Oliver and Mahala Hadley, missionaries to Sierra Leone, 1866-1869

Oliver and Mahala Hadley, missionaries to Sierra Leone, 1866-1869

Joseph and Mary Gomer

Oliver and Mahala Hadley were among the first United Brethren missionaries in Sierra Leone, serving alone from December 1866 to March 1869.

Those two years were not kind to Mahala. She left her 14-month-old daughter with a grandparent, knowing she wouldn’t see her for up to three years. In Africa, she gave birth to a daughter who lived just six weeks; late one night, she and Oliver watched helplessly as the infant struggled and died. She saw her husband gradually break down from a variety of ailments. They returned to America at the end of March 1869. A few days later, Oliver died at age 31. And ten days after that, her infant son died.

But Mahala Hadley was not done with Sierra Leone.

The 1869 General Conference almost discontinued the work in Sierra Leone. No missionaries served there for nearly two years after the Hadleys left. Then the Mission board appointed Joseph and Mary Gomer, an African-American couple. They arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1871 and the work immediately took off.

On December 9, 1871, Mahala Hadley arrived in Shenge, the Sierra Leonean village which she, Oliver, and their infant son had left just two years before. During the next three years, she saw the fruit which she and Oliver had only dreamed of.

Mrs Hadley reported that Gomer had built a nice tomb over her daughter’s grave. She wrote on December 19:

“I am truly thankful to God for permitting me to see with my own eyes the wonderful change which he has wrought among this people since my return to America. And I think no one can gainsay what has been wrought by our devoted missionaries, Brother and Sister Gomer. They have been pushing the battle to the enemy’s gates….

“The people who visit Shenge will see it no longer the place for devil worship, but the place for the worship of God. Already, the word of this good work is spreading through the towns and country, and the change is observed in the people here by prominent persons in Freetown. Brother Gomer has scattered much religious truth, and much of the seed is taking root in good ground—that is, in honest seeking hearts.”

Gomer wrote of Mahala: “Mrs. Hadley is an excellent worker. She will do much good here; but she is working too hard; she will make herself sick.” He said he planned to visit some villages, and said, “Mrs. Hadley wishes to go out also, and tell the people about Jesus.”

Mahala Hadley worked alongside the Gomers for three years. It was a good relationship, and they saw continued fruit from their labors.

Dr. George Fleming wrote, “What kind of a spirit could possibly prompt this sister to return to the foreign field where sorrow and death had seemed to stalk her very life? The answer is not difficult to find—the Holy Spirit! During her second term, she was favored by the mercies of her Heavenly Father to taste the sweetness of victory after experiencing round after round of disappointment and tears.”

Read more about the Hadleys here and here.

Thirty congregations of the United Brethren in Christ gathered November 5-6, 2017, at Rhodes Grove Camp, their traditional meeting place since they founded the camp in 1898. Gathering there for the second annual “UB Connected” event, they far exceeded the goal for a joint missions project. Challenged to raise $11,150 to complete construction of a new UB primary school in Pujehun, Sierra Leone, West Africa, eleven participating congregations raised $27,656. An additional $3,750 was contributed during the gathering by individuals, making the total raised $31,406, almost triple the goal.

Jeff Bleijerveld, Executive Director of UB Global, presented a challenge on Sunday afternoon, followed by an address by Rev. John Pessima, Bishop of Sierra Leone National Conference.

Following a fellowship supper, the United Brethren Association for Church Development held a brief business meeting during which two new members were elected to the Board. Officers for 2018 are as follows: Rev. Michael Allen Mudge, President; Mr. Glen Gochenauer, Vice-President; Rev. David Rawley, Secretary; and Mr. Marvin Shubert, Treasurer. Members-at-Large are Rev. John Christophel and Mrs. Fonda Cassidy. Representing the UB National Office in Huntington, Ind., is Rev. Greg Helman, and representing the Rhodes Grove Camp Board is Rev. Keith Elliott. Completing the Board are Rev. Keith Sider, representing the Sider Insurance Agency, and Ms. Angela Monn as Executive Director.

The main event of the gathering was the Sunday evening preaching service featuring US Bishop Todd Fetters. Worship music was offered by the praise team from Prince Street UB Church in Shippensburg. Dr. Sherry Goertz, representing the Rhodes Grove Camp board and Blue Rock UB Church, offered music on the harp during the Communion service. The evening concluded with a reception sponsored by the Sider Insurance Agency.

The Monday morning segment continued the theme of “Unity,” with Dr. Ray Seilhamer preaching the Scriptures and Joe Abu exhorting. Dr. Seilhamer, retired bishop, currently serves as pastor of the Mount Pleasant UB Church, Chambersburg; and Rev. Abu, a native of Sierra Leone, is pastor of Mount Zion United African Church (UB) in Philadelphia. Leading worship Monday morning was Rev. Derek Thrush, pastor of Devonshire Memorial UB Church in Harrisburg, assisted by Christopher Little V.

This “UB Connected” event brought to a close a year celebrating several milestones for the United Brethren in Christ. The 250th Anniversary of their beginnings took them back to Lancaster, Pa., in July for their every-other-year National Conference, where about 600 attendees took buses to Isaac Long’s Barn to see where their founding bishops first met during a “Great Meeting” in 1767. Rhodes Grove Camp celebrated the 100th Anniversary this year of the purchase of the land by the UB Pennsylvania Conference in 1917 with the conclusion in June of a capital campaign that raised almost $400,000, more than any previous fundraising campaign.

The camp also marked its 75th Anniversary of the first Summer Youth Camp in 1942 with an enrollment this year of 531 campers in ten camps over six weeks, their highest enrollment since 2004. This year also saw the launch of a new ministry with a satelite camp being held with Devonshire Memorial UB Church in Harrisburg. The 50th Session of Family Camp was also marked over Memorial Day Weekend with an all-time record attendance of 331 registrants with well over 400 for the Sunday evening service.

In celebration of all these milestones, plus the 500th Anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation on October 31, 1517, UB pastor Michael Mudge of Cumberland, Md., published a history book, with chapters covering the Protestant Reformation, the United Brethren in Christ, the Capt. Lee Rhodes family, campmeetings, the Pennsylvania Conference, Milton Wright Home, summer youth camps, etc. Entitled Tabernacle Faith: A History of Rhodes Grove Camp, the book is 119 pages long with 195 photographs and is thoroughly indexed. Of two hundred copies printed in May, only about twenty copies remain to be sold. They are available at the main desk in the lobby of the Meadows Conference Center at Rhodes Grove Camp.

In December 1941, Clyde W. Meadows (right) held revival services at the Trenton Hills UB church in Adrian, Mich. On the afternoon of Sunday, December 7, he and Rev. H. B. Peter went visiting in the Adrian community. As they drove down a country road, they were flagged down by another card. The driver scrambled out and said, “Did you know the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor this morning?”

At the time, Meadows chaired the draft board in Chambersburg, Pa., where he pastored the King Street United Brethren church (it would be another 20 years before he was elected bishop). Up to that point, it was a fairly simple job, with only a few people being inducted each month. But with America’s entrance into the war, they began drafting dozens of men at the same time.

Meadows went to Judge Watson Davidson, who served on the committed that selected the three members of the draft board. He argued, “I don’t think it’s right for me to pastor a church and chair the draft board in the same community. I’d like to resign as chairman and enter the military as a chaplain. I’m qualified for that.”

Judge Davidson refused his request. “There are some things from which you can’t resign. Being a father is one of them. Another is your patriotic duty.”

Meadows chaired the draft board 1940-1946; the other two members were World War I veterans. The Chambersburg community sent over 2500 young men into World War II. Many, of course, either died or returned with terrible wounds. Meadows could not escape recognizing his role in the lives of these men.

King Street’s Christian Endeavor society corresponded monthly with 219 soldiers who had some connection with the church—ten of whom died serving their country. They sent materials telling how the local athletic teams were doing, who had gotten married, who was on furlough, local news, and information about the church.

One member of the King Street choir was serving with the Army in Italy. The soldier wrote, “I saw the dates when you were holding communion. I was out on the firing line at the time, but with some water from my canteen and a little morsel of Army bread, I took communion the same time you did back in Chambersburg.”

One night, as they prepared to send their monthly newsletter to the troops, Betty entered the room. They already knew about the death of Betty’s husband, who had been president of the senior high Christian Endeavor group. Betty had just received his personal effects. They included a pocket-size book of selected Scripture which they had sent him–now bloodstained, because he was carrying it when he was killed. Betty also showed one of the letters, also bloodstained, which the church had sent. The paper was tearing, because he had unfolded and read the letter so many times.

Meadows wrote in his autobiography, In the Service of the King, “You couldn’t have stopped us from sending that letter that night. We knew how much those letters meant.”

During her furlough in 1983, Shirley Fretz (right) had a difficult decision to make. Her father had been hospitalized with cancer almost continuously since July 1982. Should she stay home and await his death, or return to Sierra Leone in December as scheduled?

Shirley later recalled, “My dad was very alert right up to the end. He knew exactly what was going on, and I’m sure that if I had visited him the day I was supposed to leave for Africa, he’d have said, ‘What happened? Why didn’t you go?’ I knew he would be gone soon, and it would be good for me to be there, but you can’t just stay home and wait for something to happen.”

She left at the end of November and arrived in Bumpe on December 6, 1983. The next day she received a telegram saying her father had passed away on December 6.

Bishop Jerry Datema was in Sierra Leone at the time for annual conference. He led a memorial service at the Bumpe church the same day as the memorial service back in Canada. The church was full of people—they didn’t know Shirley’s father, but they knew Shirley. The Bumpe primary children sang a couple of his favorite songs, and then Bishop Datema preached.

Shirley said, “It was almost like being home for the funeral.”

John Williams Howe

Rev. John Williams Howe was born December 4, 1829. He devoted his entire ministerial career to being an itinerant preacher in Virginia. It’s what he did. Wrote William Weekley, “From the time he joined the conference to the day of his death, he was a tireless and triumphant itinerant.”

From age 13-20, Howe was “bound out” to a farmer, and proved to be an excellent farmhand, described as “strong, willing, and industrious–but wild and reckless.” He married at age 23, and the next year was converted through the persistent witness of a friend. He immediately sensed the call to ministry. He spent a year under the direction of Jacob Markwood, then a presiding elder, and in 1858 was given his own circuit, which spanned three counties and took 200 miles to make a round.

As Howe set out on horseback for the first time, he prayed, “Lord, if just one soul is won to Christ, I will take it as evidence of your call on my life.” That first year, over 100 persons were converted.

Most meetings were held in private homes, barns, or outside. He battled snow and rain, forded swollen rivers, and sometimes got lost in the mountains. But he kept at it, year after year.

Howe is described in these ways: six feet tall, commanding presence, the “characteristic optimism of a successful general,” strong voice, a good singer, a personality “chargd like a battery with vitality,” jovial, cheerful, enthusiastic.

He weathered the Civl War years, during which his territory was a battlefield. After the war, Bishop Jacob Markwood observed, “There is nothing left of the United Brethren Church in Virginia.”

Not so fast. Weekley wrote: “John Howe was brought to the kingdom for such a time as this.” Fellow preachers may have been just as zealous, just as cultured, just as powerful in the pulpit. “But on his brow rested a crown of leadership that was readily recognized. Very speedily he was forced to the front. It is not to his discredit that he was wiling to go.”

Howe led Virginia Conference for the next 20 years as presiding elder. From the ruins of the Civil War arose a conference with 13,000 members.

He proved to be an excellent evangelist, organizer, and executive. Great revivals resulted in entire communities coming to Christ, and new churches began. He was not a general who stood behind the lines and issued orders to the troops. Rather, he was with them in the trenches, doing whatever needed to be done. And people loved him for it. It’s not surprising that he was very successful in attracting young men into the ministry.

William Weekley portrayed a man of immense gifts, who could have gone far in other careers. But instead, he gave himself entirely to the Church.

“In him we have the gospel preacher, the inspiring singer, the fervent evangelist, the wise organizer, the constructive builder, the successful financier, and the dauntless advocate of the Church with all of its institutions. It is given unto some men to possess most of these talents, but to him was given them all in an unusual degree. If his powers had been so directed, he undoubtedly would have made a notable figure in cvic life, and might have become a statesman of wide-reaching and most beneficent influence. But all his patriotism and all his knowledge of public affairs were made subordinate and tributary to the work of the ministry.”

Howe was a delegate to eight consecutive General Conferences, beginning in 1869. He opposed the new Constitution which led to the division of 1889. But when the Church adopted it, he submitted to their decision and remained a loyal churchman (rather than split off with Milton Wright).

Howe’s wife died in 1879 after 28 years of marriage. He remarried in 1890, and in the words of Weekley, “They walked together as the shadows gathered.” Howe died June 17, 1903, at age 74.

Clarence Mummart passed away on December 2, 1959. He was kind of a utility fielder, serving the church in a variety of capacities.

  • Two different terms as bishop, 1921-1925, and 1937-1941.
  • Two stints as president of Huntington College, 1912-1915 and 1925-1932.
  • Two stints as editor of the denominational newspaper, the Christian Conservator, 1909-1911 and 1917-1920.
  • One term, 1905-1909, as general secretary of UB Christian Endeavor.

Mummart was born in 1874 in Franklin County, Pa. His ancestors came from Germany about the same time as William Otterbein. During his formative years, the Macedonia United Brethren church was being built near their farm in Greencastle, Pa. Young Clarence began attending.

Mummart sensed a call to ministry as a teenager, but didn’t pursue that call until 1896, when he was licensed by Ebenezer UB church in Greencastle. By that time, he was married with three children, and had been teaching school. Bishop Milton Wright was presiding a year later when Mummart was granted an annual conference license from Pennsylvania Conference. He was ordained four years later by Bishop Horace Barnaby.

Mummart had a somewhat strange, twisting career, with education and the ministry intertwined in various ways. He was clearly immensely talented, particularly as an administrator. Arguments could be made that he had a short attention span, or that he lacked a clear calling to any one thing, or that he didn’t really know what he wanted to do with his life. Or, you could argue that he just made himself available to be used wherever the church needed him.

Mummart pastored in Pennsylvania until 1903, when he began two years as pastor of College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind., followed by other pastorates in Indiana and Ohio.

In 1905, he was elected to the newly-created role of General Secretary of Christian Endeavor. After four years, he reported that 104 CE societies had begun. He was re-elected in 1909, but he resigned to become editor of The Christian Conservator. In 1911, he joined the faculty of Huntington College (then called Central College), and chaired the Department of Theology 1911-1917, and then 1919-1920. For three of those years, 1912-1915, he was the college president.

He returned to editing the Christian Conservator 1917-1920, though he would write that he didn’t feel “editorially inclined” and viewed himself as “filling the place rather than entering into it with the joy and delight of service.”

Curiously, Mummart spent the 1920-1921 year as Superintendent of Schools in LaCenter, Kentucky. The 1921 General Conference then elected him bishop, even though he had seemingly left the ministry. Maybe it was the only way to recover this immensely talented man.

Mummart left the bishopric in 1925 to become president of Huntington College. He was re-elected bishop in 1929, but resigned to continue as HC president. But General Conference persisted, and elected him bishop again in 1937. This time he accepted, though he simultaneously pastored a UB church in Greencastle, Pa.

He seems to have been a complicated man, and perhaps a bit awkward. Bishop Clarence Carlson said Mummart had difficulty interacting socially with children and young people, and that Mummart once told him, “I never learned how to play, only how to work. You might say that I never had a boyhood such as most boys have. As far back as I can remember, I worked.”

Mummart was known for his administrative and leadership abilities. Carlson described him as “meticulous and methodical.” Mary Lou Funk wrote, “He looked for thoroughness and accuracy in others, and could not rest until he thought a task was well done. He believed in the letter of the law, but when that had been acknowledged, he was willing to grant concessions at times.”

Funk said Mummart sometimes appeared to be “severe and unsociable.” Bishop Lloyd Eby remarked, “I was fortunately to break through Mummart’s outward severity and found him a warm friend.”

Mummart died at age 85 and was buried in the cemetery of Macedonia UB church, where he attended as a boy. His obituary in The United Brethren magazine emphasized his leadership abilities.

Dr. Mummart was an able executive. No man was pushed aside because there was disagreement. The heart of the true executive recognizes the possibility that the other man may be right. Friendship or personal advantage had no part in the decisions he made as bishop. There was one rule which he followed: ‘Is it best for the church and the saving of souls?”

Left: The Baker family in 1949, when they arrived in Sierra Leone: DeWitt, Evelyn, Ron, and Norman. Right: A later picture of the Baker family after the death of Norman, with daughters Joyce and Annette.

For the DeWitt Baker family in Sierra Leone, 1955 began in celebration with the dedication of Centennial High School. But the year ended in tragedy.

Evelyn Baker homeschooled her two sons—Ron, in fourth grade, and Norman, in third grade. The boys often joined their school friends for recess.

On December 1, 1955, Ron and Norman joined Mattru students in their annual end-of-the-year picnic, being held two miles down the Jong River at the island village of Pipah. Colleen Sundstrom, another missionary kid, age ten, tagged along. Solomon George, a teacher, was in charge of the day’s activities. DeWitt went to the wharf at 7:00 a.m. to help Ron, Norman, and Colleen into the crowded boat for the all-day excursion.

At the end of the day, everyone climbed aboard the boat for the trip back to Mattru. Many children were atop the cabin roof, doing an African dance and beating a drum. Before the launch cast off, Solomon George asked the missionary kids to come down from the roof. He spoke specifically to Norman, the youngest, warning him that it was safer inside the boat. Norman complied.

As the boat swung into the swift current, the supporting struts buckled and the roof collapsed, throwing Ron, Colleen, Solomon George, and many students into the river. Mr. George, who couldn’t swim, grabbed a floating board, but when he realized that Colleen couldn’t swim, he gave her the board and told her to hang on. A canoe eventually picked her up, but Mr. George drowned. Ron, a good swimmer, helped another struggling teacher make it to the shore.

Twin brothers John and Jonny Williams also fell off the launch. One reached shore, then swam back to help his struggling brother. Both boys drowned. So did another student, James Sankoh. In all, the accident claimed the lives of Solomon George, three male students…and Norman Baker.

When the capsized boat was pulled back to shore, Norman’s body was found under the crumpled roof. He had been sitting under the roof, but leaning out over a partition to watch the diesel engine. When the roof collapsed, rafters fell across his neck and killed him.

DeWitt Baker wrote in his autobiography:

“Norman was laid on a cot in our living room near a front window. Some came inside to look at him and went back out, calmly and respectfully. They had never known a fatal accident to occur to a missionary child….Our calm acceptance of Norman’s death was a witness to the crowd of mourners of our faith in God.

“Despite our faith and despite taking sleeping pills, there was no sleep that night for any of us. Nurse [Juanita] Smith lovingly washed and dressed Norman’s body. Carpenter Lincoln built a casket and brought it to the house at 1:30 a.m. Soft rain fell from 3:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m.”

That morning P. C. Dole, a Sierra Leonean pastor, led a memorial service for Norman at the Mattru church. Burial would be in Gbangbaia, 25 miles away, where the Bakers had lived for two years. A long procession followed the pallbearers as they carried the casket to the ferry. Two miner’s jeeps then carried the casket, missionary friends, pall bearers, and others on the bush trail to Gbangbaia. Friends lined the path leading to the church, where Pastor Henry J. Becker led a second memorial service. Then the casket was carried downhill to the Danville cemetery, where other missionaries and nationals were buried.

Norman’s tombstone.

Evan Towne, a UB missionary, found a large stone in the river, about three feet long and two feet wide. It was set deeply into a cement base in the secluded mission cemetery. With loving care, Evan chiseled into the stone:

Our Little Missionary
Norman Dean Baker
January 4, 1948 – December 1, 1955

The Bakers spent New Year’s in Gbangbaia with other missionaries. During the afternoon of New Year’s Eve, DeWitt and Evelyn walked down to Norman’s grave. They took communion that night at the Danville Watch Night Service. Baker wrote, “How we missed having Norman standing by our sides, taking communion with us.”

The Baker family still had seven months on their term, and they completed it. DeWitt wrote, “The end of 1955 was a very difficult time for us, yet we believed that the Lord would use us to do His work in Sierra Leone. We stood in awe of our Lord as He worked out His plan for our lives. We continued to stand upon Romans 8:28. His will be done.”

Martin Boehm was born on November 30, 1725, the youngest child in the family.

His father, Jacob, had come to America ten years before, in 1715, emigrating from Holland. Jacob settled in Lancaster, Pa. He bought a 381-acre farm, built a house, and became the area’s first blacksmith. He also married a Mennonite girl named Barbara Kendig, who sometimes worked alongside him in the blacksmith shop.

Martin grew up embracing the Mennonite doctrines and practicing their ways. As an adult, he proved to be a successful farmer in his own right. He started with 181 acres from his father’s farm and kept buying additional land, ultimately ending up with 400 acres. At age 28, he married 19-year-old Eve Steiner, and they had eight children.

It was in 1756, when Martin was 31 years old (some accounts set the year at 1758), that he was chosen by lot to be a Mennonite minister. That set in motion events which led to his own conversion, his becoming an evangelist, and eventually, a Great Meeting in 1767 during which he met a German Reformed minister named William Otterbein. Thirty-three years later, Boehm and Otterbein would become the first two bishops of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

Bishop Lloyd Eby (right) passed away on November 27, 1969. He had lived a full life–missionary in Sierra Leone, pastor, planter of many churches, and bishop for eight years (1949-1957).

After leaving the bishopric, Lloyd and Eula Eby went back to Sierra Leone for one more term (their third). Then, in 1962, they settled down to retirement in Fort Wayne, Ind., and faithfully attended Third Street (now Anchor) United Brethren Church. During this twilight years, he focused on prayer. Tim Hallman wrote about it in the chapter on Lloyd Eby in “United Brethren Bishops, Volume 2.”

Eby regularly prayed for over 500 missionaries and staff personnel around the world. He kept a notebook with a page for each of “his” missionaries–photo, country, description, needs, etc. Maps and calendars supplemented his praying, along with at least 50 mission publications which kept him updated on the broader world of missions.

Eby divided his prayer list into sections, and covered some of it each day. He said he would kneel until he got tired, then would get up and walk around or stand and pray.

Eula Eby kept her own missions prayer list. They received at least 25 letters a week from missionaries. They also sent out a newsletter titled, “Intercessory Fellowship for Missionaries,” and opened their home to missionaries passing through Fort Wayne.

Bishop Clarence Carlson said of Eby: “I know of no other person who prays as fervently and persistently as he does. Most of his time throughout the day is spent in prayer.”

Nettie Birdsall

Nettie Birdsall, a 26-year-old from Clare, Mich., went to Sierra Leone in December 1920 as a teacher and served two terms, up through November 22, 1926.

After concluding her United Brethren work in Sierra Leone, Nettie spent five years with a Protestant French faith mission in French Equatorial Africa (what are today the countries of Chad, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, the Congo, and Gabon). Then she served seven years in the Belgian Congo.

After those lengthy assignments, Nettie returned to the States. In 1948, she once again applied with the United Brethren mission board. They sent her to Sierra Leone in January 1949 for a third term, where she served at the Minnie Mull Home. However, a stubborn illness cut her term to 11 months, and she returned to the States in December 1949.

In July 1966, Nettie married John Swales of Lamont, Iowa. They had been students together, 1915-1918, while attending Huntington College. Nettie passed away February 3, 1970, and John died two years later.