On December 10, 1985, an historic annual conference began in Sierra Leone. Since the 1850s, when UBs first entered Sierra Leone, missionaries had been in charge of our work. Jerry Datema felt that needed to change, so when he became bishop in 1981, he appointed a group to plan for nationalization. That plan was implemented at the December 1985 conference.
Bishop Datema chaired the 1985 Sierra Leone Annual Conference, but as he later wrote, “National leaders really ran the show, rather than missionaries as in previous years.”
Rev. Henry Allie, a blind pastor, was elected to a three-year term as the first General Superintendent, the highest United Brethren leader in Sierra Leone. Joe Abu and Edward Morlai were chosen as officers to work at the national headquarters with Rev. Allie. A major shift toward youth occurred that year, as five senior pastors, including former superintendents, retired. Four younger conference superintendents took their place.
Figures from 1985 showed 4,553 members in Sierra Leone. United Brethren schools were reaching over 7000 students in 44 primary schools, and over 1000 students attended our four high schools. The hospital was going full steam.
Bishop Datema wrote in April 1986, “During annual conference, I thought, I don’t think any of us fully realize how much we have going for us in Sierra Leone.”
We had capable missionaries working hand-in-hand with the national church. Good camaraderie existed between nationals and missionaries, with mutual trust and openness. We had highly respected national leaders, many growing churches, an optimistic spirit, and much confidence.
Datema continued, “The Sierra Leoneans deeply desire to see the church grow. It is their church, and the fact that they have assumed responsibility has made a great difference.”