On June 1, 1854, the newly-created United Brethren mission board–the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society–met in Westerville, Ohio. Their first action was a big one: “Resolved, That we send one or more missionaries to Africa as soon as practicable.”
They appointed Rev. W. J. Shuey, pastor of a UB church in Cincinnati, as the first missionary to Africa. As a minister in Scioto Conference (southern Ohio), Shuey had been beating the drum for mission work for some time. Scioto had formed its own Home Missionary Society on May 8, 1838, to take the Gospel to “destitute” parts of the conference. But they were also thinking about countries beyond North America. Other conferences formed similar groups.
Back then, the American frontier continually pushed westward, and there was a lot of unreached territory. So when folks raised the idea of foreign missions, people argued that we had more than enough opportunities at home. But other denominations had launched mission work in other countries, and we felt some peer pressure. Maybe, we thought, the United Brethren Church should be looking overseas, too–Africa, China, Europe, and elsewhere.
In 1841, General Conference created a denominational Missionary Society to take the Gospel not only to the American frontier, but to “the heathens in foreign lands.” Persons were appointed to a mission board, but their purpose must have been too vague, because after four years, they had done nothing. The 1845 General Conference appointed another board, but as historian William McKee wrote, “It did nothing, it undertook nothing.” Likewise in 1849.
Finally, in 1853, they got serious. General Conference not only appointed a mission board, but also adopted a constitution, elected a board, and chose officers with specific duties.
Where should they go first? Everyone agreed they should go where the need was greatest. India and China were among the countries mentioned. But they settled on Africa, and specifically Sierra Leone. That fall, Shuey and two other men set sail for Sierra Leone to spy out the land.
They found opportunities for ministry in the city of Freetown, where other groups were also ministering, but that didn’t appeal to them. McKee wrote, “They were unwilling to build on another man’s foundation. Hence, they determined to go out into some darker place and hold forth the lamp of life.” So they headed to the southern part of the country and found locations where nobody else was spreading the Gospel.