Kyle McQuillen: 1938-2020

Rev. Kyle McQuillen

Rev. Kyle McQuillen passed away on March 16, 2020. He was the United Brethren director of missions 1993-2001, during which time unprecedented international expansion occurred. Before that he was pastor of College Park UB church (Huntington, Ind.), an associate director of missions, and a missionary in Sierra Leone. Following is a chapter about McQuillen from “All for Christ,” Volume 2.

In August 2001, Kyle McQuillen retired after eight years as the United Brethren Director of Missions. His tenure saw the greatest overseas expansion in UB history, with new work started in Thailand, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, and Mexico.

When it comes to United Brethren missions, 2001 was the end of an era. Until that time, Huntington, Ind., was the United Brethren world headquarters, and the bishop was the bishop for the entire UB world. The 2001 General Conference changed all of that, formally establishing a structure with seven sovereign national conferences — the US, Canada, Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Hong Kong, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Those conferences chose their own leaders and administered their own affairs.

But prior to 2001, we were, basically, colonial. UBs around the world looked to that office building in Indiana. It was our Mecca.

For the conferences and mission districts outside of North America, the bishop was somewhat secondary. The person most visible to them was the Director of Missions. That’s who chaired their annual conference meetings, ordained their ministers, dispensed funds, and made numerous decisions regarding their work. A very powerful and influential person. A person whose constituency existed outside of North America, and who was highly esteemed there.

In 2001, the Director of Missions position changed in many ways. The title changed to Director of Global Ministries. But more significantly, the position was stripped of all authority in the national conferences. Now, the Director of Global Ministries came as an observer and as a partner to work alongside the national conferences.

Kyle McQuillen was the last Director of Missions when the position held a great deal of authority around the world. His eight years in that position were a wild ride.

From the Coal Mines to the Pastorate

Kyle and Mar Louise McQuillen both grew up in Philipsburg, a town in central Pennsylvania. Kyle was the son of a coal miner. From age twelve until he went to college, he and his brother ran Caterpillar bulldozers for the coal company, scraping topsoil off of coal for open-pit mining. They worked every weekend and through the summer, but neither wanted to spend a career doing that. Plus, the coal business petered out in central Pennsylvania, and a lot of companies went under. So while Kyle’s brother began a career with General Motors, Kyle headed for the ministry.

Kyle entered Lycoming College, a small Methodist liberal arts school of about 1200 students in Williamsport, Pa. After his freshman year, he traveled to England in 1958 and spent two years at the University of Exeter — his first taste of world travel. Then he returned to Lycoming for his senior year. In 1960, he proceeded to Wesley Seminary in Washington, D. C., earning a Master of Divinity degree. Meanwhile, Mar Louise became a Licensed Practical Nurse.

At age 19, Kyle began serving in the ministry. He started with stdent pastorates while in college, 1958-1963. After graduating from seminary in 1963, Kyle was ordained and became a fulltime pastor in Mercersburg, Pa.

In 1965, Kyle got a tremendous introduction to world missions. Dr. James Teeter, a surgeon friend from Waynesboro, Pa., asked Kyle if he would be interested in visiting United Methodist mission fields. He provided a substantial monetary gift which enabled Kyle to spend six weeks traveling around the world.

When Kyle returned, he and Mar Louise began talking about their shared interest in missions. They finally made themselves available to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which in 1968 accepted them for service in Nigeria.

But first, the Methodists required six months of orientation for new missionaries, including two weeks in a cross-cultural or ethnic context. Husbands and wives were assigned to different places. Kyle worked in Spanish Harlem — visiting homes, attending churches, and trying to grasp how people lived in a very poor, run-down community. Mar Louise spent her two weeks in a hospital for mentally handicapped children.

To Africa

In mid-1969, the McQuillens traveled to Africa. Because of the Biafran war raging in Nigeria at the time, they couldn’t get visas from the United States to Nigeria. So, they went to Sierra Leone, hoping to secure visas there. It took six months.

“It was a difficult period of trying to fill in the time as we waited for our visas,” Kyle said. They homeschooled their three kids and helped with the United Methodist national church in Sierra Leone.

“We almost gave up hope that our visas would come,” Kyle recalled. In fact, he was prepared to take a new job as the Director of Stewardship for the UMCs in Sierra Leone, beginning on January 1, 1970. He would work under the supervision of an African bishop. But on December 27, their visas arrived.

The McQuillens were sent deep into the Nigerian bush to a village called Zinna. In an area with a quarter-million people, they were the only Caucasians. Zinna was a quiet village in a nice setting. Though it was a hot part of the world, Zinna, located on a hill, tended to be relatively cool. The McQuillens lived in a cement block house with a tin roof and cement floor. No electricity. No running water; they carried water from a river a mile away. They lit kerosene lamps, cooked on a wood stove, and used a kerosene-powered refrigerator. Youngest daughter Janet’s playmates were all Africans.

The two older children, Keith and Susan, attended a boarding school 600 miles away. Kyle and Mar Louise saw them once every five-and-a-half months, when they would came to Zinna for about seven weeks.

Mar Louise, being a nurse, worked in village dispensaries that handled such things as childbirths, circumcisions, snakebites, malaria, and minor surgeries. Anything more difficult got referred to a hospital, though there was no hospital nearby.

Kyle worked with African pastors in the Hausa language (which he learned), training them as evangelists and pastors. He also taught English twice a week at a high school two hours away.

Three years into their term, Mar Louise contracted hepatitis. Because of the incubation period, they knew when she got it: during a communion service. That day, Kyle had waded into the dirty river, muck up to his knees, to help baptize 105 people. Afterwards, there was a communion service. Because they only had about a dozen cups, they kept reusing them — someone would drink, then they’d refill it for the next person. Mar Louise evidently caught hepatitis from someone who drank from the same cup.

Mar Louise spent five-and-a-half months in bed. She was jaundiced and lost a lot of weight. Finally, a doctor told them that if they stayed in Nigeria, she would die. So in 1972, one year short of their four-year term, they returned to the States on medical leave. When they received Mar Louise’s liver damage report, it was decided they wouldn’t return to Nigeria anytime soon.

Among Kyle McQuillen’s priorities in Nigeria was transferring the Nigerian church away from missionary supervision. He worked with the Nigerian leaders to make this happen. When he and Mar Louise left the country, no missionaries came to replace them. “The church had come to stand on its own,” Kyle said.

Back to Africa with the United Brethren

Kyle spent the next year traveling across the United States to speak in United Methodist churches about Africa. Then he was assigned to a United Methodist church in Shippensburg, Pa. Next door was Prince Street United Brethren church, then pastored by C. Ray Miller. The Millers and McQuillens became good friends. Kyle even did some preaching and evangelistic services for the UBs.

In 1983, the Missions board decided to nationalize the Sierra Leone church, and needed a new field superintendent who could make it happen. Bishop C. Ray Miller, the chairman of the Board of Missions, knew someone who might be up to the task — a person with experience in nationalizing an African church, and with experience in Sierra Leone itself.

After seven years in Shippensburg, Kyle and Mar Louise accepted a church in Berwick, Pa. It was there, in 1983, that they received a call from Bishop Jerry Datema. Would they be interested in going to Sierra Leone to oversee the nationalization process? At the end of 1983, Kyle, Mar Louise, and daughter Janet were back in Sierra Leone. They intended to stay for several years, accomplish their task, and re-enter the Methodist ministry.

“I had no intention at that point of leaving the United Methodist Church,” Kyle said. “I was seconded, loaned, from one denomination to another. The United Brethren church even paid into my United Methodist pension while I was in Sierra Leone.”

The nationalization process went faster than expected (as told in chapter 5 of All for Christ, Volume 1). In the spring of 1985, met with the Board of Missions and told them he saw no reason to wait; the Sierra Leoneans were ready. The Board agreed. When he left in 1985, he was the last Field Superintendent. After 130 years of missionary work, the United Brethren work in Sierra Leone was fully in the hands of Sierra Leoneans.

Mission Director

The McQuillens accepted a pastorate in Bellefonte, Pa., near Penn State University. In Kyle’s second year there, Bishop Datema contacted him again, asking him to serve on the Board of Missions as a non-UB representative. Then, in 1987, Datema invited him to join the staff as associate director of Missions.

“That was probably the biggest decision of my professional life,” Kyle said. “I would be leaving the church where I had been converted. I had gone to college and seminary in Methodist schools, had 28 years invested in pension in the Methodist church, and nearly all of my background was in the Methodist church. At that point, I knew I could no longer be seconded, but would have to change denominations. But I made the decision, and we left on very good terms.”

Kyle transferred his ministerial credentials to Pennsylvania Conference, and he and Mar Louise became members of College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind.

For two years, Kyle worked in the Missions Department alongside two other associate directors, Hazel McCray and Harold Wust. Kyle didn’t expect to ever go back into the pastorate. But in 1989, he was invited to become pastor of College Park UB church. He remained there for four years. Then, in 1993, after Jerry Datema announced his retirement, Kyle agreed to let his name appear on the ballot for Director of Missions. The 1993 General Conference elected him to that position, and the 1997 General Conference re-elected him.

When asked what he most enjoyed about his work as Director of Missions, Kyle replied: “Unquestionably, the thing I have enjoyed most is my association with people of other cultures and the opportunity to see the church grow outside of the United States. I will miss my relationships with pastors and laypeople of other conferences. It’s not the travel, the going to another place, because travel — the waiting in airports — isn’t fun. It’s being there with them — people like Jose Ramirez, Francisco Raudales, Juan Pavon, Peter Lee, and Lloyd Spencer.”

The Globetrotting Ends

One time on a plane, Kyle and Mar Louise listed the countries they had visited — not just stopovers in airports, but actual visits. They ended up with 82 countries. The major omissions were the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, Australia, Brazil, and the southern part of South America.

He said, “Of the 82 countries I have visited, the one country to which I could easily emigrate would be England. We both like it very much.”

It went back to Kyle’s college days at the University of Exeter. As of 2001, every year for the past 25 years, the McQuillens had vacationed in England. While serving in Sierra Leone, they left briefly to spend their 25th anniversary in England, something Kyle had always promised Mar Louise they would do.

Retiring to Florida

Kyle and Mar Louise retired to Edgewater, Fla., just south of Daytona Beach. They moved into a home in a gated community of about 600 homes on the intercoastal waterway; Kyle’s brother had retired to the same community. Mar Louise actually moved there in 2000 and began working in a doctor’s office

“My family wants to make sure I do something,” Kyle said before leaving office, “because it’s been an active life. They say, ‘Don’t come down here and sit. You’ll go nuts.’ It’s wide open what I could do. I don’t want to necessarily end up as a greeter at Wal-Mart, and I don’t want to do 60-hour work weeks anymore. But I want something that will keep me busy.” As it turned out, those 60-hour weeks didn’t necessarily go away.

He began volunteering for the local police department, became a prison chaplain, and later joined the staff of Edgewater Alliance Church.

As of June 2014, he was overseeing a reentry program for 292 inmates at Tomoka State Prison in Daytona Beach. He wrote, “I work 55 hours a week at the prison and love my work among so many inmates on whom others have given up hope.” He was also serving two days a week as pastor of Visitation and Member Care at his church.

“I’m 76 now and enjoying life as much as ever!”

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