In Memory of Bishop John Yambasu of Sierra Leone
“So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.
Let the peace of Christ keep you in tune with each other, in step with each other. None of this going off and doing your own thing. And cultivate thankfulness. Let the Word of Christ—the Message—have the run of the house. Give it plenty of room in your lives. Instruct and direct one another using good common sense.”
-Colossians 3:12-16 (The Message)
“Therefore, as a prisoner for the Lord, I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.
God has given his grace to each one of us measured out by the gift that is given by Christ. That’s why scripture says, When he climbed up to the heights, he captured prisoners, and he gave gifts to people.[a]
What does the phrase “he climbed up” mean if it doesn’t mean that he had first gone down into the lower regions, the earth? The one who went down is the same one who climbed up above all the heavens so that he might fill everything.
He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. His purpose was to equip God’s people for the work of serving and building up the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of faith and knowledge of God’s Son. God’s goal is for us to become mature adults—to be fully grown, measured by the standard of the fullness of Christ. As a result, we aren’t supposed to be infants any longer who can be tossed and blown around by every wind that comes from teaching with deceitful scheming and the tricks people play to deliberately mislead others. Instead, by speaking the truth with love, let’s grow in every way into Christ, who is the head. The whole body grows from him, as it is joined and held together by all the supporting ligaments. The body makes itself grow in that it builds itself up with love as each one does its part.”
-Ephesians 4:1-16 (CEB)
Bishop John Yambasu was my friend. Many United Methodists could begin their tribute to this leader who died suddenly and tragically in a car crash while traveling to memorialize one of his pastors who died, with the words “He was my friend.”
I met him after we were elected bishops in 2008. Bishop Yambasu, Bishop Mary Ann Swenson, and I were asked by the Council of Bishops to travel to Nigeria for a mission of peace and reconciliation to prepare them for a process to elect a new bishop. We left Nigeria as colleagues and friends, saying as long as we live we would remember our experience of listening and praying together with the United Methodists in Nigeria.
Since 2012 when Bishop Yambasu preached a sermon entitled “The Tie That Binds,” he has been promoting unity for the United Methodist witness. Speaking of Bishop Yambasu, James Salley, Associate Vice Chancellor of Africa University, said “Since 2012 he has been talking about, preaching, and urging the Church to move from fracture to unity. Through the Holy Spirit, his voice has been heard.”
In January 2019 First Lady Racelder Grandberry-Trimble and I traveled to Sierra Leone to join our friends John and Milicent Yambasu at their Annual Conference where I would preach and assist in ordaining new clergy. Before we arrived and after we left, other teams from Indiana traveled to Sierra Leonne for work on projects that have bridged a long-standing partnership made stronger under the leadership of Bishop Yambasu. Indiana United Methodists, including those long associated with Operation Classroom, mourn the loss of Bishop Yambasu.
After the Special-Called General Conference in February 2019, Bishop Yambasu, led by his prayers and the Holy Spirit, initiated negotiations facilitated by a professional mediator for what would be called the Protocol For Reconciliation and Grace Separation to be brought to the now-postponed 2020 General conference.
Rather than adding more blame and shame and more division in the Church, it was Bishop Yambasu who envisioned something other than prolonged civil war within the Church over human sexuality and marriage. Many Africans in The United Methodist Church have experience the bloody devastation of civil war and know what it is to lose a family member to tribal division and disputes over power and resources.
It was in Tampa, Florida, in 2012 at a first-ever large gathering of Africans, African Americans, General Church leaders, and General Conference delegates that the Africa University Choir sang. Bishop Yambasu approached the podium with a Wesleyan message of unity in Christ Jesus entitled “The Tie that Binds.”
The tie that binds. I thought about that as I left Indiana Wesleyan University this past Saturday after Annual Conference not knowing that the next day one who loved the cross and flame in ways I don’t fully understand would be gone. I thought about that as I see jockeying for positioning for some to have the Church they want.
The tie that binds is not based on hyperbole or some esoteric notions of a Church that doesn’t scratch where people itch or satisfy real hunger in a hungry world starving for sustainable hope and love clothed in justice and equality.
“Blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love,
the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.
We share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear;
and often for each other flows the sympathizing tear.
Brother Bishop Yambasu, when we asunder part,
it gives us inward pain;
but we shall still be joined in heart,
and hope to meet again.”
-Blest Be the Tie That Binds (#557 in the United Methodist Hymnal)
Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church