Israel Sloane

When we started a mission organization in 1853, it was called the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society. Rev. Israel Sloane pulled a trifecta. Before his tragic death at age 39 on August 31, 1863, he served in all three realms–the home front, the frontier, and in a foreign country. But not in that order.

Sloane started out as a United Brethren minister in southern Ohio. In October 1854, the Board of Missions sent him as a missionary to Canada. A non-UB minister named John Cornell (from the Cornell University family), who had been a minister in Ontario for over 40 years, was retiring and wanted to bring his churches under the United Brethren umbrella. Sloane became pastor of Cornell’s church in Sheffield, Ontario. Soon, several other ministers came up from the States.

In 1856, Bishop Jacob Glossbrenner organized the Canada Mission Conference with seven organized churches, 18 preaching points, nine licensed ministers, and 152 members. Growth came quickly. By 1863, membership had hit 1000.

But Israel Sloane stuck around for just four years. In 1858, the Board of Missions sent him to California. Sloane and his family traveled by ship from New York to San Francisco (it took 24 days), and rode a steamer up a river to Sacramento. Before leaving New York, Sloane wrote a letter to the editor of the denominational publication, The Religious Telescope.

“Even up to the present time, I feel more attached to and more concerned about the work in Canada than any other place to which I have ever been appointed. I would still love to labor in Canada, but I am reminded that the field is the world; and while we have a number of good missionaries in Canada…California is without one of our missionaries.”

That’s how he saw himself—as a missionary. He had done the Home (Ohio) and Foreign (Canada) parts. Now he was off to the Frontier (California).

On December 10, Sloane wrote, “I have been in California 40 days and I preached 23 times. A few souls have been converted and reclaimed.”

Three months later, Sloane was the single father of three kids; his wife died on March 2, 1859, of tuberculosis. But in May 1860, after an eight-week trip to the East, he returned to California with a new wife. The work continued to expand, with Sloane leading the way. In 1861, he had the joy of seeing the 1861 General Conference organize the California Mission Conference. First Canada, now California.

On June 23, 1863, Sloane began the journey to visit some troubled churches in the Sacramento Valley. He spent one night at a home near Knoxville. He put his horse in the coral with a mustang, which proceeded to kick his horse in the leg, breaking it. Another horse was available. He had misgivings about it, but was assured the horse would be safe to ride.

As he descended the Cache Creek Mountains, the horse began running down the steep grade. Sloane couldn’t stop the horse, and couldn’t jump off, lest he tumble down a precipice. He was thrown at the bottom of the hill, where he was eventually found, seriously injured. He was taken 35 miles to a home, where he spent the next three weeks recovering from his injuries. He then continued on to the Sacramento Valley. But he was not well.

His new wife was worried when he didn’t arrive back when expected. Had Indians got him (there were stories of ministers dodging arrows during their trips)? Had he tangled with highwaymen, as often happened? She finally received a letter from Israel saying he was coming home…but he didn’t come. He sent another letter on August 1, saying he would start the return journey on August 6. But she waited in vain. He never mentioned his physical problems.

Around midnight on August 30, a rider approached the home and knocked on the door. He told Mrs. Sloane that her husband had arrived in Eureka on a steamboat, sick and near death, and had been carried into a hotel. She reached his side at 4 a.m., and was with him when he died shortly thereafter.

The work in California was sorely lacking in workers, and now they had lost their leader. Some voices suggested we pull out and leave California to the many other churches ministering there. But Bishop Daniel Shuck, who had pastored for four years in California, disagreed. During a six-month visit to California during the spring and summer of 1864, he rallied and revived the demoralized church. He discovered that many people were attracted to the United Brethren positions against slavery and freemasonry, and didn’t feel comfortable in other churches which had made room for both.

Shuck wrote:

“While other denominations have been troubled, perplexed, and torn in pieces in adjusting themselves to the varied and ever-changing demands of pros-slaveryism, the United Brethren in Christ, though little and seemingly unknown, always maintained with a scripturally enlightened conscientious firmness her anti-slavery principles, in theory and practice. And now, while the moral tone of pubic sentiment is being purified so as to demand non-fellowship with slavery in the civil compact, and many churches are making sudden revolutions and are wheeling into the ranks and are spreading the fact of their conversion to the four winds to catch the gale, the United Brethren in Christ are marching straight along, rejoicing to know that the world moves, and that the move is now in the right direction.”

Titus and Debbie Boggs

Rev. Titus J. Boggs passed away on August 29, 2011, in Harlan, Kent. He was 61 years old.

Titus served as director of Laurel Mission for 30 years, 1980-2010. He was described as “a big man with a big heart.” Hundreds of United Brethren, on short-term trips to Laurel Mission, fell in love with this man. And they all heard and loved the same stories. Like the one about Chief Running Bear and his daughter Falling Rock, who got lost in the mountains and was never found. That’s why, Titus would conclude deadpan, many signs along the roads said, “Watch for Falling Rock.”

Titus would hold a straight face for several seconds, but then slowly crack a sly grin, and people would know they’d been had.

Titus loved the Lord deeply, and loved the people who lived up and down Greasy Creek.

When Titus was born in 1950, both of his parents, Alvin and Ruth Boggs, worked for Laurel Mission. Alvin grew up there, born just three miles down the road from the current mission house. Ruth, who grew up in the Colwood UB church in Caro, Mich., arrived in 1943 as a missionary teacher. Alvin returned from the Army in 1946, and he and Ruth were married that August.

“Being a preacher’s kid, I was expected to live a certain way,” Titus once said. “I was religious on the outside, but I didn’t have a change of heart until my freshman year of high school. Some wonderful, godly teachers were a great influence on my life.”

Titus and Debbie, an Iowa girl, met at Kentucky Mountain Bible Institute. They married in 1973, and spent the next year at Asbury College, where Titus majored in Bible and social work. After that, Titus worked a year in the Public Assistance Office in Lexington. And then they moved back “home,” serving as dorm parents at Pine Mountain Settlement School, where Titus attended grades 1-9 and where his father worked.

In August 1980, Bishop Raymond Waldfogel came for a visit. Titus had been assistant pastor under mission superintendent M. E. Burkett. Now the Burketts were leaving. Would Titus and Debbie take their place? Titus said no; he and a partner had just started a little coal mine and bought a coal truck. But he kept thinking about it. And when Bishop Waldfogel asked again in December, Titus said, “We’ll give it a try.” They moved into the almost-new parsonage in January 1981.

In October 2010, Titus went on medical leave as director of Laurel Mission–he had suffered from diabetes and other physical problems–but he continued as senior pastor of Little Laurel Bible Church. His son, Nathan, who had been serving as the mission’s youth pastor, became executive director of Laurel Mission on October 8, 2010. Debbie Boggs, wife of Titus, became the new associate director of Laurel Mission.

On August 25, 1961, Wilber L. Sites, Jr., was ordained as a United Brethren minister. The service occurred at Rhodes Grove Camp in his hometown of Chambersburg, Pa.

Sites graduated from high school in 1944, entered the US Army, and served in the Pacific Theater during the final year of World War II in both the Philippines and Korea. He and Mossie were married in 1946, and he worked for a while at the Letterkenny Army Depot in Chambersburg. Then God called him into the ministry.

They were in Huntington, Ind., 1954-1961 while he earned his bachelor’s and Master of Divinity degrees from Huntington College. During that time, he held two pastorates: 1954-1956 at Hopewell UB church (Auburn, Ind.), and 1957-1961 at the Willshire and Zion churches (Willshire, Ohio).

Then it was back to Chambersburg, where he expected to serve two years as associate pastor under Dr. Clyde W. Meadows at King Street UB church. However, Meadows was elected bishop earlier that summer, and he served those two years under the new pastor, Paul Baker.

Sites served six years, 1963-1969, as pastor of Mount Pleasant UB church in Chambersburg. In 1969, when George Weaver was elected bishop, Sites took his place as pastor of Otterbein UB church in Waynesboro, Pa. He remained there for eight years. Then, in 1977, General Conference chose him as a bishop to replace, once again, George Weaver, who had stepped down from the bishopric to become president of Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio.

During his first eight years as bishop, 1977-1985, Sites oversaw the West District, which required lengthy trips—often a month—to the West Coast and back, visiting various United Brethren churches along the way. In 1985, he was stationed on the Central District and Bishop Clarence Kopp took over the West District. In 1986, he received the Doctor of Ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.

Bishop Sites chaired the Thursday session of the 1989 General Conference. At the end of the day, he gave these farewell remarks:

“Next to the new birth experience, the highest calling for any individual is to be called as a minister of the Gospel. I’ve always felt that when God called me into the ministry, he called me into the world’s highest vocation. To me, the call of the church has been God’s call as well.

“I was humbled when this church elected me as a bishop. It’s been a tremendous challenge, a wonderful experience, and a great privilege. No words can express how grateful I am to God and to the Church of the United Brethren in Christ for giving me the privilege of serving as one of your bishops for these twelve years. Our lives have been deeply enriched by our experiences working on the West and Central districts.

“We’ve had times of joy, happiness, praise; but times of disappointment, too, because we didn’t always see what we felt God wanted to see accomplished. There were times when I felt so inadequate, and realized that whatever was accomplished was done only because of God’s power.”

Wilber and Mossie originally planned to move back to Pennsylvania and enter semi-retirement. But the “semi-retirement” part changed when a new opportunity arose. After his term ended in August 1989, he became associate pastor of Otterbein UB church in Waynesboro, Pa., the church he pastored when he was elected bishop in 1977. The idea excited him.

Bishop Sites retired in December 1998 as part-time Minister of Visitation at Otterbein. The following September, he and Mossie headed to teach and minister at Jamaica Bible College in Mandeville, Jamaica. They spent six years there, and also squeezed in three months as volunteers in Macau in 2000.

Bishop Sites passed away December 28, 2010, at his home in Chambersburg, Pa. He was 84 years old.

On August 14, flooding and a landslide in Freetown, Sierra Leone, resulted in the deaths of more than 400 people, and left thousands bereft of shelter, clothing, food, and safe drinking water. The dead include a number of United Brethren people from our churches in Freetown.

Some have been asking what they can do in response to the devastation. Rev. John Pessima, bishop of Sierra Leone Conference, sent the following update.

We have some of our members whose relatives died in the incident. Some bodies were discovered, and some are still missing. The wife of our national men’s ministry president, Mr. Christopher Mattia, is still missing eleven family members. A steward at the Au Memorial United Brethren Church at Kissy, Madam Sia Mannie, lost all three of her children. Hawa Conteh, a nurse at the Mattru Hospital, lost seven of her relatives in the same house. None of these have been found. We are still investigating as the search is ongoing.

All heads of churches were called on by the government to visit the site and agree on what to do as a church. We are to send to our partners and request assistance for our members whose relatives died in this ugly incident. Locally, we have started making appeals in our local churches for used clothing.

On behalf of the conference, I am appealing to United Brethren around the world for assistance in any form for families of the victims, and for the survivors who are still on the streets without food, safe drinking water, shelter, and clothing.

I am attaching pictures I took at the site during the heads of churches visit. Paramount among these is your prayers for our nation. We have suffered a lot, from civil war to Ebola and now landslide and flood. God bless you as you remember us in your prayers.

Donations can be sent through UB Global. Mark a check as “Sierra Leone Relief” and send to:

UB Global
302 Lake Street
Huntington IN 46750

You can also go here to give online. Select “2-9898 Sierra Leone – Special Projects,” and indicate in the comments box that your gift is for “Sierra Leone Relief.”

The Administration Building, now Becker Hall, as it looked in 1897.

The Administration Building, now Becker Hall, as it looked in 1897.

The August 18 post got missed thanks to vacation scheduling. Since no other “On This Day” item is scheduled for today (August 23), we’ll post it now.

In 1896, our de facto “denominational” college was Hartsville College south of Indianapolis, Ind. It was under the control of a board of trustees sympathetic to, but not accountable to, the United Brethren church. The denominational Board of Education wanted a college directly under its control, so they began looking around. Then, out of the blue, they received an offer too good to refuse.

A group called the Huntington Land Association, headed by a United Brethren minister who was also a contractor, wanted to develop an area north of Huntington, Ind., just outside the city limits. They used an arrangement which was not uncommon back then. There would be 262 lots in what was called the College Park Addition. These lots would sell for an average of $225. Here’s the deal: if the church would sell 102 of the lots, the Huntington Land Association would donate land for a college and spend at least $35,000 to erect a building.

We would basically be getting a college for free. A contract between the Huntington Land Association and the denomination was signed on March 11, 1896. Hartsville’s president, Bishop Halleck Floyd, protested on behalf of the Hartsville trustees, but in vain. The contract was signed. And thus began Central College–to be renamed Huntington College 20 years later.

Construction on what became the Administration Building started almost right away, and the foundation was completed by August. That meant they could lay the cornerstone.

That happened on August 18, 1896. It was a big event, with about a thousand people coming out. Two days before, a Chicago evangelist had conveniently concluded several weeks of revival meetings in Huntington. They moved his tent, platform, and chairs to the college site for the ceremony. A band from Huntington played music.

All of the bishops took part in the ceremony—Milton Wright, Horace Barnaby, Halleck Floyd, and Henry Becker. The cornerstone was a two-foot-square white marble block. Wright put a number of items into it: a Bible, a history of the United Brethren church, an 1893 UB Discipline, a copy of the Christian Conservator church paper, Sunday school quarterlies, the 1896 United Brethren yearbook, the business card of the contractor, and other papers. Two stone masons helped Wright position the cornerstone. And there it remained for 100 years.

The cornerstone was opened in 1997 during the college’s centennial year, and the time capsule was removed. Copies were made of all documents and placed in the Archives for a while. Then everything was returned to the time capsule–copies, in some cases, since insects had partially eaten some documents–and the time capsule was placed back in the cornerstone.

What about Hartsville College? On June 15, 1896, the Hartsville board of trustees voted to suspend operations for a year, and got on board with Central College. They gave the denominational Board of Education, which doubled as the Central College board of trustees, all of Hartsville’s books, records, student grades, etc. On January 30, 1898, fire destroyed the Hartsville building (possibly arson). No going back.

On Wednesday, August 22, 1980, Sierra Leone missionary teacher Jill Van Deusen couldn’t get out of bed.

The day before, she had told Dr. Ron Baker that she was experiencing weakness in her right hand. The sudden paralysis shocked Dr. Baker, and he wondered what they could do at Mattru Hospital, a minimally equipped bush hospital. How would they keep her breathing if her respiratory muscles became paralyzed? Could she survive being evacuated from the country?

He consulted, by radio, doctors in Freetown and at the Wesleyan hospital at Kamakwie; a doctor from the Catholic hospital in Serabu came to Mattru. They all agreed that Jill probably had Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare disease of the spinal cord, and that she needed to leave for Freetown immediately.

All of the missionaries pitched in. Judy Hoath ran the outpatient clinic. Sharon Frank took the Catholic doctor back to Serabu. Sharon Birdsall gathered the necessary drugs and medical equipment. Dennis Burkholder and Scott Taylor ran lab tests on Jill. Tina Wilkins helped care for Jill. Phil Fiedler made last-minute mechanical repairs on the hospital van. Cathy Jordan packed Jill’s things, and Jane Baker packed for Ron. Throughout the day, many Africans came to show their concern.

They removed the middle seat from the hospital van to accommodate a stretcher. Then, after a prayer time, Ron Baker and Sharon Birdsall, along with an African driver, began the long journey to Freetown. Cathy Jordan and another African followed behind in a Suzuki jeep. The bumpy dirt road jostled the stretcher, so they stopped several times to readjust it.

After two-and-a-half hours, they arrived in Bumpe, where Jerry Datema and June Brown were waiting. Datema offered a prayer before they continued the remaining 150 miles to Freetown. They arrived at Connaught Government Hospital in Freetown at 1:30 Thursday morning.

Jill’s paralysis hadn’t spread very much. Dr. Baker later wrote, “Her attitude in the face of near death and almost total paralysis revealed an underlying faith that we will never forget.”

Everyone agreed that Jill needed to be evacuated to a country where she could receive intensive medical care. They made arrangements for a flight on Friday morning. Ron realized he wouldn’t be able to care for Jill by himself, as previously planned, so he asked Sharon Birdsall to accompany him on the flight.

They got Jill used to breathing with the help of a hand-operated respiratory bag. As she grew accustomed to it, she relaxed and was able to breathe much more deeply than she could on her own.

Ron and Sharon kept busy the entire flight. Sharon stood on Jill’s right side with all the drugs and equipment, while Ron crouched in a seat behind Jill’s head. Every 2-3 minutes, he would hold the face mask snugly over Jill’s nose and mouth while Sharon squeezed the respiratory bag. Occasionally, they used a portable respirator, which delivered oxygen at a higher pressure so she could breathe more deeply. They kept her alive.

Within minutes of landing in Amsterdam, the waiting ambulance whisked them to the Wilhelmina Gasthuis medical center. Ron stayed there four more days, and was pleased by the excellent care Jill received. She seemed to be improving. Though still on a respirator, she was beginning to swallow liquids and slight movement had returned to her fingers.

Sharon stayed with Jill in Amsterdam. Jill was soon able to move her fingers and forearms, and then to breathe on her own for about ten minutes each hour…and then 30 minutes each hour. By September 15, she was moving her legs and sitting up in bed. Finally, she left the respirator entirely. During those weeks in Amsterdam, Jill received over 200 cards from people in Sierra Leone, North America, and Holland.

Jill and Sharon flew to the States on October 3. Sharon returned to Sierra Leone on October 10, while Jill continued to improve under regular physical therapy in Michigan.

Jill later wrote about that take-off from Freetown. “God comforted me with a dream. I saw our jet climbing, and I saw the curvature of the earth. We climbed higher until I saw the west side of the continent of Africa and we started veering west over the Atlantic toward the States. As we got higher, I noticed people standing around the globe in a ring, all holding hands. The jet went faster and faster. We started flying parallel with the people holding hands. No matter how fast we flew, the person next in view was already bowed in prayer. Only later did I know that by that time, people in the States had a fantastic safety net of prayer woven under me.”

Jill returned to Sierra Leone in September 1980, but her health didn’t hold up and she returned to the States in August 1981. She finished her career in Archbold, Ohio, as a teacher and library employee.

Jill Van Deusen passed away on May 23, 2013, at age 70.

An event called “UB Connected” will be held November 5-6, 2017, at Rhodes Grove Camp in Chambersburg, Pa. It is sponsored by the United Brethren Association.

The event begins at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Novemer 5, with a missions presentation by UB Global Dirctor Jeff Bleijerveld and Sierra Leone Bishop John Pessima. A business meeting will be held at 6 p.m., and Bishop Todd Fetters will speak at 7 p.m.

Bishop Emeritus Ray Seilhamer and Rev. Joe Abu will speak on Monday morning. The event concludes with a noon meal.

There is no cost to attend sessions. However, there are fees for meals and lodging.

You can register here.

The ruins of Lawrence, Kansas, after the raid.

The ruins of Lawrence, Kansas, after the raid.

Early on the morning of August 21, 1863, Confederate raider William Quantrill and about 450 guerrilla fighters descended on Lawrence, Kansas, a town of 3000 people which was considered an anti-slavery stronghold. During the next four hours, they massacred 185 men and boys–anybody big enough to carry a rifle–and left over 180 buildings burning.

The first person killed that morning was a United Brethren minister. Rev. Samuel Snyder was milking his cow on his farm outside of town when a couple guerrillas rode up and shot him three times. Since Snyder had ministered in Lawrence for nearly ten years, we can assume that other United Brethren men and boys were among those slain that morning.

As Kansas and Missouri were opened to settlers, the question was: when they achieved statehood, would they be pro-slavery or anti-slavery? The two sides clashed, often violently. United Brethren people were particularly conspicuous, since the denomination had taken a strong stand against slavery in 1821 and forbid members to own slaves.

Bishop Henry Kumler Jr. and Rev. Josiah Terrell visited southwestern Missouri in 1853. They preached in various places and organized several churches, which were organized in 1854 into the Southwest Mission Conference. Annual meetings were held until 1859, when the “violent and murderous frenzy” of pro-slavery people made it too perilous for our ministers and people. Historian Daniel Berger wrote, “The work was permitted to decline, and no further sessions were held until after the close of the [Civil] War.”

Historian William McKee wrote about the work in Missouri, “Hatred to the United Brethren Church by slaveholders, on account of her testimony against the institution of slavery, well nigh extinguished the work in that part of the state….Our preachers were compelled to leave the country and seek homes elsewhere.” But in northern Missouri, a conference was organized in 1858, with 358 members and nine locations. By the next spring, membership had grown to over 800.

Kansas, located to the north of Missouri, was more friendly to the anti-slavery cause. But not by much.

The first United Brethren missionary to Kansas was Rev. W. Cardwell, who came from Indiana in the early 1850s and started the first UB church in Kansas; it was located in Lecompton, about 50 miles west of Kansas City. He was soon joined by two ministers from western Pennsylvania, Samuel Snyder and J. S. Gingerich, who settled near Lawrence, about 15 miles from Lecompton.

Rev. J. C. Bright wrote in 1855: “The political sky in Kansas is cloudy at present, but freedom must in the end prevail. If Kansas should ever be a slave state, we ought not to abandon it. The gospel of Christ is light, and wherever the dark cloud of slavery is spread, there the light should be diffused. Through sore troubles and persecutions, our brethren continue to prosecute their work, frequently mobbed, waylaid, shot at, threatened, troubled on every side, but not in despair.”

In October 1857, in a meeting at the home of Rev. Snyder, Bishop David Edwards officially organized Kansas Conference with nine ministers and about 200 lay members.

Daniel Berger wrote that these United Brethren, even in the years before the Civil War, “literally passed through fire, being often waylaid and shot at by assassins, had their houses broken into, and were themselves dragged into prison. Their persecutors sought to intimidate them by threats and violence, and by repeated assaults to drive them out of this country. But they were brave men, after the true apostolic type, and continued to preach in the presence of armed foes, often themselves guarded by rifles in the hands of those who came to hear.”

According to one source, Snyder was the only active military officer killed in the raid. About 20 black recruits whom Snyder had recently enlisted into the Second Kansas Colored Infantry camped in Lawrence. All, upon hearing gunfire, were able flee to safety. However, 22 young white volunteers who had joined another regiment were sleeping in tents a few blocks away, and all but five of them were chased down and killed.

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer was a true pioneer preacher. He began his ministry in frontier settlements in Illinois and Wisconsin. In the years ahead, he would help extend the United Brethren church into three new states–Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

At age 33, he heard that the new Home, Frontier, and Foreign Mission Board was recruiting ministers to go to Oregon. He offered to go if the board would pay $150 of his expenses. They agreed. With that amount, Jeremiah and Elizabeth Kenoyer committed themselves–and their seven children, ages 12 to a few weeks–to the 2000-mile journey.

The Kenoyers were penniless when they reached the Willamette Valley in Oregon. A grandson wrote that they left one or two milk cows with a ferryman because they couldn’t pay him. The Kenoyers immediately went to cousin Rev. Jesse Harritt, who lived near Salem. Kenoyer split rails and chopped wood to earn a living, and preached every night of the week and twice on Sundays.

Rev. T. J. Connor, who led the wagon train, once wrote, “I will put Jeremiah Kenoyer against any man I ever saw for the ability to call seekers to the altar or bring members into the church.”

Oregon Mission Conference was organized in 1855 and by 1861 had forty-eight preaching places and five hundred sixty-five members.

In 1868 (some sources say 1863), Kenoyer and his family–now 11 children, soon to be 13–moved to Washington Territory, where he continued as a pioneer itinerant until old age. He led efforts to establish what became Walla Walla Conference, and played a key role in sending workers from there to Idaho Territory in the 1870s.

The ministry ran deep in Kenoyer’s blood. His father was Rev. Frederick Kenoyer, and his mother was the daughter of Rev. J. G. Pfrimmer, who was instrumental in the UB church’s earliest days. Three sons, a son-in-law, and five grandsons of Jeremiah Kenoyer became ministers. One grandson, Fermin L. Hoskins, served as bishop 1905-1933.

Bishop Milton Wright, who spent two years in Oregon, recalled hearing Kenoyer preach a sermon in which he “ground into the very dust the pro-slavery prejudices which spurned a quarterblood negro from the school by simple protest; and yet it was so masterful as well as kindly done, that no one could be seriously offended.”

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer died on August 17, 1906, in the state of Washington.

When the 1900s began, the field superintendent in Sierra Leone was Rev. D. F. Wilberforce, a Sierra Leonean. He was replaced in November 1900 by an American, and missionaries held that role right up until 1985. Jerry Datema had been field superintendent until being elected bishop in 1981. He was determined, as bishop, to put Sierra Leoneans in charge of our oldest mission field.

Hong Kong and Nicaragua conferences had never had missionaries. Jamaica Conference was now under national leadership, and Honduras Conference would be there in a couple years upon the retirement of Archie Cameron.

“In Sierra Leone I believe the time has come for more nationalization,” Bishop Datema said in 1983. “We have to give the nationals more responsible positions and let them make some of the important decisions….I strongly feel that if we have nationals to do the job, it is wrong to be using missionaries.”

In August 1982, Bishop Datema appointed 15 Sierra Leoneans, plus missionary Ron Baker, to what he called the Future Planning Committee. He asked them to draw up their own proposals concerning the future of the field, looking 10-12 years down the road. They energetically jumped into the task under the chairmanship of John Labor, principal of Bumpe High School. They envisioned nationalizing all United Brethren work by 1996, with the possible exception of the hospital.

Kyle McQuillen (right), then a United Methodist pastor, was recruited in 1983 to become the new field superintendent in Sierra Leone. He and his wife, Mar Louise, had previously served two years as UM missionaries in Nigeria. They flew to Sierra Leone in late December 1983. His main task was the lead the field toward nationalization.

McQuillen began meeting with the Future Planning committee, which had already been working for a year-and-a-half. Things quickly came together. A few missionary roles had already been turned over to nationals–the Education office, leadership in our many schools, the Christian Education department. Even the position of secretary to the field secretary.

The Future Planning Committee settled on a structure with three positions. The General Superintendent, as the spiritual leader and the highest administrative authority, would be the closest thing to the present field secretary. He would be joined by an administrative assistant, and a director of Evangelism and Stewardship.

The Sierra Leone church couldn’t afford three new fulltime persons. But McQuillen said it could work if his $11,050 salary remained on the field after his position ended. It would be enough to provide salary, housing, travel, and medical care for the three fulltime nationals. In addition, McQuillen figured the Missions board would save up to $10,000 in missionary-related expenses—family airfare, shipment of goods to and from the field, pension, Social Security, medical allowances, and children’s allowances.

In July 1984, McQuillen gathered all of the missionaries in Mattru. They spent three hours going over the detailed proposals from the Future Planning Committee, and fully agreed with the nationalization plan. But several wondered if the Board of Missions would accept the proposals.

The Board meeting was only a few weeks away, in mid-August. They knew that if the plans were to be implemented, action had to be taken at that meeting. Someone raised the idea of McQuillen attending in person. Field secretaries didn’t normally attend meetings of the Board of Missions–especially not after having been on the field for just nine months. But this was special, even historic. To show their united support, the missionaries agreed to pay McQuillen’s travel expenses out of their own salaries.

The day before McQuillen left, Dr. Ron Baker called him on the radio and told him of one more way the missionaries had agreed to show their support. Every missionary had signed up for one day of prayer and fasting during the seven-day period McQuillen would be gone.

On August 16, 1984, Kyle McQuillen gave his presentation to the Board of Missions. He covered all of the bases and answered every question. He said the Sierra Leone church currently had the personnel to make it work, and emphasized that unless his salary remained on the field, the proposals would have to be shelved.

They were convinced. The Board unanimously passed the nationalization plans. They also picked up McQuillen’s travel tab.

It was a quick trip for McQuillen. He arrived August 11, attended a week of meetings, and flew back August 18. Didn’t even stop to visit his Stateside children. But it was a successful trip—successful, in that it eliminated his own job.

In December 1984, Rev. Henry Allie, a Sierra Leonean pastor, was elected as the first national General Superintendent.