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.

On December 10, 1985, an historic annual conference began in Sierra Leone. Since the 1850s, when UBs first entered Sierra Leone, missionaries had been in charge of our work. Jerry Datema felt that needed to change, so when he became bishop in 1981, he appointed a group to plan for nationalization. That plan was implemented at the December 1985 conference.

Bishop Datema chaired the 1985 Sierra Leone Annual Conference, but as he later wrote, “National leaders really ran the show, rather than missionaries as in previous years.”

Rev. Henry Allie, a blind pastor, was elected to a three-year term as the first General Superintendent, the highest United Brethren leader in Sierra Leone. Joe Abu and Edward Morlai were chosen as officers to work at the national headquarters with Rev. Allie. A major shift toward youth occurred that year, as five senior pastors, including former superintendents, retired. Four younger conference superintendents took their place.

Figures from 1985 showed 4,553 members in Sierra Leone. United Brethren schools were reaching over 7000 students in 44 primary schools, and over 1000 students attended our four high schools. The hospital was going full steam.

Bishop Datema wrote in April 1986, “During annual conference, I thought, I don’t think any of us fully realize how much we have going for us in Sierra Leone.”

We had capable missionaries working hand-in-hand with the national church. Good camaraderie existed between nationals and missionaries, with mutual trust and openness. We had highly respected national leaders, many growing churches, an optimistic spirit, and much confidence.

Datema continued, “The Sierra Leoneans deeply desire to see the church grow. It is their church, and the fact that they have assumed responsibility has made a great difference.”

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.

L-r: Heleen and John Yoder, Cathy and Richard Toupin (front), Matthew Asher, Pamela McKee, and Michelle Harris.

Michelle Harris, associate director of UB Global

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).

In September, I traveled to Sierra Leone to visit our Mattru Hospital team. For five days in Mattru, we focused on the work at the hospital. It’s a busy place—for the medical staff as well as our engineering team. The November Worldview newsletter gave a glimpse into the routines of our staff in the article “Three Times a Day.”

Getting the group together at Mattru is a challenge. Someone is always either on call or needed on campus, so though the team meets weekly, a retreat needed to take place elsewhere. So, we traveled up to Freetown where we stayed at a simple, but beautiful place.

There were seven of us. I was joined by Dr. Jon and Heleen Yoder (doctor and nurse), Dr. Richard and Cathy Toupin, nurse Pamela McKee, and Matthew Asher, an engineer working on the solar and water project at Mattru Hospital.

The lodgings were simple—beds with mosquito nets, and fans that used solar power to make it mostly through the night. Showers were mostly a trickle of cool water. Our meeting place was an open area above the restaurant where we arranged our wooden chairs with cushions in a U shape so we all had a view of the water as we talked and sang and prayed.

Our foundation in scripture was Psalm 23 and John 6:35, focusing on Jesus as our very good shepherd, who provides bountifully for us. We grounded our discussion of the challenges of culture shock in wise words from Ajith Fernando, Youth for Christ Director from Sri Lanka. His book, The Call to Joy and Pain, reminded us that suffering in ministry often flows from our commitment to people, and that Paul’s words to the churches are filled with both joy and pain. We worked through the realities of culture shock and tasks for people in their first term of service.

And we rested. Some of us slept in, using the 9:00 am starting time as the beginning of breakfast—omelets or crepes. Others took boats across the bay to have early morning walks on the beach. We worked our way through the menu, comparing dishes like fish and chips, Thai curry, and bruschetta—it was all good. We took advantage of free coffee, served in small white teacups with cream and sugar. Some of us napped in the afternoon, some walked on the beach and swam in the ocean. We took turns on the hammocks and listened to bird calls. We played games and laughed after dinner. We talked and sang and prayed.

Our Shepherd restored our souls.

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.