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On February 20, 1865, Henry Becker joined the Ohio 188th Volunteer Infantry. The Civil War ended on April 9 with the regiment seeing no action. However, by the time the company was mustered out in September, 45 men had died of disease or accidents. Becker contracted an intestinal malady that afflicted him for the rest of his life and required two surgeries. The best treatment was to remain physically active, so he did.

Becker was converted in 1868 and the next year became a United Brethren preacher in Ohio. Five years later, he was sent to the West Coast as a missionary. He started out pastoring in Washington and Oregon, and then pastored in California 1878-1889. In 1888, Becker took a three-month trip through Great Britain, Europe, the Holy Land, and parts of Africa. He wrote extensively about the trip, and for many years afterwards spoke about his travels.

When the denomination split in 1889, Becker joined Milton Wright to start what was basically a new denomination–the United Brethren church of today. Becker was among the four persons elected as bishop in 1889. However, he served only four years. He was re-elected in 1893, but promptly resigned, probably for health reasons.

After his term as bishop, Henry Becker became an accomplished magician as a way to discredit spiritualists, who said they could communicate with the dead. He was even elected president of the Anti-Spiritualist Association of America in 1897.

It’s unclear what exactly happened, but around 1905 Becker was removed as pastor of a UB church in Chambersburg, Pa., and spent the next 20 years pastoring in the Presbyterian Church. It was said that he never again entered a United Brethren church. He passed away in 1934 in Dayton, Ohio.

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Around 5:00 in the morning on February 18, 1964, Bishop Clyde Meadows landed in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, a small country in West Africa. It was a Tuesday, and Thursday was the opening day of Sierra Leone Annual Conference. He was supposed to be there.

Meadows wanted to leave ASAP for Sierra Leone, but everyone he encountered at the airport spoke French, the official language of Senegal. He was tired–it was the last stop in a trip around the world–and was ready to just take the next plane to New York.

Then a teenage Senegalese young man, “as black as a black man could be” recalled Meadows, approached him and, in perfect American English, asked, “Could I be of help to you, sir?”

Meadows explained his situation. The young man did some checking, and told him a plane would leave for Sierra Leone in two hours. Sold!

Meadows reached Freetown, Sierra Leone, ahead of schedule. On Wednesday, missionary Russell Birdsall drove him up-country to Bumpe, where the bishop visited with missionaries June Brown and DeWitt and Evelyn Baker, and also took a swim in the river. Then it was on to Mattru, where the 49th Sierra Leone Annual Conference started at 9:00 am.

That year, 1964, Bishop Meadows became the first bishop to ever conduct Sierra Leone Annual Conference. He returned in 1968 to do it again.

Meadows described it as a very complicated conference to conduct. As of 1968, Sierra Leone Conference had 59 churches, making it the largest conference in the denomination (Michigan Conference was then second, with 50 churches). In addition to the churches, Meadows wrote, the conference supervised 33 day schools with 4200 pupils, two high schools, three boarding schools, and a 57-bed hospital.

“This,” Meadows wrote, “is more business to be responsible for than any other annual conference that I have ever held.”

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George Weaver, the senior bishop 1969-1977, passed away on February 15, 2002. Over the years, he had weathered a series of heart attacks and cardiac operations.

Weaver was known as a strong, even imposing bishop—a man who got things done, a leader. He was gifted in preaching, administration, and writing. Those privileged to know him at the personal level saw a man of warmth, compassion, and wisdom.

George Weaver was born in 1927 in McCloud, Calif. He was only a couple years old when his mother died. Just after George’s fifth birthday, his father left him and younger brother Rolland with Morris and Maud Weaver. He told them, “George and Rolland, this is your new daddy and mother.” And that’s the last George Weaver saw his biological father.

The Weavers owned a ranch outside of Pixley. A few weeks after George and Rolland arrived, the place burned down—the home, sheds, equipment—everything. Within a month, the family had been forced into a migrant worker existence, harvesting fruit, vegetables, and cotton in California and Oregon. George worked the fields with his parents.

After three years of this, Morris began tending an orange grove in Porterville, near Pixley. The family lived in two tents with wood floors, electric lights, and water carried from an irrigation canal. In 1939, the family moved back to Pixley. “It was the first time in seven years that we did not live in a tent,” George recalled.

It was not a happy or secure childhood. However, in 1943 he became a Christian at the Pixley United Brethren church and began thinking about becoming a preacher. Just before his 18th birthday he joined the Navy to become a pilot, but World War 2 ended just as he was finishing boot camp, and he was discharged in 1946.

He headed off to Huntington College in 1947, married a classmate from Chambersburg, Pa., and in 1950 accepted a student pastorate in Decatur, Ind. Other pastorates followed–in Kansas, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Indiana. He was editor of the denominational magazine for two years, 1957-1959, and then began ten years as pastor of Otterbein UB church in Waynesboro, Pa.

In 1969, General Conference elected three new bishops, and Weaver became the senior bishop. He served eight years in that role. Major accomplishments include merger three conferences into what became Central Conference, establishing Camp Cotubic, and building a new UB Headquarters building.

Weaver wrote frankly about those years.

“I remember giving more time and energy to accomplishing the business of the church than being engaged in its mission. ‘Administrator’ is the most accurate description of my tenure as bishop. There was a raging inner tension between my vision of the bishopric and what seemed to be the reality of administering the program and business of the church. There were matters that culminated in an endless progression of decisions. I did not like having to make them, and others did not like their outcome….Many viewed me as caring more for the process than for persons—both the mark and the curse of the administrator….Realization set in that I would be unable to do all that I had envisioned to accomplish.”

In 1977, Weaver became president of Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio. The seminary prospered under his leadership. He stepped down as president in 1988, but continued teaching until 1992. Then he and Bette retired in Cincinnati.

The 1975 Jamaica Annual Conference, which began on February 13, represented a significant transition. First of all, it was the first conference held at the new Malvern camp. But the main change involved leadership.

For seven years, the conference superintendent had been Rev. A. N. Braithwaite. He was pretty much the last of the early leaders whose efforts, since the mid-1940s, had built Jamaica Conference. His colleagues had retired or moved on. Now, a new generation was ready to take charge.

It started with Rev. Lloyd Spencer (right), who was elected at the 1975 meeting as conference superintendent. He was a relatively young minister in a role which had always gone to an older minister or to a missionary. Whereas Braithwaite had served fulltime as superintendent, Spencer continued pastoring the York Town church.

Within two years, the conference council included five more members of this younger generation–Jasper Green, Owen Gordon, Donald Dacres, Ormande Harris, and Isaac Nugent. Others–Winston Smith, Basil Dunkley, Trevor Williams–were waiting in the wings. Many of these new leaders grew up in UB churches under the ministry of that earlier generation of ministers. Which is exactly the way it should work.

Lloyd Spencer continued as senior superintendent for 19 years, finally stepping aside in 1994. But a few years later, he returned as General Superintendent until 2002. At that point he concluded 40 years as a Jamaica Conference minister, church planter, evangelist, and superintendent.

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John Jacob Glossbrenner served as bishop for 40 years, 1845-1885, easily the longest tenure of any UB bishop. Next in line, at 28 years, was Fermin Hoskins, who passed away on February 8, 1935.

Hoskins was a most interesting guy. He grew up in Oregon, the tall son of hardy pioneers who had trekked cross-country from the Carolinas. He was Lincolnesque in bearing, scholarly, a deep thinker, voracious reader, powerful preacher, formidable debater, and parliamentarian extraordinaire. Hoskins was known for his aversion to wearing ties, for fearlessly advocating holy living, and for peppering sermons with scientific and archaeological facts.

Hoskins served as president of a seminary and two different colleges, including a year at Huntington College (1911-1912). He became bishop in 1905, taking the place of 24-year bishop Milton Wright. He served his last eight years alongside 24-year bishop Walter Musgrave, and his last four years with Albert Johnson, who would go on to serve 22 years as bishop.

“Home” was a 400-acre cattle ranch in Idaho, which Hoskins usually left with his wife and four daughters as he roamed across the Church. He retired in 1933, returning to the ranch in Idaho and passing away two years later.

geeting400George Geeting was the third most important minister in the earliest days of the United Brethren church, right behind founders William Otterbein and Martin Boehm. Though he never became a bishop, he was highly respected and influential. He was also regarded as Otterbein’s closet personal friend and the person in whom he most freely confided.

Geeting was born on February 6, 1741, in Germany, not far from Otterbein’s stomping grounds. Like Otterbein, he was raised in the German Reformed Church, but the similarities end there. He received what was described as a “fair” education, and became a miner.

At age 18, Geeting immigrated to America. With war raging between England and France, immigration was at a low point. But somehow, Geeting made the trip and ended up settling for the rest of his life in Antietam, Maryland. Geeting taught school during the winter, and quarried stone and dug wells during the summer.

It’s likely that Geeting became acquainted with William Otterbein around 1760, when Otterbein preached at Antietam. Geeting became a Christian, possibly under Otterbein’s preaching, and threw himself into church work. Historian A. W. Drury describes Geeting as a “real Timothy” to Otterbein—sort of a mentor-disciple role. Otterbein frequently stayed at Geeting’s home, which became his personal retreat and his headquarters when he was on the road. We can imagine the discussions they had late into the night.

Geeting was a successful farmer, physically strong, scrupulously attired, and well-read. He developed into a powerful preacher, and traveled extensively to preach in scattered communities. He was described as an earnest and deliberate preacher whose voice combined sweetness and power.

Geeting attended all of the important meetings of the early United Brethren church—the two conferences held during the latter 1700s, the meeting in 1800 which the United Brethren church was organized, and most if not all of the annual conferences after that. He passed away in 1812—a few months after Martin Boehm, and a year before Otterbein.

bernadine-hoffmanOn February 5, 2001, a funeral service was held for Bernadine Hoffman at Crossroads UB church in Charlotte, Mich., where she settled in 1983 after retiring from missionary service. Bernadine had suffered a major stroke and, a few days later, passed away.

Bernadine served 39 consecutive years as a missionary in Sierra Leone. She went to Africa in 1944 and served 12 full terms. It was, at that point, the longest any UB missionary had served under the UB Board of Missions. Miriam Prabhakar, in India, finally passed her in 2014.

Over the years Bernadine served at Bonthe, Gbangbaia, Mattru, and Bumpe in various teaching and administrative roles, including a number of years in the conference’s Christian Education office. She also raised several African children, one of whom was Rev. Joe Abu, a UB pastor in Pennsylvania. He wrote:

“Even though from a strong Muslim background, I came to know the Lord through the missionary ministries of Mama. I still remember our daily devotions at home when she sang from the Mende hymnal and read the Word of God to me in my language. There are numerous other Africans in Europe, Africa, Canada, and around the world who came to know the Lord, and are ministers today, because of the missionary work of Mama. We need some Mama Hoffmans today. People ready and willing to invest in the lives of the less fortunate and people around us.”

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Eli Griffin, who served as bishop 1925-1929, passed away on February 4, 1950. He was 82.

Griffin is not a well-known bishop, and left no discernible mark on UB history. But what little we know portrays a pleasant, positive, and spiritual man who was respected and loved. Just a solid, dependable guy–tall, white-haired, distinguished, fatherly. His lasting legacy, though intangible, may be the encouragement and advice he lavished on young ministers.

Griffin was United Brethren to the core. He was born in 1867 into a United Brethren family, and raised and converted in a UB church in Angola, Ind. He sensed God’s call to ministry as a teenager and began preaching at age 18. He graduated from the denomination’s seminary, and later in life was granted an honorary doctorate by Huntington College.

Altogether, Griffin served 58 years as a UB minister. During his four years as bishop, he oversaw the Pacific district–California, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, and Washington. He visited every church at least once, traveling by train and car. During those four years, he preached 1088 sermons, and held ten revival meetings with 132 conversions.

Griffin and his wife, Nettie Mae, were married 26 years and had five children. She died in 1918 after being crushed by a bull on the family farm, but four years later he married Alice, who was also a minister.

Griffin declined to run for re-election in 1929 because of his wife’s illness. But she recovered, and he continued serving the church as a pastor and in other leadership roles, including 1925-1949 on the Board of Missions.

A grandson reflected, “When Bishop Griffin came to visit, there was a very different atmosphere in the house. He brought peace, tranquility, and kindness. To a little boy, there was something very different about him. From a present adult standpoint, he exuded a special aura.”

Christian Newcomer (left) and Ray Seilhamer.

Christian Newcomer (left) and Ray Seilhamer.

Two United Brethren bishops were born on February 1, but nearly 200 years apart. Both were committed to church planting, and both saw the denomination greatly expand during their years in office–domestically for one, internationally for the other.

Christian Newcomer was born on February 1, 1749, the son of Swiss Mennonites. He began preaching in 1777, and soon became associated with United Brethren founders Martin Boehm and William Otterbein. In 1813 he became the third United Brethren bishop, and served until his death in 1830.

Newcomer is credited with leading the expansion of the church beyond Pennsylvania. He even made it to Canada in 1826. He was kind of our Apostle Paul, constantly traveling and organizing churches. Is it estimated that Newcomer traveled 150,000 miles on horseback between ages 46 and 81.

Ray Seilhamer was born February 1, 1938, and served eight years as bishop, 1993-2001. Under his watch, we nearly doubled the number of countries with United Brethren churches.

As World War 2 ended, we added outreaches in Jamaica (1944) and Honduras (1945). We then settled into a pattern of venturing into one new country every decade: Hong Kong in the 1950s, Nicaragua in the 1960s, India in the 1970s, and Macau in the 1980s. It wasn’t an intentional strategy, but just the way it worked out.

Then came the 1990s. No more big gaps. During that decade, beginning in 1993, the year Seilhamer was elected, the seeds were planted for United Brethren ministry in another nine countries: Thailand (1993), Costa Rica (1995), Mexico (1997), Guatemala (1997), Germany (1997), Myanmar (1998), El Salvador (1999), the Philippines (1999), and Haiti (2000).

It was an exciting time. And it was no longer only the United States taking the lead. Hong Kong initiated work in Thailand and Myanmar, Sierra Leoneans spearheaded a church in Germany, and Honduras and Nicaragua initiated expansion into Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Two men, same birthday, and a very similar legacy.

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On January 30, 1995, rebels captured the town of Mattru Jong in Sierra Leone. Everyone saw it coming. Rebels had taken Bumpe, then the nearby Sierra Rutile mining camp. It was only a matter of time before they came to Mattru.

In mid-January, Mattru Hospital essentially closed down. Nadine Hoekman, a UB nurse, paid all the workers and locked things up. Then she and the only other remaining missionaries, Joe and Rachel Beah, headed to Freetown. Two staffers stayed to give daily medication to tuberculosis patients.

Rebels ransacked Mattru Hospital, taking everything of value. They even dismantled the X-ray machine. They loaded it onto a boat and headed toward Guinea to sell it, but the launch sank in the Atlantic Ocean.

Mattru, like many towns throughout the country, was deserted as residents fled into the bush. Many United Brethren people were among them. Two UB ministers were taken prisoner.

The RUF settled in for eight months, establishing its own government and turning Mattru Hospital into a training base.