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The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone

by Alma Graham

The United Methodist Church, through its predecessor denominations, has had a mission presence in Sierra Leone for more than t

The United Methodist Church, through its predecessor denominations, has had a mission presence in Sierra Leone for more than two centuries. Some Methodists went there as early as 1792, when a Briton, Thomas Clarkson, brought 1100 freed Blacks from Nova Scotia, Canada, to settle in the area. Thus "when George Warren, a Wesleyan Methodist missionary from Great Britain, arrived in Sierra Leone in 1811, [he] 'found the whole apparatus of Methodist organization and discipline already in progress,' with a 200-member strong Society." He also found a larger colony of freed slaves, including 500 free Blacks who came from Jamaica in 1800. Between 1807, when Britain abolished the slave trade, and 1865, when the US Civil War ended, 50,000 West Africans released by the British from slave ships had also settled in Sierra Leone.

The United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone today traces its history to 1855, when the Church of the United Brethren in Christ began mission work there. After a Black couple, Mr. and Mrs. Gomer from Dayton, Ohio, went to Shenge, Sierra Leone, in 1870, the mission began to flourish--particularly in education. As indigenous leaders were trained, many schools were developed, such as Albert Academy for boys in Freetown (founded 1904) and Harford School for Girls in Moyamba. Their graduates were to become national leaders when Sierra Leone became independent.

Soon the churches grew and they were pastored by African clergy. Rotifunk Hospital and many health dispensaries were strategically placed throughout the country. By the late twentieth century, the United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone was one of the largest Christian denominations in the country. The Sierra Leone Annual Conference was established in 1973 under the leadership of Bishop Thomas Bangura. It became a part of the West Africa Central Conference in 1981 and has been led by Bishop Joseph C. Humper since 1992. The conference has been actively engaged in education, agriculture, health, women's training centers, and clean- water systems. A vigorous program of evangelism has undergirded all these programs.

Operation Classroom, a program started in 1987 by United Methodist churches in several US states, provides schools, health centers, and clinics in Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is supported by the Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Great Rivers, and Holston annual conferences and by designated contributions given through the Advance for Christ and His Church.

A military coup in May 1997 ousted the elected government and plunged the country into an ongoing civil conflict. The 12 Operation Classroom schools in Sierra Leone had to close, and now many schools have been destroyed in the fighting and students are attending classes in church buildings. In the spring of 1999, the capital, Freetown, was in turmoil. The rebels were targeting church leaders and members, and Bishop Humper had to go into hiding. The rebels killed thousands of civilians and mutilated hundreds more, often by cutting off their hands. Today, a United Nations peacekeeping force is trying to implement a 1999 peace accord, but rebel soldiers continue to attack civilians and few have turned in their weapons.

Donations to help Sierra Leone may be made to UMCOR Advance #181205- 1, Sierra Leone Emergency, and sent to UMCOR, General Board of Global Ministries, 475 Riverside Drive, Room 330, New York, NY 10115.

This article is drawn from New World Outlook, May-June 1994, Jan.-Feb. 1998, Mar.-Apr. 1999, and other sources. Copyright New World Outlook. For reprint permission, write to


See Also...
Topic: Advocacy Communities Donations Evangelization Human rights International affairs Poverty United Methodist Church Violence War
Geographic Region: AfricaSierra Leone
Source: New World Outlook

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Date posted: Mar 10, 2000