United and Sierra Leone: August 2013

Packed to overflowing in the Kircher Memorial United Methodist Church (UMC), the 133rd session of the United Methodist Annual Conference of Sierra Leone buzzed with energy and excitement. Bishop John Yambasu graciously welcomed and honored our United team as his special guests while conducting the business and leading the worship celebrations of the Conference around the theme, “Keeping the Dream Alive.” Professor Dr. Peter Bellini, Ms. Maria Bellini and alumnus Rev. Stephen Crowell accompanied me in the week-long visit to Freetown and Kenema in March 2013.

In a nation recovering from a decade-long Civil War, the message of hope and new life in Jesus Christ is like a breath of fresh air in people’s lives, and a mighty wind blowing new possibilities and opportunities in a nation reaching for its future. The war brought much death and devastation to these people and they are determined to do all they can to rebuild with the help of their God and their friends.

Members, pastors and evangelists alike are passionate and sacrificial in their faith, discipleship and desire to spread the Gospel. As a result, the Church in Sierra Leone is growing by leaps and bounds. I was amazed by both the kind generosity of our hosts and the beauty and rich intensity of their faith.

I took advantage of the opportunity to visit this beautiful, West African country at the invitation of Bishop Yambasu because United has been in conversation with United Methodists in Sierra Leone about a partnership in theological education for well over a year. The purpose of the partnership is to do our part to help educate the next generation of faithful leaders for a global Church.

In particular, in Sierra Leone there are church leaders who are already serving faithfully in ministry who have not had access to a Master of Divinity degree, which is the required degree for ordination in The UMC. Bishop Yambasu has requested the assistance of United not only to provide the required degree, but also to help raise the necessary funds for theological education for these ministers so they may study at United. It is our goal to raise sufficient funds so that these students may complete their degree within four years. Our vision is that upon completion, these ministers will be fully prepared as the credentialed leaders they are called by God to be for the ministry of Jesus Christ, serving in Sierra Leone.

United’s hybrid/online UM FLEX M.Div. degree is the format Bishop Yambasu has chosen for accomplishing this goal because it allows the students to continue serving in full-time ministry in West Africa while completing their studies. The options that exist in Freetown or other places would require that the students relocate from their homes, families and ministries for extended periods of time, which would create undue hardship for all concerned.

United’s hybrid/online M.Div. program is fully accredited and consists of the same content and rigor as the traditional MDiv degree format. It requires four intensive weeks per year at the Dayton, Ohio, campus. The remainder of the program’s academic and spiritual formation work is completed in online classrooms and through relationships in an international, virtual community of learning.

United is pleased and proud to be engaged in this partnership of global significance with the Church in Sierra Leone. Not only will this partnership fulfill Bishop Yambasu’s goal to bless Sierra Leone with well-educated, fully credentialed spiritual leaders, but it will also bless those of us in the USA and elsewhere who will have the privilege of working with, and learning from our West African colleagues. Four pastors from Sierra Leone have enrolled in United’s hybrid/online master of divinity degree program this fall, including three members of the bishop’s cabinet.

United has a historic relationship with The UMC in Sierra Leone. Both the seminary and the Sierra Leonean Evangelical United Brethren Church were founded in the nineteenth century by the United Brethren in Christ Church (UBC). The UBC eventually merged with other denominations to form The UMC. Many of the missionaries to Sierra Leone were from Dayton, Ohio, and were educated for ministry at United.

While the Sierra Leonean pastors study at United, there is much that our American students can learn from these faithful, African pastors and Church leaders. I look forward to United continuing a historic, mutually beneficial partnership that represents the global Church of Jesus Christ at its best.

Thank you for your generous prayers and financial support for the ministry of theological education at United. Special gifts to help cover the costs of our international student program will be gratefully accepted so that United can continue to do its part to assist in resourcing the global Church for its mission.

Gratefully yours in the service of Jesus Christ,

Wendy J. Deichmann, President