Throughout 2017, as we celebrate the United Brethren denomination’s 250th anniversary, we are looking at events throughout our history.

About 2 am on March 7, 1992, armed thieves broke into the United Brethren mission house in Freetown, Sierra Leone. They took $4000 in currency and $4000 in personal items—and left behind some badly-shaken UB missionaries.

Eight missionaries were present at the time:

  • Stan and Sherry McCammon, along with children Rachel (9) and John (6), were in their first term as missionaries. Stan was the UB Business Manager.
  • Sara Banter, 22, a nurse from Dillman UB church (Warren, Ind.), had arrived just two days before to begin her first term as a nurse at Mattru Hospital.
  • Tom and Kim Datema, along with their young son, Ben. The Datemas had come to Freetown on business with the government and to pick up Sara. They were involved with development work in Sierra Leone.

Two Sierra Leonean watchmen were on duty when the thieves broke through the gate in the wall surrounding the mission house. Both watchmen were beaten; one suffered a broken wrist. One of them screamed, alerting Stan that something was wrong. He gathered everyone upstairs in their bedroom. They had heard a gun cock, and were all scared.

It took 15 minutes for the thieves to gain entry to the house. They came directly to the bedroom and kicked open the door. Five men entered and demanded rings, watches, bracelets, and other items. The missionaries complied. Kim, probably because she was pregnant, couldn’t remove her rings. They let it go, but later returned and held a gun on Ben, threatening to hurt the infant unless she removed her rings. With Tom’s help, she did.

The thieves took Stan to the office to get money. Stan opened the safe and gave them dollars, along with five bundles of leones from a desk drawer. They seemed satisfied. They also picked up tape players, a camera, a calculator, and other items, and then returned with Stan to the bedroom.

One of the men shined his flashlight at Sara and told her to come with him.

“No,” Stan said in a firm voice. The man left Sara alone.

A few minutes later they took Stan back to the office. They were mad that he hadn’t shown them the big safe, and threatened to kill him. Stan opened the big safe, and they helped themselves to the money inside. They tied him up and fire bullets into the ceiling.

Finally, the bandits took the mission van and fled. It was found later that morning in good condition.

The Missions board offered to bring back to the States any of the missionaries involved in the break-in. The McCammons cut their term short a couple months and returned to the States in late April 1992. The Datemas and Sara Banter left May 2, after the US State Department ordered all Americans to evacuate the country after a military coup.

Guillermo Martinez with his wife Linda and two young children.

Guillermo Martinez with his wife Linda and two young children.

On March 4, 1970, Guillermo Martinez was taken under guard to the airport in La Ceiba, Honduras, and put on a plane to Nicaragua. It was not his choice, but it was God’s plan for what, today, is a very strong Nicaragua Conference.

Guillermo Martinez was born in El Salvador. A Honduran couple adopted him when he was seven years old and raised him in Honduras, but he kept his citizenship in El Salvador. Guillermo moved to La Ceiba in 1950 and became involved with the United Brethren church. He went on to become a highly respected pastor in Honduras Conference.

Missionary Archie Cameron said of Guillermo, “He was a people’s pastor. He really went out after people, helping people, and continually visiting, visiting, visiting.” Fellow pastor William Smith-Hinds said, “He was tireless—always busy, friendly, outgoing, involved with people.”

In June 1969, El Salvador invaded Honduras in what is called the Soccer War, because it came after a soccer match between the two countries. In La Ceiba, far from the fighting, Guillermo was among the hundreds of Salvadorans detained for two months amidst terrible conditions. He held evangelistic services among the detainees, and many became Christians. However, it became clear that he couldn’t remain in the country, nor could he take his Honduran wife to El Salvador.

How about Nicaragua? A Honduran pastor had moved to Nicaragua in 1967 to start churches. He could use some help. So he was flown to Nicaragua, where his wife and three children joined him a month later. The Martinez family settled on the outskirts of Masaya, where he started a church. Within a year, 60 persons had found Christ.

Guillermo became superintendent of Nicaragua Conference, and led those churches for many years, including through the difficult years after the Sandinistas took power. He continued as superintendent until 1997, and passed away in September 2009.

Samuel Heistand was born March 3, 1781, in Virginia. He had five older brothers. Two of them, Abraham and John, became United Brethren ministers. Samuel outdid them. He became a bishop.

Around 1804, when Samuel was 23 years old, he moved to Ohio, which was still pioneer territory (Ohio became a state in 1803). He was rousted from his backslidden condition under the preaching of Rev. George Benedum, one of the first United Brethren evangelists in Ohio.

Heistand became somewhat of an apprentice under Benedum, of whom it was written, “As a helper to young preachers, none surpassed him….His countenance beamed with pleasure when he discovered indications of talent and improvement. He was slow to reprove, ready to encourage, and kept before their minds the importance of personal religion and dependence on God.”

Under such mentoring, Heistand became a solid minister, regularly traveling by horseback to visit the scattered churches under his care. He was variously described as a man of deep piety, a faithful and efficient expounder of Scripture, well-read in his native German language, blessed with good social qualities, and a speaker of “marked intellectual and emotional powers.”

Heistand had some kind of speech impediment which, as he preached, went away once he got going strong, at which point he became “quite eloquent.” He was also noted for his “generous hospitality, no one ever going away hungry from his door.”

In 1833, Samuel Heistand was one of three new bishops elected. He was re-elected in 1837.

Historian Henry Thompson told of a campmeeting in Ohio where Heistand preached a powerful message from Daniel. “There seemed to be a sound all over the campground, like the ‘rushing of a mighty wind,’ as on the day of Pentecost.” Future bishop William Hanby arose to preach, stood silently for a few seconds, and was so overcome that he simply knelt at the bishop’s knees. There was, apparently, nothing to add.

In 1838, Bishop Heistand spoke at Pennsylvania Conference. One person remarked, “He addressed the Conference as if conscious that it was his dying address.”

Which it was. Bishop Heistand died October 9, 1838, just one year into his second term. He was 56 years old.

lloydebyphotho350Throughout 2017, as we celebrate the United Brethren denomination’s 250th anniversary, we are looking at events throughout our history.

Lloyd Eby–pastor, church planter, missionary, bishop–was born March 2, 1891, in St. Jacobs, Ontario. He was converted at age 17 during a Salvation Army street meeting. Three years later, he joined what is now the Stanley Park United Brethren church in Kitchener, Ontario. He was licensed to preach, moved to Toronto, and started three churches, including today’s New Hope Community Church.

In 1920, Lloyd married Eula, a young woman from the Sherkston United Brethren church. The next year they headed off to Huntington College to prepare for the mission field. During their 18 months in Huntington, he pastored the Etna Avenue UB church. Then, in 1923, they traveled to Sierra Leone. Lloyd became principle of the 50-student Danville School for Boys at Gbangbaia. They served just one term.

The next 17 years were spent in the Detroit area, pastoring the new Warrendale UB church and starting five more churches. Lloyd became somewhat of an authority on urban ministry. Core groups from Warrendale would begin an outreach in a community, meeting in a school or strip mall or anything else available. Lloyd coordinated the groups and met regularly with the leaders.

In 1944, with World War 2 in progress, Lloyd was asked to return to Sierra Leone, this time as field superintendent, the person in charge of the entire field. From the city to the African bush. Again, the Ebys served just one term.

In 1947, Lloyd became superintendent of the Ontario and Detroit conferences. In 1949, he was elected bishop and spent the next eight years serving the West District. Then it was back to Africa for one more term, again as field superintendent. He was now 67 years old, but told people, “The call of my church is the call of my God.”

Lloyd and Eula retired in 1962 in Fort Wayne, Ind., where they attended the Third Street UB church (now called Anchor) until his death in 1969. It had been an amazing life, full of diversity. But it was far from over. Later in the year, we’ll look at the incredible prayer ministry which marked his final years.

Joseph and Mary Gomer

Joseph and Mary Gomer

On March 1, 1871, Joseph Gomer became the first missionary to set foot in the village of Harrowtown in Sierra Leone. As he would write, “Satan has it all his own way there.”

Joseph Gomer and his wife, Mary, arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1871. They settled into our mission station in Shenge, where no missionaries had served for nearly two years. Up to that point, our work in Sierra Leone had been difficult and disappointing. But under their leadership, things really took off.

After less than two months in the country, Gomer journeyed up-river about 30 miles to Harrowtown. He was accompanied by Tom Tucker, who had been converted in 1858 through a previous missionary–one of our first two converts in Sierra Leone.

Gomer and Tucker spent two days in Harrowtown. People said they had never been told about the God of heaven or of Jesus Christ. In one case, Gomer talked for 30 minutes, with Tucker translating. When Gomer stopped, Tucker told him, “They want you to tell them some more.” So he did.

The next day, one woman said Gomer’s words had kept her up all night. She had always thought there must be some other God than the ones she worshipped. She promised to not worship her tribal gods anymore.

Gomer wrote, “She is the head-man’s wife, and I think she is sincere.”

A. J. Shuey and Daniel Flickinger.

W. J. Shuey and Daniel Flickinger.

Throughout 2017, as we celebrate the United Brethren denomination’s 250th anniversary, we are looking at events throughout our history

Moses sent 12 men across the Jordan River to spy out the Promised Land. The United Brethren Church was more efficient. We sent just three men, clear across the Atlantic Ocean, to spy out Sierra Leone.

In 1853 we established the Home, Frontier, and Foreign Missionary Society. It was the forerunner of today’s Global Ministries. We were already doing a good job with the “home” and “frontier” parts. This new organization added the “foreign” part. One of its first decisions was: “That we send one or more missionaries to Africa as soon as practicable.”

Three ministers from Ohio were appointed: W. J. Shuey, Rev. Daniel Flickinger, and D. C. Kumler, who was also a physician. They left New York on January 23, 1855, and arrived in Freetown on February 26, 1855.

The men spent the next 88 days exploring southern Sierra Leone, looking for a place to establish a mission. They took many jaunts up rivers and along the coast, but couldn’t find a promising place to start. Until they came upon Mokelleh, a village of about 600 people. This would be the place.

Their job had been to spy out the land. Shuey felt his job was done, and Kumler was sick, probably with malaria. So on May 3, they returned to America. But Flickinger wanted more than to spy out the land. He, like Caleb, wanted to possess the land. He stayed a total of 14 months, until April 1856.

Mokelleh fell through, but Flickinger set his sights on a place called Shenge. All efforts to arrange anything with the local chief were rebuffed, but when Flickinger left for America in April 1856, he knew Shenge was the place. And when he returned to Sierra Leone eight months later, Shenge is where he started.

In 1746, the German Reformed Church in Holland sent Rev. Michael Schlatter, originally from Switzerland, as a missionary to Pennsylvania. There weren’t enough German Reformed ministers to go around. So after five years in the New World, Schlatter returned to Europe to find more ministers.

Schlatter started out in Holland, and then went to the Herborn Academy in Germany, where German Reformed ministers were trained. On February 25, 1752, he submitted a list of six ministers he wanted to take to America. On that list, apparently, was the name of Philip William Otterbein, who would become one of the founders of the United Brethren church.

Schlatter and his six missionaries-to-be went to Holland, where they were examined and officially set apart as missionaries. (One of the original six backed out, but somebody else took his place.) Then, at the end of March 1752, their ship sailed for America. Four months later, they landed in New York.

Helen in younger years, and with daughter Maira (far right).

Helen in younger years, and with daughter Maira (far right).

Throughout 2017, as we celebrate the United Brethren denomination’s 250th anniversary, we are looking at events throughout our history

Helen Villanueva was born February 24, 1918, in Belize. This highly-talented and capable woman made significant contributions to the United Brethren work in Honduras.

Helen was the sixth and last child of James Elliott, a minister with the Wesleyan Methodist Church. In 1927, when she was nine years old, the family moved to Honduras to oversee six churches. In the 1940s, those churches became United Brethren–the start of our work in Honduras.

Helen returned to Belize in 1943 and spent the next 14 years working as a nurse. George Fleming, the United Brethren missions director, invited Helen to serve at Mattru Hospital in Sierra Leone, but she was already committed in Belize.

In 1957, Helen felt called to return to Honduras to work alongside her father. Two years later, she became pastor of the church in Puerto Cortes, and faithfully served there for the next 13 years. Along the way, she took in five Honduran children, adding to her own four children.

One of them, Maira Raudales, went on to attend the UB Bible Institute, ran the conference bookstore, and became principal of the Bethel School. Her husband, Francisco, served 1997-2009 as superintendent of Honduras Conference.

“She was an excellent pastor,” Maira said of her mother. “She has all the little details that make a very good pastor. In those days, it was more difficult for a woman to be a pastor, but she had everybody’s acceptance.”

Helen also raised Benulda (Moreno) Saenz, who became a United Brethren pastor and married a United Brethren pastor. Together, Helen and Benulda started another church in Puerto Cortes and planted the first UB church in San Pedro Sula, the country’s second-largest city. Benulda pastored both churches, and went on to plant more churches and become a conference superintendent.

In 1973, Helen went to work for the Honduras Bible Society, traveling and speaking throughout Central America, South America, and the Caribbean. Then in 1981 she returned to her homeland to found and lead the Bible Society of Belize, from which she retired in 1986. This remarkable woman, Helen Villanueva, passed away in 2009.

jonathanweaver300Jonathan Weaver, who served 24 years as bishop, was born February 23, 1824. He was the youngest of 12 children (6 boys, 6 girls). He grew up on a farm in Ohio, which was still frontier territory back then. He received little schooling, and never attended church on Sunday until he was 14 years old. The only preaching he heard came from Methodist or United Brethren preachers passing through the area.

He became a Christian in 1841 during a camp meeting and became active in a United Brethren church. After a few years, he felt God’s call to the ministry. In 1845, he was placed on his first circuit of churches, and in the years ahead he served in various other locations–a couple years here, a couple years there. He also began rising in leadership.

The 1861 General Conference elected Weaver as bishop of the Pacific District. Because of his large family–two children by his first wife, who died after four years of marriage, and nine children by his second wife–it didn’t seem practical to send him to the West Coast. So he resigned. But he was elected bishop again in 1865 and given oversight of churches in Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. That would work.

Altogether, Weaver was elected bishop seven times, serving a different district every four years–and changing districts every year starting in 1885. He was elected for the last time in 1889. But there, we part company. Our group split off that year, and though Weaver served another four years as bishop, it wasn’t as OUR bishop.

circuitrider-drawing600

Peter Whitezel, a United Brethren minister in Virginia, passed away on February 22, 1837. He became a minister at age 28, traveled regularly to serve a circuit of churches under his care, and died four years later at age 32. Bishop William Hanby described him as a “faithful minister” who left behind “a young and affectionate family.”

That’s all we know about Peter Whitezel. We don’t know anything about his spiritual journey, how he became a minister, if he farmed on the side (probably), or anything else. Nor do we know how he died. It could have been an accident of some kind, or cancer. But more likely, he died from something which, today, would be treatable or entirely curable. Such were the times.

Perhaps Peter Whitezel would have gone on to become a United Brethren leader, maybe even a bishop. More likely, he would have spent his life just like thousands of other United Brethren ministers from the 1800s–continually traveling by horseback to remote communities, leaving a mark as he met with small groups of believers and non-believers, and eventually being joined in heaven by many people who were there only because of his influence.

But something struck Peter Whitezel down at age 32. Similarly, numerous other ministers and spouses, not to mention missionaries, passed away too early. They served faithfully, and could have made significant contributions to the Kingdom…but it was not part of God’s plan.

Let’s allow Peter Whitezel to represent the numerous anonymous ministers like him who pepper United Brethren history–men and women who perhaps left no discernible legacy to be recorded in a UB history book, but who served their Lord faithfully during whatever years they were afforded, and entered the gates of heaven to angelic shouts of “Well done!”