Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer was a true pioneer preacher. He began his ministry in frontier settlements in Illinois and Wisconsin. In the years ahead, he would help extend the United Brethren church into three new states–Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

At age 33, he heard that the new Home, Frontier, and Foreign Mission Board was recruiting ministers to go to Oregon. He offered to go if the board would pay $150 of his expenses. They agreed. With that amount, Jeremiah and Elizabeth Kenoyer committed themselves–and their seven children, ages 12 to a few weeks–to the 2000-mile journey.

The Kenoyers were penniless when they reached the Willamette Valley in Oregon. A grandson wrote that they left one or two milk cows with a ferryman because they couldn’t pay him. The Kenoyers immediately went to cousin Rev. Jesse Harritt, who lived near Salem. Kenoyer split rails and chopped wood to earn a living, and preached every night of the week and twice on Sundays.

Rev. T. J. Connor, who led the wagon train, once wrote, “I will put Jeremiah Kenoyer against any man I ever saw for the ability to call seekers to the altar or bring members into the church.”

Oregon Mission Conference was organized in 1855 and by 1861 had forty-eight preaching places and five hundred sixty-five members.

In 1868 (some sources say 1863), Kenoyer and his family–now 11 children, soon to be 13–moved to Washington Territory, where he continued as a pioneer itinerant until old age. He led efforts to establish what became Walla Walla Conference, and played a key role in sending workers from there to Idaho Territory in the 1870s.

The ministry ran deep in Kenoyer’s blood. His father was Rev. Frederick Kenoyer, and his mother was the daughter of Rev. J. G. Pfrimmer, who was instrumental in the UB church’s earliest days. Three sons, a son-in-law, and five grandsons of Jeremiah Kenoyer became ministers. One grandson, Fermin L. Hoskins, served as bishop 1905-1933.

Bishop Milton Wright, who spent two years in Oregon, recalled hearing Kenoyer preach a sermon in which he “ground into the very dust the pro-slavery prejudices which spurned a quarterblood negro from the school by simple protest; and yet it was so masterful as well as kindly done, that no one could be seriously offended.”

Rev. Jeremiah Kenoyer died on August 17, 1906, in the state of Washington.

When the 1900s began, the field superintendent in Sierra Leone was Rev. D. F. Wilberforce, a Sierra Leonean. He was replaced in November 1900 by an American, and missionaries held that role right up until 1985. Jerry Datema had been field superintendent until being elected bishop in 1981. He was determined, as bishop, to put Sierra Leoneans in charge of our oldest mission field.

Hong Kong and Nicaragua conferences had never had missionaries. Jamaica Conference was now under national leadership, and Honduras Conference would be there in a couple years upon the retirement of Archie Cameron.

“In Sierra Leone I believe the time has come for more nationalization,” Bishop Datema said in 1983. “We have to give the nationals more responsible positions and let them make some of the important decisions….I strongly feel that if we have nationals to do the job, it is wrong to be using missionaries.”

In August 1982, Bishop Datema appointed 15 Sierra Leoneans, plus missionary Ron Baker, to what he called the Future Planning Committee. He asked them to draw up their own proposals concerning the future of the field, looking 10-12 years down the road. They energetically jumped into the task under the chairmanship of John Labor, principal of Bumpe High School. They envisioned nationalizing all United Brethren work by 1996, with the possible exception of the hospital.

Kyle McQuillen (right), then a United Methodist pastor, was recruited in 1983 to become the new field superintendent in Sierra Leone. He and his wife, Mar Louise, had previously served two years as UM missionaries in Nigeria. They flew to Sierra Leone in late December 1983. His main task was the lead the field toward nationalization.

McQuillen began meeting with the Future Planning committee, which had already been working for a year-and-a-half. Things quickly came together. A few missionary roles had already been turned over to nationals–the Education office, leadership in our many schools, the Christian Education department. Even the position of secretary to the field secretary.

The Future Planning Committee settled on a structure with three positions. The General Superintendent, as the spiritual leader and the highest administrative authority, would be the closest thing to the present field secretary. He would be joined by an administrative assistant, and a director of Evangelism and Stewardship.

The Sierra Leone church couldn’t afford three new fulltime persons. But McQuillen said it could work if his $11,050 salary remained on the field after his position ended. It would be enough to provide salary, housing, travel, and medical care for the three fulltime nationals. In addition, McQuillen figured the Missions board would save up to $10,000 in missionary-related expenses—family airfare, shipment of goods to and from the field, pension, Social Security, medical allowances, and children’s allowances.

In July 1984, McQuillen gathered all of the missionaries in Mattru. They spent three hours going over the detailed proposals from the Future Planning Committee, and fully agreed with the nationalization plan. But several wondered if the Board of Missions would accept the proposals.

The Board meeting was only a few weeks away, in mid-August. They knew that if the plans were to be implemented, action had to be taken at that meeting. Someone raised the idea of McQuillen attending in person. Field secretaries didn’t normally attend meetings of the Board of Missions–especially not after having been on the field for just nine months. But this was special, even historic. To show their united support, the missionaries agreed to pay McQuillen’s travel expenses out of their own salaries.

The day before McQuillen left, Dr. Ron Baker called him on the radio and told him of one more way the missionaries had agreed to show their support. Every missionary had signed up for one day of prayer and fasting during the seven-day period McQuillen would be gone.

On August 16, 1984, Kyle McQuillen gave his presentation to the Board of Missions. He covered all of the bases and answered every question. He said the Sierra Leone church currently had the personnel to make it work, and emphasized that unless his salary remained on the field, the proposals would have to be shelved.

They were convinced. The Board unanimously passed the nationalization plans. They also picked up McQuillen’s travel tab.

It was a quick trip for McQuillen. He arrived August 11, attended a week of meetings, and flew back August 18. Didn’t even stop to visit his Stateside children. But it was a successful trip—successful, in that it eliminated his own job.

In December 1984, Rev. Henry Allie, a Sierra Leonean pastor, was elected as the first national General Superintendent.

DeWitt and Evelyn Baker

DeWitt and Evelyn Baker

On August 15, 1965, Dr. E. DeWitt Baker became president of Huntington College. That brought a conclusion to 16 years of missionary service in Sierra Leone–years which saw the birth of two daughters, the death of a son, and the start of over 20 schools, including our first two United Brethren high schools in Sierra Leone.

On April 22, 1965, DeWitt Baker received a letter from Bishop Clyde W. Meadows. Would he let himself be a candidate for the presidency of Huntington College? He said he would, though he didn’t necessarily desire the position. But in late May, DeWitt learned that he had been selected as the new president, and would start on August 15, 1965.

Their son, Ron, then a freshman at Huntington College, returned to Sierra Leone for the farewell activities. On July 15, the Baker family—after planting four roses the grave of Norman, who had died in boating accident in 1955–left for America.

In the second chapel service of the year, Ron “inaugurated” his father by placing a freshman beanie on his head. He wore the beanie for several days.

Just as DeWitt Baker had spent 16 years in Sierra Leone, he now spent 16 years as president of Huntington College. During those years, enrollment grew significantly, and several new facilities were added—Hardy Hall, the Huntington Union Building, the original Merillat Physical Education Center, and the 77-acre Thornhill Nature Preserve. New majors were launched in accounting, medical technology, and recreation management, and the Graduate School of Christian Ministries was formed. The Baker Hall dormitory and a new president’s home were added in 1981, just as Dr. Baker was leaving office.

George and Keziah Bethers in 1849.

George and Keziah Bethers in 1849.

George Washington Bethers was born August 12, 1821, in Pickaway County, located just south of Columbus, Ohio. A lot of United Brethren lived there. In 1843 he married a Kentucky girl named Keziah Newton, and during their 35 years of marriage, they had 13 children. After her husband died in 1878, Keziah lived another 39 years.

Sometime in the late 1840s, the young Bethers family headed to Oregon. The idea had been on George’s mind for a while. He wrote of backing out in 1847, something he regretted. “Every once in a while I would get the notion, then I would hear some bad story and give it up again, so I decided I would go anyhow….I am glad to be here.”

Up until 1840, Oregon was inhabited mostly by Indians, fur traders, a few missionaries, and an assortment of other settlers. In 1841, a group of 70 pioneers left Independence, Missouri, following a 2000-mile route originally blazed by fur traders across the Rocky Mountains and into Oregon. Another 100 settlers made the trip in 1842, and a wagon train of over 1000 made the trek in 1843. It was just the start of a massive migration–an estimated 400,000 people by 1869–as people in the eastern states were drawn to the promise of better opportunities on the West Coast.

Both Great Britain and the US had vied for control of the area, and the US won out in an 1846 treaty. The Oregon Territory was officially organized in 1848. It included the current states of Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and parts of Montana and Wyoming. Britain was left with everything to the north.

The Bethers family established one of the pioneer farms of the Marys River Settlement, near present-day Philomath, Oregon. In the distant Northwest, they were sheep without a shepherd. George Bethers began writing letters to The Religious Telescope, the denominational magazine, begging for a preacher.

In 1852, the church came through. An appeal was put out for United Brethren to meet in Council Bluffs, Iowa, to journey together to Oregon. Rev. T. J. (Thomas Jefferson) Connor, a minister in Indiana, was appointed to lead the UBs westward and organize the church. He was joined by four other ministers and over 90 other people. They left Council Bluffs on April 9, 1853.

Among the travelers was Basil Longworth, a young single man. He kept a diary of the seven-month journey. On September 17 he wrote, “At the Columbia River, we met George Bethers, who had come from Oregon to meet us. He had butchered a beef, and we had a feast.” It was no doubt a joyous occasion for Bethers.

Soon, the first United Brethren church meeting was held in a schoolhouse at the Marys River Settlement. The first UB church was organized near there in January 1854. Other churches arose rapidly. The Oregon Mission Conference organized in 1855 with 17 preaching appointments and 120 members. By 1861, there were 42 preaching points and 565 members. The 1869 minutes recorded 1051 members. George Bethers lived long enough to see it all happen.

Today, we have just one church in Oregon: Philomath. Why? Because the other churches remained with the main body–now the United Methodist Church–when our small group split off in 1889. Once again, Oregon is, essentially, unreached by UBs. Our only foothold is there in Philomath, near where it all started with George Bethers writing letters.

In earlier times, most of the longest-tenured United Brethren missionaries served in Sierra Leone. Today, the top three can be found in Asia. Two of them minister in restricted access countries, which means we can’t talk about them on the internet. The third is Jennifer Blandin.

On August 10, 1996, Jennifer Blandin left the States to become a missionary in Macau. She has now served there for 21 years. She originally planned to go to Macau in October 1995, but a benign cyst and hairline fracture were found in a knee. Surgery and therapy delayed her departure for nearly a year.

Over the years, Jennifer has done some of everything as a member of the Macau team–teaching, preaching, discipling, pastoring, and team-leading. In 2011, Jennifer took an extended education leave to complete her masters degree from Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio.

Jennifer is from the Main Street UB church in Walbridge, Ohio. She accepted Christ into her heart at a young age and was baptized in her early teens. She went to Macau for a month as a Huntington University student.

Jennifer was able to attend the US National Conference this summer, and helped Pastor Jim Bolich conduct one of the workshops. She also attended the General Conference meeting, and assisted Pastor Karis Vong in representing the work in Macau. She will return to Macau in September.

DeWitt and Evelyn Baker

DeWitt and Evelyn Baker

In 1944, with World War II raging, five United Brethren missionaries headed for Sierra Leone. We’ve followed their journey–leaving from Indiana (April 9), their six-week stay in Brazil (April 20), and their journey on to Sierra Leone (June 9).

During several of those weeks in Natale, Brazil, as they waited for an airplane to become available to take them across the Atlantic to Africa, they were joined by DeWitt Baker, whom some of them when he was a student at Huntington College. Baker was now a naval aviator stationed in Brazil, patrolling the Atlantic in search of German submarines.

One of those missionaries was Lloyd Eby. He was impressed by Baker. Several months later, he sent Baker a letter. After leaving the military, would he be interested in going to Sierra Leone to start a secondary school?

Baker’s reply was that God hadn’t called him to become a missionary. Besides, he wasn’t a United Brethren member. However, Baker said, if the Lord made a call plain, he would consider it.

Baker was demobilized in 1945 and became a teacher, and then a principal, in Michigan. In 1948, after Lloyd Eby had returned to the States, he and George Fleming, the General Secretary of Missions, visited the Bakers to present the needs in Sierra Leone. DeWitt, thinking he should prepare for missionary service just in case the Lord should someday call, wrote his Masters thesis at the University of Michigan on, “The History of Education in Sierra Leone.” By the time he received his degree in 1949, he and Evelyn knew the Lord wanted them in Africa.

They left for Sierra Leone on August 9, 1949, along with their two sons, Ronald and Norman, ages three and 18 months respectively, to begin their first three-year term. After stops in the Azores, Portugal, Senegal and Gambia, they arrived in Freetown and then traveled overland to their new home in Mattru. DeWitt became Business Manager and Secretary of Education, while Evelyn stepped in temporarily as matron of Minnie Mull Girls’ School.

Their cottage in Mattru overlooked the Jong River. The palm leaf roof leaked badly, but they put metal sheets over the beds and furniture to keep things dry. Soon after arriving, DeWitt snapped a picture of a boy outside wearing a Huntington College T-shirt.

Missionary life was incredibly varied. DeWitt Baker did it all. Bookkeeping. Preaching. Construction. Getting new and returning missionaries through customs. Meeting with government officials. Designing buildings. Transporting vehicle-less missionaries and nationals. Meeting with villagers to discuss opening new churches and schools. Repairing vehicles. Visiting primary schools. Dedicating new schools. Completing governmental paperwork. Writing letters and articles for denominational publications. And much more. Always something new.

We’ll talk more about DeWitt Baker on August 15.

Oneta Sewell Thone

Oneta Sewell Thone

Oneta Sewell Thone, RN, passed away on August 8, 1979, after an illness of several months. She was a member of the UB church in Jerry City, Ohio.

Oneta served three terms as a missionary nurse in Sierra Leone. She arrived there in 1944, in the midst of World War II, and ran the Gbangbaia dispensary for three years with the help of a small national staff.

She returned to Sierra Leone for a second term 1949-1952, during which she was instrumental in opening a dispensary at Mattru–the beginnings of Mattru Hospital. She was soon joined by another RN, Juanita Smith, a United Brethren preacher’s kid from Illinois whose sister, Leora Ackerman, was then serving as a UB missionary in Honduras.

Oneta and Juanita held daily clinics at Mattru and in surrounding villages. Recognizing that a full-fledged hospital would require a lot of nurses, they started a nursing school in 1950 with three students, all of them graduates of our Minnie Mull School for Girls in Bonthe. After two years of training, all three girls transferred to a hospital in Freetown to obtain their midwifery certification. Meanwhile, other Minnie Mull students enrolled.

Oneta Sewell concluded her second term in 1952. She returned for one year, 1965-1966, in response to a special appeal). She spent 15 years working at a clinic in Kansas run by Dr. Leslie Huntley, who had served as the UB doctor at Gbangbaia prior to Oneta’s arrival. Then she moved back to Ohio, got married to Walter Thone in 1973, and spent four years, 1971-1975, as president of the Sandusky Branch of the Women’s Missionary Association.

Bishop John Coons

Bishop John Coons

Bishop John Coons died of stomach cancer on August 7, 1869, at age 71. He was our 12th bishop, serving 1841-1845. Poor health probably kept him from being re-elected. However, he continued as an active minister until about age 70.

Coons was born near Martinsburg, Va., on October 25, 1797. When he was about ten years old, his family joined the westward migration, settling in southern Ohio. He became a Christian in 1821 through the ministry of Jacob Antrim, a United Brethren minister who had come from Pennsylvania.

As was common back then, Coons began preaching soon after his conversion. In 1822, he was licensed as a minister in Miami Conference, which then consisted of all United Brethren work west of the Allegheny mountains. He began serving a circuit of churches, and in 1826 was ordained by bishops Christian Newcomer and Henry Kumler, Sr.

According to biographer Henry Adams Thompson, Coons had very little education, and couldn’t even read until after he became a Christian. However, he was said to be a quick learner with an inquiring mind and a strong memory.

Coons spent most of his adult life pastoring churches, either as an itinerant with a large circuit of churches, or as what they called a “stationed” pastor, serving a congregation in one location. Although he was said to have “delicate” health, virility didn’t seem to be an issue. He had eight children by his first wife, whom he married in 1821 and who passed away in 1840. He then married a widow, and by her had seven more children.

Coons was described as about six feet tall, a neat dresser, a commanding but not particularly great preacher, tender-hearted, polite, dignified, and beyond reproach. “Not a single charge of guilt against his Christian life is recorded to blot his memory,” wrote Thompson.

Thompson described Coons as “free from any disposition to succeed if it brought injustice to others, and never uttering a word intentionally to injure the Christian life or character of any. He seemingly guarded with as much care the good name of his brethren as he did his own.”

Coons didn’t leave any particular mark on the church, but was one of those ministers–of whom there were many throughout our history–who served long, served faithfully, served capably, and influenced the spiritual lives of hundreds of people.

On August 7, 1964, Pauline O’Sullivan began a three-year term serving as a missionary in Sierra Leone. She was probably the first missionary to come from one of our mission fields–in her case, Jamaica. Her uncle, Rev. James O’Sullivan, a Jamaican, founded the UB mission work in Jamaica.

Pauline graduated from Huntington College in 1962, and became the first United Brethren missionary assigned to the teaching staff at the Kabala Rupp school for missionary children. The Missionary Church founded the school in 1956, but the United Brethren church and several other mission organizations became joint sponsors.

The first UB students were Ron Baker and David and Steve Burkett, all of whom became students in 1956. During Pauline O’Sullivan’s tenure, UB students included Doug and Darlene Cox, Annette and Joyce Baker, Sharon Birdsall, and others.

In 1988, Stan and Vicki Snider were UB missionaries living in Mattru, Sierra Leone. On July 6, they rejoiced as Vicki gave birth to a baby girl, Cathryn. But during the week of August 1, Vicki fell ill with fever. The hospital staff kept a very close watch on her. Then, on August 6, Vicki suddenly slipped into a coma.

The next day, a Sunday, Vicki was transported to Freetown, and on Monday a chartered Lear Jet air ambulance flew her to the Netherlands, where she was admitted to the respected Harbour Hospital and Institute for Tropical Medicine in Rotterdam. Just eleven weeks before, UB missionary Patti Stone had died there. Now, the same medical staff who treated Patti now cared for Vicki.

The initial diagnosis was Fulminant Hepatitis A, the same illness that killed Patti. Vicki’s liver was not functioning properly, and doctors feared she wouldn’t survive.

Meanwhile, Christians across the US and Canada prayed for Vicki. Within a few days, reports came of slight improvement. By Tuesday, August 16, Vicki had been moved out of the Intensive Care Unit to her own private room. It was mostly uphill from there. Stan, Vicki, and newborn Cathryn spent five weeks in Rotterdam. On September 11, 1988, they flew back to their home in Toronto.

Stan returned to Sierra Leone in November 1988 to assist with some mechanical problems and stayed for six weeks. The entire family returned to Sierra Leone on March 21, 1989.

Bishop Jerry Datema reported that during the 1989-1993 quadrennium, UB people gave $150,00 to help pay the medical and emergency evacuation costs for Patti Stone and Vicki Snider.