September 15 has significance for our first two Overseas bishops. Duane Reahm (right), who served as bishop 1969-1981, was born on this date in 1917. His successor, Jerry Datema, passed away on this date in 1994.
Many UB churches have come and gone over the years. Interestingly, Reahm spent his life and career in United Brethren churches that, with one exception, remain today…though in different form.
Reahm grew up in the Halladay UB church, which later merged with what is today Sunfield UB church in Michigan. He entered Huntington College in 1935 to become a teacher, but committed his life to Christ as a student and began studying for the ministry.
He started out with three years in Kalamazoo–the only church which no longer remains. That was followed by three years in Fort Wayne, Ind., at Third Street UB church–what is today called Anchor. Then he became pastor of a three-church circuit in Willshire, Ohio–what is now Praise Point UB church. He then spent 13 years in Grand Rapids, Mich., at Banner Street church–today’s Banner of Christ Church.
In 1961, he began 20 years in the denominational office–eight years as director of missions, followed by 12 years as bishop, most of it supervising the Overseas District.
We already told much of Duane Reahm’s story on March 19, the date of his death. He chose to retire in 1981, and he and Leona had planned to do some traveling. But that never happened. Shortly after retiring, Reahm was diagnosed with ALS–Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
Something similar happened to his successor.
In 1981, Jerry Datema (right) concluded 20 years of overseas missionary service–six terms in Sierra Leone, one term in Jamaica. He served the next 12 years as the Overseas Bishop, and chose to retire from that role in 1993. He and Eleanore had planned to move to Jamaica to work with the national church in leadership development. Their missionary barrels were already en route to Jamaica. Then illness crashed in.
He’d been experiencing problems for several months, including some weight loss and lack of appetite. A battery of tests in August 1993 proved inconclusive. Then, in September 1993, exploratory surgery revealed the presence of inoperable abdominal cancer. He began a two-month program of chemotherapy. But it was terminal. He would not make another trip to Jamaica. However, the Lord granted Jerry Datema another year of life, during which he spent much valuable time with Eleanore, their four children, and their eight grandchildren. He also devoted much time to writing a history of the United Brethren work in Jamaica. If he couldn’t be there, he would write about it.
The end came very peacefully and without pain on a Thursday afternoon. For several days, his physical condition had been deteriorating rapidly. However, he was able to remain in his upstairs bedroom in their house in Huntington, as he had wished.
Eleanore, along with sons Tom and Dave, were with him when he died. Kyle McQuillen, Director of Missions, spent time with his predecessor that morning. Dr. Richard and Miriam Prabhakar, good friends on furlough from India, visited during the day. So did June Brown, with whom he had served throughout his ministry in Sierra Leone.
Brent Birdsall knew Bishop Datema in several capacities—first as a fellow missionary, then as his bishop, and ultimately, as one of his parishioners at College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind. At the memorial service, he commented on the six months Jerry Datema spent traveling from village to village to preach in evangelistic meetings in Sierra Leone. He was accompanied by two blind African pastors—one playing the accordion, the other preaching.
“Jerry was involved in the ministry of telling people about Jesus Christ. I have talked to him over a number of years about a number of issues of ministry, but I think the ministry he probably enjoyed the most was those six months of evangelistic ministry in the villages of Sierra Leone. He did all kinds of other ministry. He had higher profile positions. But somehow, there was that tone of voice, or maybe there was that look in his eye, as he almost put himself back in the villages around Bumpe and Mattru and Gbangbaia. And somehow, in that elementary but essential work of proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Jerry was at his best.”