Bishop Yambasu remembered as bridge builder

Other Manual Translations: Português Español

Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu was remembered as a bridge builder, for his critical leadership on ending conflict in The United Methodist Church, and for “being the voice of Jesus when it needed to be heard.”

Yambasu, who died at age 63 in an Aug. 16 car accident, was remembered by his fellow bishops and other United Methodists during a Service of Remembrance and Rites of Passage on Sept. 6 at King Memorial United Methodist Church and a prayer vigil on Sept. 5. Memorials were held throughout Sierra Leone and in other countries in Africa over the past week.

Videos about Yambasu

Watch Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu’s funeral.

Watch memorial video about Yambasu.

Watch prayer vigil.

In a video eulogy played during the funeral service, the president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops said that Yambasu’s funeral sermon was preached “by the way he lived out his everyday life.

“He preached his sermon by being the voice of Jesus when it needed to be heard. He preached his sermon when he responded to the least and the lost. He preached his sermon when he said enough is enough,” Bishop Cynthia Harvey said in her sermon.

Harvey, who also leads the Louisiana Conference, praised Yambasu’s leadership in bringing together United Methodists of different theological beliefs and engaging them in a conversation with the aim of reaching resolution on divisions over LGBTQ inclusion.

The meetings he arranged of theological centrists, traditionalists and progressives resulted in the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation, a proposal to General Conference to allow an amicable separation of the church.

Yambasu’s funeral attracted people from all walks of life — academics, politicians, Muslims and varying denominations of the Christian community.

His widow, Millicent Yambasu, spoke of her late husband as a loving, caring husband and father who was “a real gift to humanity.”

“He was a dreamer and a visionary who touched so many lives here in the conference, in Sierra Leone and the world at large,” she said during a service on Sept. 4.

East Africa Area Bishop Daniel Wandabula said he agreed with those who said Yambasu was “irreplaceable.”

“We should not despair. Our struggle should be to keep his legacy alive and to grow from his example. Our hope should be with the thousands of leaders, especially the young people that Bishop John Yambasu has trained, mentored, groomed and empowered over the years. It is our responsibility to take up the baton and run with it to the finish line,” Wandabula said.

While Yambasu was born and raised in Sierra Leone, Wandabula said that like John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, “the world was his parish as he brought voice to global issues that impacted his denomination, The United Methodist Church.”

Côte d’Ivoire Area Bishop Benjamin Boni recalled the first time he met Yambasu in Côte d’Ivoire, when Yambasu was a missionary serving the young people of sub-Saharan Africa. He said God used Yambasu in diverse ways — from youth service, administration, evangelism, mission, reconciliation and unity to the social life of the people of God and the entire society.

“In a nutshell, God powerfully used him,” Boni said.

Bishop Benjamen Boni, Côte d'Ivoire, leads a moment of prayer during the Sept. 5 funeral vigil for Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu held at King Memorial United Methodist Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News.
Bishop Benjamen Boni, Côte d'Ivoire, leads a moment of prayer during the Sept. 5 funeral vigil for Sierra Leone Area Bishop John K. Yambasu held at King Memorial United Methodist Church in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Photo by E Julu Swen, UM News.

Boni said people will ask why this happened to Yambasu. “God knows what he is doing. And what he is doing is above our understanding,” Boni said.

There was a standing ovation when Boni asked the congregation to clap in memory of the great works that Yambasu did. Elected bishop in 2008, Yambasu took on roles that made him a leader for his country as well as the church.

He provided critical leadership during the deadly 2014-2016 Ebola outbreak that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, and the 2017 landslide that killed hundreds after torrential rains and flooding in Freetown.

In another video played at the service, West Ohio Area Bishop Gregory Palmer said that where Yambasu stood on a particular matter never “put him in opposition to you as a fellow Christian, as a fellow human being.”

He said the Sierra Leone bishop was a natural bridge builder in a “world of brokenness and pain.”

Hundreds joined the procession through the streets of Freetown up to the hills where Yambasu was buried in the compound of the Bishop Wenner School of Theology of the United Methodist University. The school was a dream he was working on at the time of his death.

At the graveside, the Rev. Julius Nelson, a friend of Yambasu’s from Liberia, spoke of the bishop as a faithful patriot and nationalist.

“He loved his brethren with whom he labored. He loved and stood with his people, in all of our church life and missionary endeavor…. He was a shining star of the African continent,” Nelson said. 

Jusu is a communicator for the Sierra Leone Conference and Swen is a communicator in Liberia.

News media contact: Vicki Brown at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.


Like what you're reading? Support the ministry of UM News! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community. Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

UMNEWS-SUBSCRIPTION
Faith Stories
Despite being denied an education as a girl, Greater Taremeredzwa Nhiwatiwa (second from left) went on to become a nurse and church leader in her role as an African bishop’s spouse. Nhiwatiwa, who is president of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area Rukwadzano RweWadzimai (RRW) women's organization, shares her life story in a new book, “Reflections on My Life and Faith Journey as an African Bishop’s Spouse.” Pictured with Nhiwatiwa at the Zimbabwe West Annual Conference main office are Anesu Mironga, Zimbabwe East Annual Conference secretary (left), Tendai Rebecca Gurupira, RRW vice president (third from left), and Ethel Tsingano, RRW secretary. Photo by Kudzai Chingwe, UM News.

Greater Nhiwatiwa shares faith journey in new book

Despite being denied an education as a girl, she went on to become a nurse and leader in The United Methodist Church in Zimbabwe in her role as an African bishop’s spouse.
Judicial Council
The Holston Conference’s Bishop Mary Virginia Taylor embraces the Rev. David Graves following his election as United Methodist bishop at the 2016 Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference. Taylor is among the 11 U.S. bishops who retired last year, and Graves is among the bishops now taking on extra work because of the retirements. The Judicial Council issued a decision May 20, addressing the question of whether jurisdictional conference can meet to elect new bishops. File photo by Annette Spence, Holston Conference.

Ruling opens door for bishop elections in 2022

The United Methodist Church’s top court ruled that the Council of Bishops has the authority to call jurisdictional conferences to elect and assign new U.S. episcopal leaders but not to change the date when those new bishops take office.
Bishops
Louisiana Conference Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, at right, passes the gavel to her successor as Council of Bishops president, New York Conference Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton. The Council of Bishops concluded its spring meeting April 29 with the passing and gavel. The bishops acknowledged the planned launch of a breakaway denomination on May 1 while also discussing how United Methodist ministry continues. Screengrab courtesy of the Council of Bishops via Zoom by UM News.

United Methodists urged to relaunch their church

While acknowledging the start of a breakaway denomination, new Council of Bishops President Thomas Bickerton shared his hopes for a revived United Methodist Church. Among those leaving for the new denomination is a fellow bishop.