Etta N. Nicol began her journey with Broad Street United Methodist Church in 1982. A teacher at the Harford Girl’s School in Moyamba, Sierra Leone, Nicol served as a guide for Jerry Everly, a former associate pastor at BSUMC, and a group of Methodist ministries who were visiting there.
Nicol had been selected to be the next principal of the school, but she needed the required degrees to fill the position. From 1982 to 1985, she was given the opportunity to further her education in the United States, a chance made possible by Broad Street UMC.
She went on to receive her bachelor of arts degree from Tennessee Wesleyan College on June 2, 1984, and then her master’s in school supervision and administration from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in August 1985.
She said she found a “home” with the Broad Street United Methodist Church. During her time here, the church even arranged for her to go home on vacation once every year to be with her family since she had to leave behind her bed-ridden mother and 2-year son.
When she returned to Moyamba, Nicol taught another year at the United Methodist Harford School for Girls and was appointed principal there in 1986.
Then war began in Sierra Leone in 1991. The rebels overran Harford School in January 1995, and Nicol took the senior girls to Freetown where they could continue studies at the Albert Academy, an all-boys UMC secondary school.
But in September 1995, Nicol opened the only “displaced” school — Nucleus Secondary School — in Freetown. Although some felt she was too hasty in her efforts, her wisdom in doing so was later recognized and, a year later, other schools had followed suit.
At the first graduation ceremonies at the school, Nicol told of her dream for a new secondary school for girls in Freetown. But in January 1997, rebels overran Freetown and everyone had to flee for their lives.
Nicol went to Banjul in the Gambiz on the west coast of Africa with part of her family. As refugees in Banjul, she and her youngest son were supported by Broad Street UMC and friends. The church made arrangements for them to come to the United States until the war ended, but the American Consul in The Gambia could not allow them to leave because they were refugees.
Six months later, Nicol left her family in Banjul and headed back to Freetown because she didn’t want to be “a shepherd fleeing” leaving the “sheep” in danger. She continued as principal of the girls’ school until she retired in January 1999.
But she didn’t retire from her vision. Nicol had been making preparations for the ministry and was ordained a deacon in the Sierra Leone Conference in February 2000. And in August 2001, the Harford School for girls was able to again operate in Moyamba.
Even though Nicol had retired and accepted an appointment as director of Christian Education with the Sierra Leone Conference, she was asked by the resident bishop to go back to Freetown and fulfill her “dream” of a new school for girls in Freetown.
At the end of the year, there were more than 1,300 girls enrolled. She was ordained an elder at the Sierra Leone Conference in February 2002.
Nicol had the oversight for 323 United Methodist preschool and primary schools. Her department was named “Specialized Ministry to Children.”
She said it was a heavy load, but she was happy to be able to do what she could. Her duties were to deal with children of the church and the children of the community going from district to district and visiting schools to view their situations.
It was a challenge, Nicol said, to overcome the effects of war. She said it was difficult to see children going without food and not having their physical and educational needs met.
When she visited the nine church districts after 10 years of rebel war, she found buildings too dangerous to inhabit. There was a lack of school work materials as well as a need for sitting accommodations — some children were sitting on the floor or standing and using the wall for a desk. Teachers’ salaries had not been paid for three years. With Nicol’s office not being financially supported, her only vehicle was beyond repair and could not be replaced.
A child rescue center was set up by the church to serve 40 orphans, and seminars for childcare givers were held. Sunday school teaching was provided in the United Methodist churches, as well as children’s camps. BSUMC provided tuition support, work materials and uniforms for children from the streets.
Nicol and the children’s department also promoted HIV/AIDS awareness among children, ages 5 to 13, so they know how to take precautions to safeguard their futures.
Because of her effective work with the war-affected children, the Sierra Leone government had appointed Nicol as one of eight commissioners and the vice chairman to care for war-torn children and to monitor non-government organizations dealing with children’s affairs.
Now with her time over with the Children’s Commission, Nicol continues her work with the United Methodist Church. Her project, Operation Classroom, keeps the connection between her Sierra Leone ministry and the Broad Street United Methodist Church strong.
The greatest needs she sees in Sierra Leone are vehicles and wellwater in addition to school supplies. A storm in April 2010 almost totally destroyed two schools. The roof was blown off the school in the Yonihana District and more than 500 children are having classes in a rented house. And in the Moyamba East District, a mud building with a thatched roof provided by the community was destroyed and the school is currently using a rented house.
The schools are still her priority as she tries to make a difference in the lives of children and young people. All this is possible, Nicol added, because BSUMC helped her to become a Christian “seed of service.”
Nicol thanked the Broad Street UMC with these words: “Friends, we had started this long journey for Christ in 1982 and God is not finished with us yet. Everything we have done, we have done through Christ who strengthened us. My sincere thanks to those who started this journey with me, who still continue and those who have joined us. Together we are doing it to give glory to the Almighty God. To God be the Glory.”
After speaking at churches in the area, Nicol will visit Indiana on her return to Sierra Leone on Sept. 9.
Nicol said she is blessed because “God has a purpose for my life and He provided opportunity for me to be able to do what He wants me to do.”
With tears in her eyes, she added, “God has not disappointed me.”
One hundred years from now
It will not matter what my bank account was,
The sort of house I lived in,
Or the kind of car I drove ...
But the world may be different because
I was important in the life of a child.
—From Etta Nicol’s “Keepsakes”