DAYTON, OH — Sierra Leone United Methodist Bishop John Yambasu recently visited United Theological Seminary as part of a recently established partnership between United and The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone.
Four students from Sierra Leone just began their participation in United’s online-hybrid program to earn their master of divinity degrees and were on campus in Dayton to attend the program’s two-week, face-to-face intensive session.
“We decided on this program because it gives opportunity to them,” Bishop Yambasu said. “All of them are married and they have families. This program gives them the opportunity to stay with their families and to serve their churches as full-time pastors, while at the same time continuing their study.”
Bishop Yambasu plans on opening a United Methodist theological school in Sierra Leone to help train leaders for the church, and he said these four students will be instrumental in providing leadership for the school.
“However you look at it, across the board, it works very, very well for all of us,” he said.
The partnership with United began more than a year ago when Bishop Yambasu was researching schools and “by God’s grace,” met United’s President, Dr. Wendy Deichmann.
“We started having conversations about the possibility of having students study here,” Bishop Yambasu said. “I wanted an institution that would provide training for the first batch of students, who would then return home and provide leadership at the new institution. I invited President Deichmann to Sierra Leone for her and her team to have a personal experience of our context so they would be able to know exactly the kind of needs we have for education.”
In March 2013, President Deichmann, Professor Dr. Peter Bellini, Ms. Maria Bellini and alumnus Rev. Stephen Crowell visited the West African country for a weeklong visit.
“United is pleased and proud to be engaged in this partnership of global significance with the Church in Sierra Leone, said President Deichmann. “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.”
During his visit to United’s campus, Bishop Yambasu’s itinerary included leading a worship service with United students.
“I had very interesting conversations with the some of the students, and they are all excited about being here, not only my students that are here but also other other students from within the U.S.,” he said. “They feel this is a program that addresses their needs in a unique way because without it, they would not be able.”
During his visit, Bishop Yambasu also preached at Armstrong Chapel UMC in Cincinnati, OH, participated in a fundraising dinner for United’s Sierra Leone scholarships and met with representatives from the Indiana Conference of the UMC about Operation Classroom.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Indiana for about 25 years, with a program called Operation Classroom,” Bishop Yambasu said, noting Operation Classroom provides work study grants for students in Sierra Leone, provides training for teachers, rehabilitates schools, provides school supplies, does renovation work and builds new schools. “Mission teams go to Sierra Leone every year — sometimes two teams, sometimes three teams.”
United has a historic relationship with The UMC in Sierra Leone. Both the seminary and the Sierra Leonean UMC were founded in the 19th 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, OH, and were educated for ministry at United.
“It’s like walking in the footpath of those who have come before us in mission,” Bishop Yambasu said. “We are kind of rewriting our history. I think that’s really profound, and it helps us reconnect, re-tell our story in a new and fresh way about our connection.”