A PROFILE IN MEDICAL MISSIONS
MATTRU JONG, BONTHE DISTRICT.
SIERRA LEONE, WEST AFRICA
ORIGIN AND HISTORY OF THE UBC MISSION IN SIERRA LEONE
The history of UNITED BRETHREN IN CHRIST is deeply rooted in the seedbed of the Christian Church in Europe. The United Brethren in Christ began as a church in the late 1700s. After people had become discontent with the formalism of the established Christian Church, a revival movement from Europe swept through part of the North American Continent. This movement focused on ‘new birth’ and deeper spiritual experience was headed by six young men and sponsored by Michael Schlatter in 1752. Two prominent personalities, a German Reformed minister Philip Otterbein (1726-1813) and Martin Boehm of the Mennonite faith, worked together for the good of the movement. They brought with them the legacy of a devout family and profound Christian faith steeped in the Calvinistic teaching of Reformed pietism Church
Boehm and Otterbein were both preaching in Lancaster County, in the State of Pennsylvania, when they discovered their unity of spirit and doctrine. With a firm handshake they declared in German, “We are Brothers!” Thus began a cooperative ministry that led to the formation of one of the first original Christian denominations in North American
In 1787, a first formal Conference was held in Baltimore, in the State of Maryland to gain full acknowledgment of their work so far accomplished. After 1791, the Conference adopted the name ‘Church of the United Brethren in Christ. In 1800 Otterbein and Boehm were elected Bishops. 10-13 years later when the two men died, and because of distance between Baltimore, MD; Pennsylvania, Virginia and other outreach stations, annual meetings were changed in1816 to ‘General conference’ held after every 2 years and later to 4 years in 1821.
Under the leadership of Bishop Christian Newcomer in 1813, the church grew rapidly. Association Members of U.B.C. in the eastern parts of the America moved to the States of Ohio, Michigan and Indian where the church adopted into its discipline a historic stand against slavery, 40 years before the outbreak of the civil war. This stand, however hindered the program of church in the Southern States of the U.S.
In 1834 denominational departments and other ministries were organized as needs arose. For instance the United Brethren denominational mission board was organized under the name of the Home Frontier and Foreign Missionary Society, and the United Brethren publishing house was established at Circleville, OH and later moved to Dayton, OH in 1853.
In the 1841 General Conference held in Dresher Church in Ohio, a parent Missionary Society was founded and it came into full operation, extending the gospel on the frontiers and in foreign lands. For a start, the first missionary effort was launched, sending a 30- wagon caravan of settlers of nearly 100 people out west to the State of Oregon where the church took root and grew. In 1845 the Illinois Conference took a bold step to send out preachers. When the newly appointed Missionary Society met in 1853 it determined the establishment of missionary station in Sierra Leone, West Africa.
Two years later, a mission was established in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Through the years, Sierra Leone has been the most prominent mission field of the Church of the United Brethren in Christ.
In January 1855 the Miami conference commissioned three ministers- D.K Flickinger, W.J Shuey and D.C. Kumer (a medical Doctor) to Africa. They made expeditions along the coast and up some rivers, looking for a site for a mission. They finally settled at Shenge, about sixty (60) miles south east of Freetown.
By 1876 the first United Brethren churches in Africa were organized at Shenge and Gbangbatoke. The mission secretary, D.K. Flickinger organized a mission district in 1880. Five new members including Lucy Caulker (daughter of the chief) and Thomas Tucker (who later became captain of the mission boat) were received at the Shenge church and the Sabbath service was well observed in other places where their mission had four (4) stations and chapels, with 112 church members and 164 seekers of religion.
About a year later the America Missionary Association transferred to the U.B.C. Mission Board their Mende Mission, with headquarters at Bonthe, sixty miles south of Shenge. The Mende people being one of the two largest tribes in Sierra Leone, and the Mende Mission the oldest established American Mission in West Africa, the Association gave subsidies for few years amounting to $39,000. In addition, the Freedmen’s Aid society of London also gave the United Brethren board $13, 000.00 By 1885 the Mende Mission and the work of the Women’s Missionary Association in Africa reached 320 towns and church membership was 1547 with over forty preachers.
When the Mission grew up in Africa there was an increasing indebtedness due to scarcity of funds as a result of the civil war in the United States in the 1860’s and the big division which split up the Church of the United Brethren church in America
After the division, the conservative branch of church was left with no mission property of any kind. The Proprietors of the Sherbro and Good Hope Mission fields in Africa fell under the control of the liberal part of the denomination. The church was now faced with the challenge of raising funds for mission work in Sierra Leone.
Because of the increase in coverts, the General Conference of 1869 referred the decision of closing down the African Mission field. Moreover, when Flickinger was elected Bishop for Africa and Germany, North American Churches were persuaded to give an average amount of twelve and one-half cent annually for foreign missions. It is noted that King Street Congregation in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania undertook a development plan in restoring mission work through a Sunday school, sponsorship project. While teaching at Shenge, Daniel F. Wilberforce, a native of Sierra Leone, assisted in starting a school at Gbangbaia, on the Imperi the river. Having served as superintendent of field (1902-1905) he was urged by the District Commissioner and other offices to run for the Paramount Chieftaincy allowing the him to be made Paramount Chief of Imperi in 1899.
The “hut tax” wars cast a gloomy shadow over U.B.C Mission work and mission programs. The masses sought to murder any one connected to a foreigner in any way including English speaking natives. In all, seven (7) U.B. C. Missionaries were murdered. Miss Mary Mullend and the Wilberforce family escaped whilst Professor C.A Clements at Danville school was beheaded and 18-others killed on the spot near Gbangbaia.
A ‘medical mission’, a new type of missionary programme was initiated in 1911. The project plans provided that Christian Endeavor Societies across the denomination raise funds for the employment of missionary to help in training such persons for medical work and sponsor them on the field. The Rev. Vernon Kopp and wife of Kansas Conference became the first part-time missionaries. After their nine months of studies in tropical medicine at Livingston Memorial College, London in 1913, they arrived in Sierra Leone in December 1914.
One of the reasons why the common people were attracted to Jesus was that they found in Him a friend. He was a man with compassion and had the ability to heal their sickness (Mark 1:40-42). Jesus sent his disciples to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick (Luke 9:2). Healing the sick and preaching the gospel go hand in hand. They must not be separated. From the very beginning of the mission work in Sierra Leone, U.B.C. missionaries included the healing of the body as part of their ministry to the people. Both prayer and medicines given were involved in the bringing relief to the sick and afflicted.
The stock of medicines given by missionaries was to meet human need, and to come in contact with suffering people. This gave missionary worker the opportunity to tell the local people about the love Christians back in the homeland, while extending a helping hand in Sierra Leone.
The arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Fleming in Mattru to open a mission was highly expected by the people because though her they would be provided with medicine. The demand for medicine by people gave The Fleming’s cause for sending for more drugs from the dispensary at Danville.
This in turn gave rise to the urgency for a dispensary in Mattru. A small cement block building (12’x14’) was erected to serve as both dispensary and stock room.
In 1913 plans were projected for the building of a dispensary facility. This construction plan took off with arrival of the Rev. Vernon Kopp and wife after their studies in Tropical medicine at Livingstone Memorial College in London. Two of his successors Frank Powell and Charles A.E. Suffley, each having had a brief study at the same college had a brief stay in Africa.
In 1934 became the landmark year in the history of Medical Missions in Sierra in Sierra Leone
In late September, Dr. Leslie Huntley (MD) arrived and assumed the responsibility as Director of Gbangbaia Medical work. He was welcome by the nationals and his presence acted as a lift to the other medical staff. Work became very heavy for him until when Emma Hyer (RN) arrived in 1936. The dispensary at Danville became over crowded upon the arrival of Dr. Huntley. It was difficult to treat all patients in one day. This resulted in decision of the four paramount chiefs in the surround chiefdoms to construct a large mud-house near the dispensary for their people who traveled to Danville dispensary for medical aid. By June 1935, some three months after the official opening of the dispensary 1,035 patients were treated. The need for larger quarters became evident.
By May 1939, the Doctor wrote this in a letter to America:
“Our present accommodations are far too inadequate for the people who come for treatment ….. We have to refuse maternity cases and patients needing surgery almost everyday. It is hard to turn away these people.”
The inadequacy of room and demand for surgical operations made the Doctor to request the building of a hospital. The was raised by the General church for a hospital. But after the funds and the materials had been collected, the erection of the hospital was temporally delayed by the World War.
By 1945 after the war, the building project of the hospital program was reaffirmed and the director of construction, Rev. Earl Ensminger (and wife) were appointed
The original decision was to locate the hospital at Gbangbaia. But when the costs of the repairs and renovations needed to update the Danville dispensary were considered, it was decided to locate the hospital at Mattru Jong.
The following reasons were advanced.
- Mattru was more centrally located to serve the UBC mission district.
- Mattru had become an important center f trade, and several leading commercial firms had been located there.
- Prospects were in the offering to make this a political center, with the possibility of making this the headquarters for the District Commissioner and his Staff
- Mattru, had the advantages of a two-way system of travel, namely the Jong River, and motor roads in operation or in the making, giving an outlet to various parts of the Protectorate, and especially with railroad facilities at Bo, making connections to Freetown on the coast, and inland to the East and North.
In the debate over the location of the hospital, a conclusive argument however came from government. An official message to Dr. Eby (Mission official representative by at the time) urged consideration of the hospital site in view of certain develop plans for the Mattru area on the part of the government, and added “ we would like to see the hospital project in our program of development”.
Between 1948 and 1949 all paperwork – the area maps – the blue prints and plans were sent to the director of medical services in Freetown, lease preparation and signing of agreement by the Paramount Chief (Madam Bunting Williams) and the local authorities, and the District Commissioner were completed. The land (Approximately 15 Acres) was leased for the hospital with small yearly lease fees to make it legal.
When Doctor Huntley returned to the States in November 1941, the hospital project was left with no doctor until Mr. Ensminger (second term in Africa).
Several people from the various missions stations assisted with the construction of the buildings. Prior to the erection of the buildings, Nurse Anna Bard from the Gbangaia dispensary used to spend a lot of time at Mattru. She opened a simple treatment centre on the mission compound in the house of Joseph and Emma George.
Early staff arrivals at Mattru hospital were, Nurse Juanita Smith (R.N.) who followed Nurse Oneta Sewell (R.N.) who came in June, 1950,. The two started a nursing class in connection with the proposed hospital.
In 1957, Alvin French (M.D.) who was from another mission came to Mattru for a two years-term of service. A young Sierra Leonean (trained in the United States) Sylvester H. Pratt (M.D.) followed him in 1959.
At this time, there was only a 15-bed hospital without electricity and modern plumbing.
The arrival of Dr. S.H. Pratt, a Sierra Leonean doctor, was greeted with enthusiasm and it attracted people’s attention both children and adults. Appeals were made to Sierra Leone Government for funds to enlarge the hospital. At first, the appeal received a cold reception. But Government suddenly changed its mind and a grant totaling 34,000 British Pounds was received. A metal mining company also gave a special Independence commemoration gift of 7,000 Pounds to the hospital as a gesture to the country of Sierra Leone in 1961. Moreover, a gift from the Mission Board in America enabled the Doctor to purchase a new operating table and sterilizer.
With these additional funds, a 34-bed medical-surgical building was constructed. Dr. Pratt was able to bring some aspects of the hospital “out of the bush” so to speak. The missionaries had been inclined to accept circumstances as they were and tried to make the best of the situation. But being a native of the land and also trained in the US, Dr. Pratt saw things as they were and set out to make things better, he did not tolerate any thing inferior whether it were drugs, techniques or just lack of facilities. He had a captain’s personality and that caused people to do the job and do it right because they wanted to please Dr. Pratt, though it might be unique or difficult.
Before he would Minister to babies who were brought to the hospital laden down with charms around their necks, and ankles, he requested for these charms to be removed. From the very first, he told the parents that this was one thing he wanted them to get straight – THAT GOD WAS THE DOCTOR AT THE HOSIPTAL, and he was only God’s instrument.
Being a Sierra Leonean, Dr. Pratt did have an advantage over missionaries from United States in both the spoken languages of Krio and Mende, as well as in climate adaptation. He worked at Mattru hospital between 1959 and 1973.
Dr Pratt was followed by Dr. Ronald P. Baker (M.D.) in 1974. He was also unique. Though an American, he was raised in Sierra Leone by his missionary parents, so he had complete command of the Mende language and culture.
Billy K. Simbo
3oth August 31, 2007
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