Managua after the 1972 earthquake

A 6.3 magnitude earthquake shattered Managua, Nicaragua, on December 23, 1972, killing 10,000 people and leaving 300,000 homeless. Communication with the United Brethren pastors and people in Nicaragua was lost. Honduras Conference had begun ministry in Nicaragua during the mid-1960s, and we had several churches there.

On January 5, Honduras missionary Archie Cameron contacted the Missions department in Huntington, Ind., reporting that our workers in Nicaragua had escaped personal harm, but that they had relatives, friends, and neighbors who had lost a great deal. The Missions department issued an emergency appeal for relief money, and within a few months, nearly $20,000 had been raised.

Cameron and fellow UB missionary Gary Brooks arrived in Managua on March 19, 1973. As they approached the city center, they saw hundreds of refugee tents and lines of people waiting for food and medical attention. Damaged buildings stood everywhere, with people busily repairing cracks in walls.

Then they arrived at the center of Managua. Going past a barbed wire fence, they drove block after block without finding a single building still standing. There were thousands of fallen homes and stores, and not a living soul in sight. Brooks wrote:

“The overwhelming silence inside the fence prevails. One finds himself searching for signs of life, knowing there is none to be found. Over 7000 people died here–some immediately, and others after days of suffering. We could still smell the stench of rotting bodies under one fallen building. It is said that the wrecking crews find an average of 40 bodies per day….The residential areas of the city are slowly stirring back to life, but not the center of the city. The heart of Managua stopped beating that warm December morning nearly four months ago, and the city died. This week, I saw its tomb.”

Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle named himself head of the National Emergency Committee, personally directing the international relief efforts. He used the position to plunder most of the relief money and supplies, and gave reconstruction contracts to family and friends. Such reports prompted baseball star Roberto Clemente to organize and personally accompany relief flights into Nicaragua. The fourth flight crashed, killing Clemente and others aboard.

Outrage against the Somoza regime’s actions after the earthquake gave substantial support to the opposition Sandinista rebels, who overthrew Somoza in 1979.

Registration is now open for the 2018 Pastor & Spouse summits. These events are held every two years for senior pastors and spouses from UB churches. The denomination covers the cost of lodging and a few meals. Here are the dates.

  • April 9-12, 2018 (Monday – Thursday). Summit for senior pastors and spouses from churches with an attendance above 300.
  • April 16-19, 2018 (Monday – Thursday). Summit for senior pastors and spouses from churches with an attendance of 150-300.
  • April 30 – May 3, 2018 (Monday – Thursday). Summit for senior pastors and spouses from churches with an attendance less than 150.

Schedule of the 2018 summits
Begin Monday evening and end Thursday after breakfast.

No cost to the pastor for Monday night through check-out Thursday morning.

Travel and Meals
You are responsible for transportation to and from the Summit. The National Office will be available to assist with carpooling arrangements. Each local church is encouraged to provide travel and meal expenses for their pastor to attend the summit.

Continuing Education
Each Pastor & Spouse Summit qualifies for 20 credit hours of continuing education.

Summit for Associate Staff
In addition, two summits will be held specifically for ministers serving in staff roles. Registration for these events will open in early 2018.

  • April 23-27, 2018 (Monday – Friday). UB Youth Summit.
  • May 7-11, 2018 (Monday – Friday). Summit for UB associate staff.

The gravestone of Rev. John McNamar, the first English-speaking UB preacher.

John McNamar was married December 19, 1805, in Xenia, Ohio. We can assume they said their vows in English, because McNamar is heralded as the first English-speaking United Brethren minister. Says so on his gravestone. All of the founders and early ministers spoke German. But in the early 1800s, most of the church’s westward expansion occurred among English-speaking people, and McNamar was in the forefront.

McNamar was born in Virginia in 1779, of Scottish-Irish descent. It’s not know when exactly he moved to Ohio. However, in 1811 he became a schoolteacher in Germantown, Ohio, where future bishop Andrew Zeller lived. He became a Christian during an evangelistic meeting in Zeller’s barn, and Zeller shepherded im toward the ministry. In 1814 he became a minister in Miami Conference (the Miami Valley of southwestern Ohio) and was ordained in 1816.

John McNamar

John Lawrence wrote, “He devoted himself to the Master’s work with a singleness of aim, and resoluteness of purpose, which have seldom been equaled. He planted the larger part of the early English United Brethren churches in southwestern Ohio and southern Indiana.” He was also successful in recruiting new ministers. By 1820, another eight English-speaking ministers had joined Miami Conference and were doing their own part in spreading the Gospel.

McNamar is described as brave, unpretentious, practical. He spoke slowly and distinctly, and used a lot of humor. He zealously expounded on and defended the fundamental Christian doctrines, like the divinity of Christ, which he often preached to “immense congregations at camp-meetings.” He was a strong theologian and could wax eloquent. But, “His object was to save men; and he had the happy faculty of following up a clear exposition and masterly defense of some great truth with a heart-searching application.”

William Weekley wrote, “Mr. McNamar had the evangelistic spirit to an intense degree, and the spread of the Redeemer’s kingdom was to him paramount to all things else. He had the zeal of the early disciples, and, regardless of the cost to himself, went everywhere in his large frontier parish preaching the gospel of the kingdom. He was a man of superb courage. To him even roads and paths seemed useless. If his horse could not carry him, he led the horse, or, leaving him behind, went on foot. He frequently slept in the wilderness, but he was never lost. His long journeys were often made extremely difficult by untoward condition of the roads and by overflowing creeks and rivers.”

Despite having to travel long distances over rough terrain, he was known for punctuality. Fellow minister George Bonebrake testified, “When the time arrived for him to start to an appointment, he was off. He would wait for no one, and listened to no excuses. Rain, snow, mud, swollen streams, and floating causeways–any of these, of all of them combined, could not change his purpose. Nothing but a physical impossibility would detain him from an appointment.”

Weekley said multitudes of people flocked to hear McNamar preach. “He was unsurpassed in his qualities to capture new communities. There must have been peculiar power in his preaching and a peculiar adaptability to the hearts and to the spiritual needs of the people.”

By all accounts, McNamar was a gifted, natural leader. He became highly respect in the denomination and helped shape important legislation. He was elected bishop in 1833 to succeed Christian Newcomer (who had died during his final term in office), but he declined for unknown reasons. However, he seemed to prefer working in the trenches. Henry Spayth wrote, “J.C. McNamar, a true son of the gospel, determined to march in the front ranks of the ministerial army. He chose the frontier country for his field of gospel labor. To forego all sorts of comfort, to range the forest, to carry the gospel to the newly-arrived inhabitants, to seek the lost and scattered of Israel, was his employment, no matter how poor or destitute they or himself were.”

McNamar toiled faithfully for over 30 years. He passed away in 1846.

The Roseville church crash site.

Marie Savaria’s SUV.

Randy Magnus amidst the rubble of the sanctuary.

Chairs set up in the fellowship as a temporary sanctuary after the crash.

On Saturday, December 16, Pastor Randy Magnus conducted the funeral for Marie Savaria, 62. He had never met Savaria, and she had never attended his church, the Roseville UB church in Ayr, Ontario. It’s quite a story.

Savaria, a former nurse and hospital manager from Kitchener, Ontario, was on her way to visit her mother in a nursing home. About a month earlier, she had blacked out while at home; she had a medical scan scheduled on December 12 to determine what might be going on. Now she blacked out while driving. As she fell unconscious, her foot pressed the accelerator. The Nissan Rogue SUV swerved into a ditch and then went airborne, crashing into the side of the church at over 60 miles per hour.

Chris McElroy, the church janitor, was standing on the church stage about five feet from where the SUV hit. He ran outside and helped pull Savaria from the smoking car, which had fallen atop his own car in the church parking lot. She died in the crash. It was about 2:00 pm.

Now for the uplifting part.

Savaria’s daughter, Kelly Henderson, flew from her home in British Columbia to Ontario. She wanted to see the crash site, so a police officer drove her to the church on December 10. The congregation was having a fellowship time after the worship service. Pastor Magnus and Wilf Witzke, who witnessed the crash, went out and spoke to them, offered comfort, and prayed with them.

Magnus said, “I told them the whole church family was hurting for them and wanted to help in any way we could, even with the funeral.”

Henderson had feared the congregation would be upset. Instead, the congregation rallied around her with support, prayer, and tears. Anderson said amidst her grief, “If it had to happen anywhere, I guess I feel blessed that it happened at a church with people who are so loving and supportive.”

Since the family had no church connections,Henderson asked Pastor Magnus if he would preside at a celebration of life service for her mother. He gladly agreed. He was able to spend time with the family, hear many stories of Marie’s life, read Scripture with them, and pray for them.

Over 200 people attended the service on Saturday, December 16. Several family members spoke about Marie, and Randy shared some stories he’d heard about her. “I was also given the opportunity to talk about heaven and share the Good News of God’s love and forgiveness and the hope that Christ came to bring us with the largely unchurched crowd. We pray that the Lord will bring fruit from seeds that were planted.”

Henderson also asked that memorial gifts for her mother be channeled to the Roseville church—a church her mother, a non-practicing Catholic, had never attended. The funeral was held on Saturday, December 16.

Said Magnus, “It’s almost like God put us together so we could be there to help each other. For a life to be lost is way bigger than bricks and mortar.”

The church started out in 1881 as a Lutheran church, was sold to Methodists, and ended up in United Brethren hands. When the crash occurred, the congregation had just completed $10,000 of renovations. The crash caused way too much structural damage. The impact transferred through the platform to affect the far wall, shifting both the north and south walls off the foundation. Construction engineers said the foundation would need to be rebuilt, but doubted that the church would gain approval to rebuild in the same spot, since it was located so close to the road.

The practical solution is to demolish the existing sanctuary and rebuild elsewhere, perhaps on the same property. Fortunately, insurance will completely cover the loss. A building committee has already been established. Said Magnus, “We have been feeling the need for a larger sanctuary for years, but felt like we couldn’t afford to build it. It feels like God is using this tragic accident to open new windows of opportunity.”

Seven churches in the area offered to share their facilities with Roseville UB, but that won’t be necessary. They set up 130 chairs in the fellowship hall, located in an undamaged Christian education wing built in 1974. They will hold services there until the new building is ready.

Magnus: “The whole church family rallied together the day after the tragic accident to move everything we could from the sanctuary to the fellowship hall and decorate for Christmas. It was very warm and cozy as the church family gathered to celebrate Christ, grieve our loss, and pray for the family of Marie Savaria, whose loss of mom/grandma is so much greater than ours. Also, we have been so blessed by our seven churches in the area offering that we could worship in their facilities, though we won’t need to.”

He added, “I’m so proud of our people and their attitude and approach to the whole situation. We believe the church is more than the building, it is a group of people who believe in Jesus living out their faith by loving each other and those around them. It’s great to see everyone pulling together, encouraging one another, and especially reaching out to total strangers with the love of our Savior.”

The National Office staff gather around Jane and Rod Seely as Bishop Todd Fetters (left) prays for them.

Jane Seely has concluded eight years of work at the United Brethren National Office. She came to the office in January 2009 as the part-time shipping clerk, and in May 2011 was named fulltime manager of Church Resources, our curriculum marketing and distribution operation.

With the decision this fall to discontinue the marketing operation, Jane’s position was no longer needed. Jane saw it coming, and accepted the decision with the utmost graciousness.

Jane grew up in the College Park UB church in Huntington, Ind. Jane and her husband, Rodney, now attend First Nazarene Church. Rodney is a sales rep for a building materials wholesaler.

Jane graduated from beautician’s college in 1977, and worked as a cosmetologist in Huntington until joining the National Office staff fulltime in 2011. In addition, she makes jewelry, which she frequently displays and sells at fairs, craft festivals, and other events.

The National Office held a farewell luncheon for Jane at the beginning of December. A few days later, she started online classes to become a Health Coach/Life Coach, and is very excited about this new chapter in her life.

We appreciate Jane’s years of service to the churches of our denomination, and the cheerful spirit she brought to the office. She will be missed.

Wilbur (left) and Orville Wright

On December 17, 1903, Wilber and Orville Wright made history with the first airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, in North Carolina.

At the time, their father, Milton Wright, was in his 18th year as a United Brethren bishop. He would retire two years later, in 1905. He had spearheaded the departure of the “radicals”–our group–from the main body of the United Brethren denomination, and led us in starting over. Apart from that, we would all be United Methodists, and there would be no Church of the United Brethren in Christ.

There are stories of Orville and Wilbur teaching Sunday school, but they weren’t generally church-going guys. They helped their father in his lawsuits and other controversies, but otherwise didn’t get much involved in the church.

In 1910, Orville asked his father, then 81, if he wanted to take a ride in an airplane. Milton did. The flight lasted just under seven minutes. Orville, afraid of how his elderly father would react at being so high above the ground, levelled off at 350 feet. He needn’t have been concerned. Milton leaned close to Orville’s ear and shouted above the roar of the engine, “Higher, Orville, higher!” That’s the story, anyway.

Wilbur Wright died in 1912 after contracting typhoid fever, Milton died in 1917, and the only daughter, Katherine, died in 1929 of pneumonia. Milton’s wife had died in 1889. However, Orville lived until 1948.

In 1944, future bishop Clyde Meadows and Elmer Becker, then in his third year as president of Huntington College, traveled to Dayton, Ohio, to visit Orville, who was then 73. Orville lived in the family home with his housekeeper. They were gracious hosts, and the housekeeper prepared a lovely meal.

Meadows had been sent to talk about the Milton Wright Memorial Home in Chambersburg, Pa., which was named in honor of Orville’s father. They talked about the home for an hour. Then, Meadows recalled in his autobiography, In the Service of the King, they spent nearly four hours talking about airplanes. Orville told about his early days of flying, how he and Wilbur started with gliders and eventually built their own planes, and how they kept experimenting and inventing new parts.

At the time, German cities were being devastated in Allied bombing raids, which killed tens of thousands of people–Hamburg, Dresden, Essen, Cologne. Meadows asked Orville how he felt about his invention being used to cause so much destruction.

Orville replied, “I’ve thought about this a lot. The airplane was due. If Wilbur and I hadn’t developed it, someone else would have. But that is poor consolation. I take comfort in knowing that Wilbur and I gave the airplane to the world in good faith. You can’t withhold a good gift just because someone might misuse it. In that case, God would have to withhold life itself.”

Meadows wrote, “Orville Wright, I realized, was not just an inventor and aviator. He was also a philosopher. It was an inspiration to talk with him.”

John Ruebush

John Ruebush, who pioneered United Brethren ministry in Tennessee, died on December 16, 1881. Since Tennessee was a slave state, and the United Brethren church was vehemently anti-slavery, Ruebush received his share of threats. But he toiled on. William Weekley said he lived with “a complete abandonment of himself to the work and purpose of his life.”

Ruebush was born in Virginia in 1816; his parents were of German descent. He was converted at age 18 and joined the United Brethren church. At age 25, he became a minister in Virginia Conference, and for the next 14 years served churches in Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Weekley described Ruebush as a born leader, fearless, of “aggressive will,” rugged, and with a “startling mental energy.” He was a strong preacher, a successful evangelist, a “master in illustrating great truths,” and “a man of large horizon and of bold enterprises.”

In 1856, Virginia Conference appointed Ruebush to spearhead opening a mission in eastern Tennessee. On April 6, 1856, John, his wife, and their young son headed to Tennessee in a buggy, a journey which took two weeks. He began looking for UB members who had relocated from Virginia, and found 13 of them scattered over a large area. He began preaching, and within a year had formed and 11-point circuit. He preached wherever he could–in schools, a Methodist church, private homes, or in the woods.

In December 1856 he wrote, “I never felt as well satisfied that I was where God wanted me to work as I have since I am on this mission. My congregations are large and very attentive. I have more calls than three men can fill. We feel the need of church houses of our own. I have been preaching in some of the schoolhouses belonging to the county, but they will not accommodate the people. When it is not too cold, I preach out of doors.”

In one community, a man bitterly opposed to Christianity took up the floor of the schoolhouse where Ruebush planned to preach. Undeterred, Ruebush preached from the doorstep, and when he finished, at least a dozen people were kneeling in prayer…including the man’s wife. The antagonist came to him later that day. He tearfully apologized, asked for forgiveness, and invited Ruebush to hold services in his own home. Weekley says, “A great revival followed, and the first United Brethren church in the state was subsequently built in this community.”

The believers began praying for a local family that ran a distillery. Within a week, every member of that family had been converted, and the still was torn down. One family member became a United Brethren minister for over 20 years.

With the onset of the Civil War, things got dangerous for Ruebush and family. He scaled back his work to just the community where he lived, but that wasn’t enough. He finally took his family out of the state. He would later write: “These were months in which there were many trying experiences, narrow escapes, privations, fatigues, exposure, and financial losses.”

When the war ended, Ruebush returned. Tennessee Conference was organized in 1866 with 209 members and three ministers.

In 1869, Ruebush transferred back to Virginia Conference for the rest of his ministerial career. In the fall of 1881, at age 65, he baptized some people by immersion and then rode three miles home in his wet clothes. He contracted pneumonia and died on December 16, 1881.

Bishop William Dillon (right) died of pneumonia on December 15, 1919. He served just one term as bishop, 1893-1897. Most of his career was spent in the pastorate and as editor of The Christian Conservator paper.

W. H. Clay described Dillon as having “no sympathy with peace at the expense of principle or uprightness.” He seemed to find, attract, or even pursue controversy. The fact that he would get elected to something, but not re-elected, indicates something or other.

Dillon grew up in Ohio with seven siblings. His father, of British descent, died when he was 14, and his Welsh mother died when he was 28. Dillon was converted at age 16 and pursued the ministry. He was assigned to his first circuit in 1861, and was ordained in 1864 (his first three circuit, curiously, were the Russia Circuit, the Troy Circuit, and the Berlin Circuit). In 1866, he married Bessie, the granddaughter of former bishop Joseph Hoffman. They were married 52 years.

In 1871, at age 30, Dillon enrolled in the first class of our first seminary, Union Biblical Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. He was part of the first graduating class in 1874. In 1877, he was assigned to the prestigious Summit Street UB church in Dayton, the largest and most influential church in the conference.

Dillon became aligned with Milton Wright in opposing efforts to open membership to Freemasons and adopt a new Constitution and Confession of Faith, and became a leader of the “radicals” (the UBs of today). When the radicals launched their alternative church paper, The Christian Conservator, Dillon was the editor. It was published out of his home starting in July 1885.

Dillon helped organize a convention in August 1885 which attracted about 80 people to Hartsville College in southern Indiana. The purpose was to rally support against the “liberal” proposals. They elected Dillon as their chairman.

Of course, the proposals went through. Dillon joined Milton Wright in leaving the denomination and starting over. Dillon received a few votes for bishop, but four other men were elected. As a consolation prize, he was elected to continue as editor of The Christian Conservator, which was now the denominational publication.

Henry Becker was elected bishop of the Pacific District in 1893, but promptly resigned, and Dillon was elected in his place. But Dillon was defeated for re-election in 1897 by Henry Barkley, and by a significant vote, 37-10. General Conference then elected Dillon, again, as editor of The Christian Conservator. But after four years, he lost re-election as editor.

Dillon returned to the pastorate, while also becoming a major supporter of Milton Wright in a nasty controversy involving the publishing house. He once again organized a convention, this one in support of Wright, whose side prevailed at the 1905 General Conference. Wright then faded into retirement.

In 1911, Dillon was elected to a third stint as editor of the Christian Conservator…on the 40th ballot. He continued in that role until 1917. Then he and Bessie retired to their daughter’s home in Springfield, Ohio. He died there in 1919 at age 78, and Bessie lived another 16 years, until 1935.

During the early 1990s, the escalating rebel war in Sierra Leone dominated every meeting of the Missions Commission. On May 16, 1994, at the end of an emergency two-day meeting, the Commission made a painful decision: “Be it resolved that we mandate that all missionaries close out their respective ministries with promptness and with judicious turn-over, and depart Sierra Leone no later than December 31, 1994.”

The Missions Commission cited many reasons behind the decision: the dangerous rebel activity, the political instability, the difficulty in recruiting and sending new missionaries. The nationalization process begun in the mid-1980s decreased the need for missionaries. It was clear that the Sierra Leone churches could function effectively without missionary involvement.

Besides, the resolution said, “We went to Sierra Leone in the 1800s to evangelize the people. We established 40-some churches, and they now carried responsibility for evangelism. None of the present missionaries were sent specifically to evangelize.”

Mission Director Kyle McQuillen assured people that we would continue our financial commitment of approximately $120,000 to the national church and its ministries. “We are in no way abandoning our brethren in Sierra Leone,” he wrote. But, he said, “This is not a temporary move. It is a final withdrawal of missionary personnel.”

Brian and Gail Welch (a teacher and nurse in Mattru) and family left in May 1994, along with nurse Neita Dey. The Tom and Kim Datema family, who worked in community development, returned to Indiana in August. Hospital Administrator Tom Hastie left on October 1, rejoining his wife and children, who had returned to Detroit in June. That left just Sara Banter and Nadine Hoekman, nurses at Mattru, and Phil and Carol Fiedler in Freetown; Phil taught at Sierra Leone Bible College and served as Director of Missionary Affairs.

On December 13, 1994, the Fiedlers and Sara Banter left Sierra Leone, flying out of the country with Bishop Ray Seilhamer and Kyle McQuillen, who had arrived ten days before to attend Sierra Leone Annual Conference. Nadine Hoekman chose to remain in Sierra Leone as an independent missionary. She signed documents releasing responsibility for her welfare.

Suddenly, for the first time since 1871, there were no United Brethren missionaries in Sierra Leone.

On January 1, 1995, rebels attacked Bumpe, where our conference headquarters was located, and burned over 75 homes and buildings. In mid-January, Mattru Hospital essentially closed down. Nadine Hoekman paid all the workers, then locked things up. On January 30, rebels captured Mattru and, during the next eight months, used our hospital as a training base.