An African model for American United Methodists?

The story about the death of the Rev. Isaac Momoh Ndanema of Sierra Leone was full of interesting little bits and pieces that I wish I could learn more about.

Ndanema died in June at the age of 107. He was praised and hailed as a great evangelist for the United Methodist Church in Sierra Leone. The story gave a few glimpses of his evangelistic method:

The team used Ndanema’s private old Peugeot car until it was beyond repairs. He paid the repair cost over the years and did not receive any reimbursement from conference, recalled the Rev. Moses Massaquoi, his assistant at the time. Ndanema served faithfully, whether or not he was supported by the annual conference, Massaquoi observed.

The team had four main objectives:

  • To organize churches in the east end of Freetown
  • To train local leadership for the established congregations
  • To construct new churches for the new congregations
  • To open new schools in the eastern part of the city

Their work resulted in 14 churches and 10 schools in eastern Freetown and the hinterland.

I am struck both by the selflessness of his ministry and the social nature of it. Bob Walters of Friendly Planet Missiology and the North Katanga Annual Conference has written about the unique character of United Methodist growth in Africa, or at least the part he is living in:

Yes, The United Methodist Church is growing rapidly in North Katanga, as in other parts of Africa. But you also need to know that The United Methodist Church in North Katanga and Tanganyika has earned the hard way a reputation of being the pastors who stayed with the people when warring armies invaded their villages, the church leaders who can be trusted to oversee elections, the church of higher education, the church of community development, the church of social change (especially the role of women), the church of health and healing, the church that works well with others (even those with whom we disagree), the church that sits down with war lords who have committed unspeakable acts of violence. The United Methodist Church in North Katanga is a smart, courageous, skilled church that knows what it means when you say, “Real church work is hard.”

I heard in the story about Ndanema echoes of Walters’ description of the UMC in North Katanga.

From the story on his death:

“He was a family supporter. Part of his ministry was settling disputes among disintegrating families. I had made up my mind to quit the relationship with my husband because he did not seem interested to marry me after we’d had our third child,” recalled Mary Kallon, a member of the Musselman congregation. “Word got to Pastor Ndanema that I was moving out of the home. He called me and my husband, resolved the matter and we wed the following Saturday.”

Alfred Josiah, who met Ndanema in his youth, said part of Ndanema’s method of evangelism was taking care of people’s social needs. “He helped me secure a job which became my career up to my retirement,” he said.

Tommy Lansana said Pa Ndanema encouraged him to begin learning to read and write at age 21.

I read this story and wanted to learn more. I read it and wondered what we in the United States could learn about being United Methodists from our brothers and sisters in Sierra Leone, North Katanga, and other places.

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4 thoughts on “An African model for American United Methodists?”

  1. Interesting story,We have this type of people in Nigeria too,some of them are old enough to do the work of evangelism while others have already past on.Any time we mention them in our gathering,discusion etc,We fell challenge and motivated but what is lacking is the spirit of sacrifice as they were.Some of them have been immotalise by naming church,cathedral after them but still we fell this people have not been fully compansated looking at their huge contribution in UMC,Is unfutunate that few of them that still live now,live with defomities in them,their surviving spause stories still atract sympathy.May the Lord bless them as their work still speaks to this generation of the UMC and the next generation to come.

  2. I hate to be the cynic who inevitably brings this up, but….. maybe the reason Methodism is growing in the Central Conferences and not in its home country is that the Gospel’s message is more relevant and important when you’re living in modern-day Judah, not modern-day Rome.

  3. Rev. Isaac Ndanema was my grand father. He was a man with a big heart full of love for all. Apart from his church work, his personal life was one of a kind. Our home was alway full of people he was either educating or taking care of. He spent is life putting smiles on the faces of all those that came into contact with him. Few months befor his death my husband and I had the opportunity to talk with him about the life of Christ and his Deity. He made us reaffirm our faith and understand Christ. I only wish we had spent more time with him these past few years.

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