ellen-rush300On April 19, 1929, Ellen Rush (right) concluded six years as a missionary in Sierra Leone.

She traveled to Sierra Leone in August 1923 with Mable Shultz, both of them to serve in Bonthe at the Minnie Mill girls’ school. Illness forced Mable to return home after about six months, but Ellen remained. She was house mother to the 50 resident students, and sometimes taught in the school, which had an additional 40 students.

Her mother’s illness and subsequent death caused Ellen to cancel plans for a third term. Back in Alma, Mich., she became a Registered Nurse in 1937.

Throughout 2017, as we celebrate the United Brethren denomination’s 250th anniversary, we are looking at events from our history. You can see all posts here.

Judith Eby, the oldest daughter of Bishop Lloyd and Eula Eby, died on April 19, 1952. She was just 26 years old.

On April 9, 1944, two months before the D-Day landing, Lloyd and Eula Eby departed for Sierra Leone as missionaries. They had served one term in Sierra Leone in the early 1920s after graduating from Huntington College. Next came 18 years in the Detroit area, during which they started six churches. Now, they were again needed in Africa.

This time, they had two teenage daughters–Judith, 18, and Shirley, 15. Though the girls were still in high school, Huntington College allowed them to move into the girls’ dormitory, which would have been Livingston Hall. Livingston, which started out as a house, was enlarged that year to the size most people remember, with more rooms and a prayer chapel on the lower level.

This being war-time, the trip to Africa was dangerous and nobody knew how long the war would last. But Huntington College was able to assure the Ebys, “Don’t worry about your girls. We’ll take care of them.”

The Eby family was reunited in 1947. Lloyd served as bishop 1949-1957. In 1950, Shirley graduated from HC and Lloyd was awarded an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree.

Judith attended HC 1945-1946, but never graduated. She struggled for many years with a brain tumor, to which she finally succumbed on April 19, 1952.

carlson_clarence300On April 18, 1925, Clarence Carlson boarded a ship for Sierra Leone. He would go on to serve five terms as a missionary, pastor UB churches in three different states, and spend eight years as bishop. But at this point, he was just a 28-year-old Huntington College drop-out embarking on his first ministry assignment.

Clarence E. Carlson was born August 9, 1897, the son of Swedish immigrants who settled in Illinois. He grew up in the Evangelical Lutheran Church, spoke both English and Swedish, and could play a variety of instruments—guitar, violin, accordion. He joined the US Navy during World War I, but was never assigned to a ship.

In 1921, Carlson’s parents bought a farm in Michigan across from the Jackson Street UB church (now called Countryside) in Breckenridge. He landed a job with an insurance company in Grand Rapids, and attended the UB church on Sundays. One Sunday afternoon in 1923, alone in his room, he yielded his life to Christ. The next year, he entered Huntington College with the sense that God wanted him in the ministry.

When Carlson became aware of the need for a missionary in Sierra Leone, he offered himself. College would have to wait.

Carlson landed in Freetown on May 9 and hitched a ride to Bonthe with an American delivering a load of Texaco gas. From there, field superintendent George Fleming took him to Gbangbaia, where he was to replace Lloyd Eby. The missionary novice found himself supervising a school, a boys’ boarding home, a church, and a medical dispensary. Fortunately, he had a good national staff at the school, and a fine pastor for the church.

George Fleming said Carlson drew up for himself a daily schedule of 16-17 hour days. “A busy man, and fortunately, a very capable one. His work was well planned, and he held religiously to his schedule.”

Carlson focused a lot of attention on the boys at the school, constantly watching for “opportunities to present the claims of Christ on the life of individual students, gently pressing them towards a personal decision to receive Christ as Savior and Lord.” Some of those boys became United Brethren ministers.

Carlson returned to the States in 1928, and in 1929, while continuing his previously interrupted studies at Huntington College, became pastor of College Park UB church. But in 1931, education again got trumped by needs in Africa. We’ll continue his story in July.

On April 17, 1948, the 24-year-old Olive Weaver began the first of what would become five terms as a missionary in Sierra Leone. She serve continuously until 1968.

Olive, like several other missionaries over the years, including Eula Eby, Ruth Benner, and Shirley Fretz, came out of the Grace UB church in Sherkston, Ontario.

Olive spent her first four terms, 1948-1963, teaching at the Minnie Mull School for Girls in Bonthe. She moved to Bumpe for the fifth term to serve at the girls’ school.

As with other missionaries, Olive’s duties went well beyond her “official” assignment. She helped lead services in villages, cared for babies and children, and was involved with starting some of the UB churches in the Freetown area.

Back in Ontario, Olive taught elementary school in Fort Erie. She later married Tom Rickersey, an Australian. Tom passed away in 1996, leaving behind four children and ten grandchildren.

Olive Weaver Rickersey, 82, passed away July 6, 2007.

Left: Elen and Noel Bowman in the 1940s. Right: Elen Bowman.

Left: Elen and Noel Bowman in the 1940s. Right: Elen Bowman.

Elen Bowman and her husband, Noel, were missionaries in Sierra Leone for one term during World War II, 1941-1944. Their two-year-old son remained behind in the States. They were stationed at Gbangbaia and then at Minnie Mull Girls’ School. Elen was a teacher and matron at the schools and boarding homes, while Noel managed both boarding homes.

After leaving the field, Noel pastored various churches in Oregon Conference for 17 years. When he died in 1965, Elen concluded what she called her 22-year “furlough” and returned to Sierra Leone, serving as manager and teacher at the Bumpe Girls’ School, as conference Christian Education secretary, and in other capacities. She served two more terms—1966-1969, and 1970-1973.

Altogether, Elen served 11 years in Sierra Leone. She passed away April 15, 1997, in Newberg, Oregon.

Dr. Y. T. Chiu (seated, front) with staff of the UB school in Canton, China (March 1931).

Dr. Y. T. Chiu (upper right) with staff of the UB school in Canton, China (March 1931).

Yan Tze “Y. T.” Chiu was born on April 14, 1890, in Canton, China. This brilliant man was responsible for starting United Brethren work in China and Hong Kong–and, therefore, deserves some credit for the eventual start of UB ministry in Macau, Thailand, Myanmar, New York City, and Toronto.

Chiu was a third-generation Christian; his maternal grandfather was the first Baptist preacher in Canton. Chiu came to America in August 1908 and graduated two years later from Boone’s University. In 1913, he received a degree in chemistry from the University of California-Berkeley, while also teaching in Congregational and Methodist mission schools. For a year, he was an official with the Chinese Students Association of North America, visiting Chinese students at various institutions along the Pacific Coast.

In 1915, Chiu received a Masters degree from Columbia University in New York. He returned to China in August 1915, where he joined the staff of Canton Christian College and taught chemistry. As a reward for ten years of service, he was given a year for graduate study, all expenses paid, at any university in America. He chose Cornell University in New York. His PhD thesis involved a process for making a milk substitute from soybeans.

Chiu’s cousin, Rev. Moy Ling, ran a school for Chinese people in Portland, Ore. It was supported during the 1920s by the United Brethren Women’s Missionary Association. Chiu was enlisted to begin UB missionary work in China. He and his wife started a school in Canton. In 1932, the work entered a second phase, evangelism, as women began traveling from village to village to teach and preach.

The Chius fled Canton in 1937 when the Japanese bombed the city en route to occupying southern China. They lost most of their belongings, including 5000 books from Dr. Chiu’s library. The staff evacuated to the British colony of Hong Kong, but the Japanese followed them there four years later, invading Hong Kong on December 8, 1941 (only eight hours after Pearl Harbor, but the international dateline put the two events on different days). The 14,000 British and Canadian troops surrendered on Christmas Day. During the rest of World War II, the Japanese terrorized the populace, killing and raping thousands of people. After the war, the Japanese governor of Hong Kong was executed as a war criminal.

The Chius returned to Canton in 1946, but only for a year together. In 1947, Dr. Chiu traveled to Hong Kong, while his wife and daughter, Bessie, stayed behind. They didn’t see each other for ten years.

The communists, under Mao, took over China in 1949. The work in Canton ended in 1952. Mrs. Chiu and Bessie lived under communist rule until 1957, when they made their way separately to Hong Kong. The Chius were finally reunited.

Meanwhile, in Hong Kong, Dr. Chiu was ordained as a United Brethren minister in 1949. In 1950 he started a church in Hong Kong, and ran medical clinics for the poor. The work grew. When Bishop Clyde W. Meadows officially organized Hong Kong Conference in 1962, there were four churches, six ministers, and nearly 500 members.

In 1959, Dr. Chiu became a U.S. citizen. The Chius retired to Glendale, Calif., in 1967.

Later in life, Y.T. Chiu received honorary doctorates from Colorado Bible College and Seminary (D.D.) and the Episcopal Universities in London (Doctor of Humanities). He wrote 65 books and 102 tracts, many of which were translated into English. His writings included text books (chemistry and mathematics), sermons, Bible stories, and Bible studies. He was also a sought-after speaker, fulfilling over a thousand engagements in 34 states.

This remarkable man passed away at age 97 on November 9, 1987, in Burbank, Calif.


Lydia Sexton was born April 12, 1799. As a young woman, the daughter of a Baptist minister, she felt called to preach, but didn’t think Scripture permitted it. She even held her tongue in public gatherings. Twice her church offered to grant her a quarterly conference license, and twice she refused. She didn’t think it was proper for a woman to preach.

However, the sense of calling persisted. For ten years she wrestled with it. Lydia finally concluded that she was neglecting a call which Scripture did, indeed, permit. With the consent of her church leadership, she began preaching on occasion, and in 1851, her church licensed her. Lydia preached frequently. She told of one occasion when she prayed for one convert, and ended up seeing 14 people at the altar.

Lydia finally, in 1859, sought an annual conference license, but Bishop David Edwards nixed it. He cited a General Conference resolution passed two years before which forbid women to be licensed to preach. According to Lydia Sexton’s autobiography, he gave a dominos explanation–licensing could lead to ordination, which opened the door to being a bishop, and General Conference felt that “the teachings of the Bible forbid women ruling in the church of God–but to be in subjection.”

However, there was wiggle room. Bishop Edwards wasn’t personally opposed to women preaching–only to licensing them. He suggested that a letter of recommendation wouldn’t violate Scripture or the UB rules. So the conference unanimously adopted a letter of recommendation which said, “We, the members of the Upper Wabash Annual Conference of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ, do hereby recommend her to the churches as a useful helper in the work of Christ.”

And thus, Lydia Sexton became a trailblazer. She lived long enough to see the denomination pass a rule, in 1889, which forbid discriminating against women in granting ministerial credentials.

Lydia enjoyed a long and fruitful ministry. One minister wrote, after hearing her speak, “She is a warm-hearted speaker and a great revivalist. Great has been the fruit of her labor. She has taken hundreds of souls into the church.” She passed away in 1894 at age 96.

Here are two quotes from Lydia’s autobiography:

“I know with what doubt many will receive these statements as to the call to the ministry; and their skepticism is based upon what they construe as the teachings of the Bible. But I learned that ever since God has had a people, he has occasionally had a place where women could render effectual service.”

“I never preached at a place without having the satisfaction to learn that they desired me to return. I mention this only as a matter of encouragement to some of my sisters who feel that they have a call to the ministry. Do your whole duty, and look to God for help.”

In 1978, two UB missionaries in Sierra Leone, Shirley Fretz and nurse Beverly Glover, were involved in an auto accident in which an African man was killed. Manslaughter charges were filed against Shirley and the driver. The ensuing legal ordeal dragged on for nearly a year.

Finally, on April 9, 1979, all charges were dismissed. Shirley left the country a week later, but returned in September 1979. She served a total of 18 years in Sierra Leone, from 1967 to 1985.

L-r: Lloyd and Eula Eby, Oneta Sewell, Erma Funk, Bernadine Hoffman.

L-r: Lloyd and Eula Eby, Oneta Sewell, Erma Funk, Bernadine Hoffman.

On April 9, 1944, five United Brethren missionaries met at the train station in Fort Wayne, Ind. All were headed to Africa in the midst of World War II. In Europe, American forces were battling through Italy–Anzio, Monte Casino–while allied bombers struck German assets throughout the continent. Russians had the German army in retreat across a wide front. US foces were advancing across the Pacific, island by bloody island, and the Japanese were being pushed out of Burma. D-Day was two months away…as was the arrival of these five travelers in Sierra Leone.

It was a low-point for our mission work in Sierra Leone. Dr. Leslie Huntley and nurse Emma Hyer had both left the country and were now in the US military, forcing the Gbangbaia dispensary to close. Only a couple missionaries remained. But now, reinforcements were on the way, including persons who could serve in every aspect of the mission–leadership, education, medicine.

Lloyd and Eula Eby were the only veterans, but had now been gone from Sierra Leone for 18 years. Joining them were three young women, all first-term missionaries who, nobody knew at the time, would spend many years in Sierra Leone. Erma Funk, an ordained minister and bishop’s daughter, would stay for three terms, mostly in Bonthe with the Minnie Mull school. Oneta Sewell, a nurse from Ohio, would give three terms at the Gbangbaia dispensary and Mattru Hospital. Bernadine Hoffman would spend an incredible 39 years in Sierra Leone.

The five missionaries traveled by train to Miami, and Pan American Airlines flew them the rest of the way. They left Miami on April 14. Three days later, after a bunch of stops—Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, British Guyana (now Guyana), and Dutch Guiana (now Suriname)—they arrived in Belem, a city in northern Brazil. Their destination was Natal, located on the eastern tip of Brazil which jutted into the Atlantic Ocean. From there, they would fly to Africa.

Pan Am could only take three of the travelers on to Natal, so the three single women left on April 19 and arrived the next day; the Ebys joined them several days later.

We’ll resume their story on April 20, and tell about the six weeks they spent in Natal, and their fortuitous encounter with a young Naval officer named Lt. DeWitt Baker.

Bishop William Hanby

Bishop William Hanby


William Hanby was born in western Pennsylvania on April 8, 1808. For a period of over 20 years, Hanby–quite illegally–helped a whole bunch of fugitive slaves evade capture and escape to frreedom. He also found time to be bishop for four years, edit the denominational paper for 12 years, and help start the first United Brethren college.

A childhood experience probably sensitized Hanby to the plight of slaves. At age 16, he decided to become a saddler–a person who made and repaired saddles and harnesses. To learn the trade, he signed a legal contract to become an indentured servant to Jacob Good. The guy turned out to be a cruel, abusive scoundrel. One time, according to biographer Henry Adams Thompson, young William almost died under Good’s punishment.

Three years into the five-year contract, William had had enough. Late one night in 1828, he escaped out a second-story window and headed for Ohio, traveling by night lest he be caught by his wrathful master, who had repeatedly promised to “follow me to hell.” Pennsylvania law made Hanby no better than a runaway slave.

In Zanesville, Ohio, a godly family took him in. He became a Christian, and began plying his trade as a saddler (which he plied for most of his life). But he knew he needed to make things right with Jacob Good. Hanby traveled to Pennsylvania with all the money he had saved, settled things with Good, and returned to Ohio–broke, but happy.

That same year, 1830, Hanby sensed God calling him into the ministry. The United Brethren church licensed him to preach in April 1831, and two years later he was assigned to a circuit of 28 appointments. It took him four weeks to travel the 170-mile route. But he wasn’t a pastor for very long.

From 1837-1845, Hanby was editor of the denominational paper, The Religious Telescope, working out of Circleville, Ohio. As editor, he wrote strongly against slavery. He also practiced what he preached.

Hanby actively helped fugitive slaves coming up from Ohio and other Southern states–even though such aid was illegal in Ohio, punishable by heavy fines and imprisonment. He and a local merchant named Doddridge established a station on the underground railroad. Many times, Hanby would be called away late at night to assist runaway slaves, often sheltering them in his barn and saddlery shop, or helping them continue on toward Canada.

One time, Doddridge showed up at midnight saying he was hiding five slaves, and their pursuers were close behind. Hanby helped transport the slaves to another home, where they were buried under hay. The pursuers searched that home, and even walked over the hay, but left without finding the fugitives. One of those slaves later made five more trips into the South to bring back his mother, then his wife, and then some of his children. All, with Hanby’s help, reached freedom in Canada.

It was risky, dangerous stuff for Hanby, and you can question the idea of a denominational official intentionally breaking the law. But he argued, “We may be bound by a man-made law, but we are more bound by a Lord-given conscience.” Perhaps he was molded by his own experience of virtual slavery, and the abuse and injustice he had suffered under his own white master, Jacob Good.

William Hanby served 1845-1849 as bishop, spent the next four years again editing the magazine, and in 1853 became a cofounder of Otterbein University, which is where he focused the rest of his life. Otterbein University became known as a stop along the Underground Railroad. University president (and future bishop) Lewis Davis was also involved in aiding and sheltering fugitive slaves.

So was son Benjamin Hanby. In 1856, Benjamin wrote the song “Darling Nelly Gray” from the point of view of a Kentucky slave whose sweetheart has been sold to new masters in Georgia. It was based on an actual slave, Joseph Selby, who died at the Hanby home while trying to reach Canada. William raised money to try to free the woman. (Benjamin also wrote the Christmas songs “Jolly Old Saint Nicholas” and “Up on the Housetop.”)

Today, the Hanby House at Otterbein University commemorates the courageous humanitarian actions of this United Brethren bishop. A historical marker hails him as a “Freedom Crusader.”