherish.
May his Soul Rest in Perpetual Peace – Haven Has Gained “One Mighty Angle!”
In the Service of Our Lord Jesus Christ, I remain,
1st Chair of ICF Constitution Committee, ICF Historian, Secretary of the Board of Elders and Chair of the Culture Ministry
To God be the Glory!
NOTE: Internment Southview Cemetery, 1990 Jonesboro Road SE Atlanta, GA 30315
About The Author: Elder Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Sr. is a life-long activist (*troublemaker) in researching the true history of Africa, the people of African origin in the Diaspora. He had dedicated his teaching of African culture; spent over 48 years advocating for human, civil and constitutional rights of all people, especially, the Liberian masses. He is a Griot, poet, journalist and an ordained Minister of the Gospel. To keep TEH’S legacy and memory ALIVE, Elder Nyanseor joined other writers and became BLOJU TARTY TEH’S 2012 SCHOLAR. BLOJU TEH is the late Liberian Literary Genius, Writer, Storyteller, Human, Civil and Constitutional Rights Activist who hails from the village of Pallipo, River Gee County (1946-2012). You can read about Bloju Tarty Teh at http://blojlu.wordpress.com or contact Griot Elder Nyanseor at: [email protected] and [email protected]
*(BGK) Benjamin means “Son of the Right Hand” (Hebrew), Garmonsor means “Rock” (River Cess Bassa) and Kporkpor means “Teacher” (Gola/Kpelleh)