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On January 29, 1989, Dennis Miller preached his first message as pastor of Emmanuel Community Church in Fort Wayne, Ind. It was a congregation of about 100 people primed for growth–good leadership, nice facility, great location in a growing area. Miller was exactly the right person to help Emmanuel fulfill its potential. He brought leadership, vision, a strong pulpit teaching ministry, and a focus on discipleship.

Within seven years, Emmanuel had grown to 600 people and completed two major building campaigns, including a 700-seat sanctuary. And in 2009, 20 years after that first sermon, Emmanuel became the UB church with the highest average attendance, shooting past the 1400 mark (King Street church in Chambersburg, Pa., had been the largest church for many decades). In 2011, attendance went past 1800, with 71 conversions and 93 baptisms for the year.

Soon after he came to Emmanuel, Miller developed the church motto “His Word, Our Walk.” Nowhere was that theme more clear than in the many weekly GROW discipleship groups which systematically led people through the whole Bible and helped them grow deep in their Christian walk. It accounted for the ever-broadening leadership base, which in turn fueled the church’s growth.

On January 28, 1952, Bumpe Bible Institute opened as the place to train United Brethren ministers in Sierra Leone. The initial class had 12 students.

Two months before, Rev. M.E. and Francis Burkett arrived on the field with sons David and Stephen. At that point, land had been cleared and construction begun on a two-room school. The Burketts took up residence in a thatch-roof house in Bumpe.

Rev. Burkett served as principal of the school, and taught alongside two Sierra Leonean ministers. The next year, they were joined by Bernadine Hoffman, who had previously served two terms in Sierra Leone. During the second and third years, dormitories and dining rooms were added to the campus.

Bumpe Bible Institute was short-lived. In 1964, we joined with three other denominations–Missionary Church, Wesleyan Church, and Wesleyan Methodist–to start Sierra Leone Bible College (now Evangelical College of Theology). On the vacated land of Bumpe Bible Institute, we built the current Bumpe High School.

Dr. George D. Fleming

Dr. George D. Fleming

George and Daisy Fleming

George and Daisy Fleming

George Daniel Fleming was born January 21, 1890, in Ionia County, Mich. He was one of the United Brethren giants of the 1900s–missionary, pastor, missions director, author, mentor, and prayer warrior. Many knew him as “Mr. Missions,” a fitting title for the man who headed our mission work for 25 years.

Fleming became a Christian at age 13 under the ministry of his father, a UB pastor. In 1911, at age 22, he and his wife of 11 months, Daisy, sailed for Sierra Leone, where he became principal of the 120-student school at Danville. After 13 months, they were sent to Bonthe to begin a girls’ boarding school.

Altogether, the Flemings spent 20 years–five terms–as missionaries, returning to the States in 1932. After a few years pastoring a church, Fleming was elected as the denomination’s General Secretary of Missions (what we now call Director of Global Ministries). During his tenure, we opened mission fields in Honduras, Jamaica, and Hong Kong. He continued in that office until retiring in 1961. He then wrote two books about the history of the Sierra Leone mission.

Those who knew George Fleming recognized him as a man who lived his life as though in the presence of God.

Bishop Clyde W. Meadows treasured his many late-night talks with George Fleming, as they reviewed the church and the opportunities before them. He wrote, “He was a man of God, and was a real bishop—encouraging, correcting, quietly steering the work of the Kingdom of God….Pastor of pastors, bishop of souls, a leader always abounding in the work of the Lord. Thank God for this man who in his life, ministry, words, and attitude showed us the Lord Jesus Christ.”

January 20, 1984, was the conclusion of a five-day Church Leaders Clinic in Columbus, Ohio. A total of 242 United Brethren spent five days under the teaching of John Maxwell, now a best-selling author. Of those, 146 were current United Brethren pastors, making it the largest-ever assembly of UB pastors to that point. Another 75 were pastors’ wives, and a smaller contingent consisted of headquarters officials and spouses.

Maxwell’s sessions–18 of them, each 90 minutes long–resembled a stream of consciousness marathon, with numerous excursions down unplanned rabbit trails. But his humor, captivating stories, energy, and charisma kept people glued to him. He communicated a deep passion for everything pertaining to the local church, and particularly for winning people to Christ. He filled every session with boundless laughter, bantering freely with people, but he could also turn serious, leaving people in tears.

It was an amazing week with a revival atmosphere. Scores of broken, humbled, but thoroughly renewed pastors went back to their congregations, and the Holy Spirit used them.

Reports poured in about crowded altars, new converts, and of pastors standing before congregations and transparently confessing their failings. Pastors were boldly confronting people about their relationship with Christ, and new souls were being added to the Kingdom. There were many, many such stories.

The first service of Immanuel UB church (Carlisle, Pa.) was held on January 17, 1982. The church was a joint effort of Pennsylvania Conference and Prince Street church in Shippensburg, Pa. The first service was held in a Seventh Day Adventist school outside of town, with 28 people attending. Fred Johns, pastor of Prince Street, served as supervising pastor.

Rodney Minor, a seminary student, conducted services for seven months. Then, in August, the conference assigned Patrick Jones as pastor of Immanuel, in addition to his work as associate pastor of Prince Street. On his first Sunday, ten people attended. The next summer, he was assigned to Carlisle fulltime, and attendance climbed into the 50s. In December 1983, they bought their own building for $50,000 with help from Prince Street. Jones remained at Carlisle until 1988.

In 2000, Immanuel merged with a non-UB church to form a United Brethren congregation now called Bethany Evangelical Church.

Nancy N'Gele, center, with Milton and Erika Pacheco, who spoke in September 2016 about their upcoming ministry  with the UB team in Thailand.

Nancy N’Gele, center, with Milton and Erika Pacheco, who spoke at Mt. Hope UB Church (Carson City, Mich.) in September 2016 about their upcoming ministry with the UB team in Thailand.

On January 15, 1957, Nancy Hull N’Gele began the first of three terms as a missionary in Sierra Leone. She was the daughter of Rev. Charles and Emma Hull, who pastored UB churches in Michigan for over 50 years. Very early in life, Nancy sensed God calling her to missionary service, and she never doubted her call.

Nancy graduated from Huntington College with a degree in elementary education and went on to earn a masters degree from Michigan State. She responded to the call for teachers in Sierra Leone, serving first at Minnie Mull girls’ school followed by nine years at Centennial High School in Mattru. In addition to teaching, she supervised the girls’ dorm and participated in village evangelism.

In 1970, Nancy returned to her hometown of Carson City, Mich., where a teaching position awaited her. She continues living there in a house on the Carson City Campground and attending the nearby Mt. Hope UB church.

For a number of years, we worked cooperatively with two other denominations, the Evangelical Congregational Church and the Primitive Methodist Church. We jointly sponsored missionaries and Sunday school curriculum, and the leaders met every year. We called it The Federation.

The 1981 General Conference instructed that we “aggressively pursue merger” with those denominations. A lot of meetings followed, and the three denominations tried hard to make it work. They saw a lot of advantages—for missions, colleges, camps, overhead, pastors, and other areas.

But in the end, it came down to Freemasonry. The other two groups allowed church members to also belong to the Masonic lodge, and we didn’t. If we changed our stand, it would have been hugely divisive.

January 14, 1983, at a meeting in the UB National Office, leaders of the three denominations published a statement saying that merger wasn’t going to happen. They saw benefits to cooperating in various endeavors, but real problems going a step further and merging.

Said Bishop C. Ray Miller, “I personally am interested in beefing up the Federation. But in light of the problems I see that would be divisive, I am not interested in merger.”

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On January 12, 2010, a monster 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, killing at least 220,000 people and displacing 1.5 million. The capital, Port au Prince, was hit especially hard. Two UB churches in Cite Soleil, the poorest area of Port Au Prince, were destroyed.

At the time, superintendent Oliam Richard was attending the General Conference meeting in Honduras. His wife, Esther, had flown into Haiti the day before. He spent that night, Tuesday, glued to CNN and seeking information on the internet. He tried to find passage home on Wednesday, but nothing was available.

During the closing service of General Conference on Wednesday night, at a packed church in La Ceiba, an offering of $800 was taken up for Haiti. The Canadian delegates added another $900, and the two Guatemalan delegates gave $50 out of their own pockets (said Jeff Bleijerveld: “This, believe me, is a LOT of money”). The money was presented to Rev. Richard, and the delegates from around the world laid hands on him in prayer.

Rev. Richard was eventually able to reach the Dominican Republic, and then travel by van across the border to Haiti. He found his wife and family shaken, but well. Although their home was still standing, they were staying outside because of the continued aftershocks.

United Brethren people proved very generous, as is usually the case after natural disasters. By June, Global Ministries had received over $170,000 designated for Haiti. In addition, money was sent to Haiti from Jamaica ($6900), Honduras ($900), Hong Kong ($7900), and Canada ($10,000).

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On January 11, 1988, the first term of the English Language Program began in Macau. They budgeted for 40 students, but 120 students enrolled. “God gave us the best beginning we could have imagined,” said Luke Fetters, one of the founding missionaries.

The team included two American pastoral families who had arrived in Hong Kong in Nov. 1986–Luke and Audrey Fetters, and Phil and Darlene Burkett–plus Carol and Cannie Chan, a United Brethren couple from Hong Kong. They leased space on the second floor of a building to use for ELP classes and church services for what became Living Water Church.

The ELP ran four nights a week, Tuesday through Friday, but each student came just two nights. They started at 6:30 with an hour of teaching. Luke and Phil did nearly all of the teaching; Audrey and Darlene, with small children at home, sometimes substituted. At 7:30, they opened the accordion doors between classrooms and all of the students joined for a ten-minute chapel period, which Carol Chan led in Chinese. The chapel was upbeat, with a very clear Gospel message.

Next came a ten-minute break, during which Luke, Phil, and the Chans tried to engage with students, perhaps asking them something related to the chapel message. After another 30 minutes of teaching, the first session ended. Then they started all over again at 8:30 with a second batch of students. The evening ended at 10:30.

There were six levels. Initially, they offered Level One, plus Level Four classes for students who already knew some English. Each term lasted 12 weeks. It took two years to complete all six levels. Two years for the Gospel message to sink in.

koroma_ritaRita Wild Koroma, 87, passed away on January 8, 2011, in Oxford, England. She served as a missionary teacher in Sierra Leone 1954-1962.

Rita was the daughter of Rev. Fred Wild, who pastored UB churches in the Midwest for 48 years in South Dakota, Nebraska, and Illinois. She graduated from Huntington University, and later earned a Masters in History from Northwestern University.

Rita arrived in Sierra Leone during the early stages of Centennial High School, working alongside principal E. DeWitt Baker. She taught at the school for ten years, and served one year as interim principal while the Bakers were on furlough. In 1963 she married Adams Koroma, and spent the rest of her days in England.