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C. Dunbar Henri.

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Henri, Coleridge Dunbar, Sr. (1912–2002)

By DeWitt S. Williams

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DeWitt S. Williams, Ed.D. (Indiana University) lives in Maryland after 46 years of denominational service. He pastored in Oklahoma, served as a missionary in the Congo (Departmental and Field President), and Burundi/Rwanda (President, Central African Union). He served 12 years in the General Conference as Associate Director in both the Communications and Health and Temperance Departments. His last service was Director of NAD Health Ministries (1990-2010). He authored nine books and numerous articles.

First Published: December 31, 2020

C. Dunbar Henri, pastor, evangelist and administrator, served as a missionary in Africa for more than two decades and as a vice president of the General Conference (1973-1980).

Early Life and Ministry (1912-1945)

Coleridge Dunbar Henri was born July 7, 1912, in Clarendon, Arkansas, to William Sean Henri and Eva Deloney Henri. He was the second of their six children. During Dunbar’s early childhood the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and through Bible studies became Adventists. After his father abandoned the family, young Dunbar stepped up to help his mother as a provider by selling newspapers on the rough-and-tumble streets of the city. He attended Simmons Elementary and Vashon High School in St. Louis before completing secondary school at Oakwood Academy in Huntsville, Alabama.1

Dunbar continued his studies at Oakwood Junior College, and, in 1938, after completing two years there transferred to Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, where he graduated with a bachelor of theology (Th.B.) degree. He did his internship under J. H. Laurence in the Indiana Conference where he was assigned to Gary, Indiana.2 He married Lorraine Deloris Davis (1922-2019) on June 20, 1943, at the Berean Seventh-day Adventist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. Lorraine, her eight siblings, and their parents James Roy and Viola Davis, were all members of the church in East St. Louis, Illinois, and over the years made significant contributions to the Adventist church at large.3

While at Atlantic Union College, Henri had signed up for overseas mission service, but a call never came. Three Black missionaries had been sent to Africa by the denomination during 1902-1906. But in the nearly 40 years since then, Benjamin Abney and his family, who went overseas in 1931, had been the only Black Adventist missionaries sent to Africa. Henri had just about given up hope of going until he went to Chicago in April 1944 during the General Conference meeting at which regional (or colored) conferences were approved. While there, E. D. Dick, secretary of the GC, asked the Henris to go to Liberia, West Africa, as foreign missionaries. Two other Black missionaries, Philip Giddings and Nathaniel Banks and their families were selected to go to Africa at the same time.

Before leaving for his overseas assignment, Henri became part of the initial ministerial force of the Lake Region Conference when it began operation January 1, 1945. He was ordained to gospel ministry along with F. N. Crowe and J. W. Allison on June 16, 1945 in Detroit, Michigan.4

Mission Service in West Africa (1945-1964)

The Henris served two separate stints of service as missionaries to Africa. The first was to West Africa from 1945 to 1964 where C. D. Henri served in Liberia, Nigeria, and Ghana: as pastor and district leader in the Liberian Mission (1945-1947), as an evangelist and part-time principal of the Konola Academy in Liberia (1948-1951), as president of the Liberian Mission (1951-1955), as secretary of the Ministerial Association and an evangelist in the West African Union Mission with headquarters in Ghana (1955-1957), and additionally, while still caring for those responsibilities, editor of the West African Union Messenger (1957-1964).

The first years were the toughest. They lived among the Bassa tribes in a tin house on stilts, then in a tent house with no windows, bathrooms or running water. But they adapted to the new living conditions. They built dry wells and placed tanks on top of the house to collect water. Every drop had to be boiled before drinking or cooking.5

Lorraine Henri conducted cooking classes utilizing the vegetarian diet. She also played for and conducted several choirs. Additionally, Mrs. Henri was the director of the Voice of Prophecy Bible Correspondence School in Monrovia, Liberia. More than 66,000 pieces of mail per year came to the office.6

In Nigeria, C. D. Henri nearly lost his life while attempting to fix a malfunctioning projector during an evangelistic meeting. While holding electrical wires in his hands he asked for someone to check to make sure the electricity remained off. His comment was misunderstood, and the switch was flipped on. Two hundred and twenty volts surged through his body, knocking him to the floor. The audience panicked, thinking he was dead. The interpreter, Caleb Adeogun, kept his cool and turned the electricity off thus saving him from being electrocuted.

Henri’s work received favorable attention from William V. S. Tubman, President of Liberia.7 In recognition for all that he was doing for the people of Liberia, Tubman knighted Henri as the Knight Commander of the Liberian Order of Human Redemption, on September 16, 1948.8 This was a special honor given by the government to individuals who performed humanitarian service to Liberia.

The Henris three children, Burdetta, Patricia and Dunbar, Jr., were all born during their mission service in Africa.

Ministry in America and Leadership in East Africa (1965-1973)

On his return to the United States, Henri attended Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and earned a master of arts degree. While at Andrews University he received a call to pastor in Orlando, Florida. His assignment also included four additional churches: Winter Park, Apopka, Cocoa and Sanford. Later a call came for him to pastor the Berean church in Atlanta, Georgia.

In a second stint of mission service from 1970 to 1973, Henri served as the first Black president of the East African Union with headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. As president, he was instrumental in training and preparing Kenyans for key positions. When Henri left, D. K. Bazarra was appointed the first national president of the East African Union and all of the Kenya fields were administered by African presidents. During this tour, Burdetta and Patricia attended Middle East College in Beirut, Lebanon. Dunbar, Jr. attended and graduated from the Beirut Overseas School. In all, the Henris served almost 24 years in Africa.

General Conference Vice President (1973-1980)

C. D. and Lorraine Henri were instrumental in helping many African Americans make the decision to become missionaries. When they were on furlough, they visited many churches and camp meetings sharing their love for the people of Africa. They wore the national dress and showed the many different types of artifacts made by the people. In the past, many mission stories had depicted indigenous Africans as naked, heathen and primitive people almost incapable of learning about God. The Henris positive presentations inspired pride in African Americans and made them want to be associated with Africa.9

While serving in East Africa, Henri accepted a call in 1973 to be a general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, then located in Washington, D.C. He was reelected at the 1975 General Conference session in Vienna, Austria, as one of the seven vice presidents of the world church. He served in this capacity from 1973 to 1980, first under Robert H. Pierson as president, followed by Neal C. Wilson. As vice president, Henri served on several boards, among them Christian Record Braille, Home Study Institute, and Oakwood College and was a General Conference representative at the meetings of the Divisions of the world church. Lorraine Henri worked as a secretary and tour guide and was the official hostess for the General Conference Visitor’s Center during this time.

Post-Retirement Service (1980-2002)

C. D. Henri officially retired at the General Conference session held at Dallas, Texas, in 1980 and moved with his wife and two daughters to Atlanta, Georgia. In his retirement, he worked in the South Atlantic Conference as needed in a variety of roles such as interim pastor, troubleshooter, and administrator, assisting several of the presidents of the South Atlantic Conference. It was said that he pastored more churches in his retirement than he did during his active employment. Henri studied the Seventh-day Adventist policy book in his spare time, so he usually knew what procedures to follow. He was skilled at keeping committee meetings on track with his deep knowledge of Adventist policy and he served as a troubleshooter in difficult situations with wisdom, tact, and dignity.

In 1985, Henri was awarded an honorary doctor of divinity degree from Gulfport University. He returned to Africa in 1988 to serve again as interim president of the East Africa Union. The union under his leadership hosted the first General Conference Annual Council to be held in Kenya.10

C. Dunbar Henri passed away on Wednesday, January 30, 2002, in Atlanta, Georgia, at age 89.11 He and Lorraine had been married for 58 years. She died May 7, 2019, at age 96 in Atlanta, Georgia.12

Sources

“C. D. Henri, Former Church Leader, Rests in Jesus.” ARH, February 28, 2002.

“C. Dunbar Henri: Missionary.” In A Star Gives Light: Seventh-day Adventist African American Heritage Resource Guide. Decatur, GA: Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Education, 1989.

Coon, R. W. “The School without a Classroom.” West African Advent Messenger, October 1954.

“Dunbar Henri obituary.” Southern Tidings, March 2002.

“Gala Opening of New Church in Monrovia Liberia.” North American Informant, July-August 1953.

Henri, C. D. “Tidings From Liberia.” North American Informant, January 1948.

Henri, C. Dunbar. “Nigeria’s Waiting Millions.” North American Informant, July-August 1958.

Henri, Coleridge Dunbar, Sr. Funeral Program Obituary. Copy held by author.

“Moments in Black SDA History: The Reid Family Story.” North American Regional Voice, January 1990.

Johnson, J. E. Regional Meetings Are Big Success.” Lake Union Herald, July 10, 1945.

Peters, George E. “North American Colored Department.” ARH, November 18, 1943.

“President Tubman Writes.” North American Informant, November-December 1956

“Report From Liberia.” North American Informant, March-April 1954.

“Where Honor is Due.” North American Informant, July-August 1975.

Notes

  1. In addition to other sources identified, biographical details in this article are drawn from the author’s telephone interviews and emails with C. D. Henri’s children, Burdetta, Patricia, and Dunbar Henri, Jr.

  2. George E. Peters, “North American Colored Department,” ARH, November 18, 1943, 16.

  3. “Moments in Black SDA History: The Reid Family Story,” North American Regional Voice, January 1990, 11-12.

  4. J.E. Johnson, Regional Meetings Are Big Success,” Lake Union Herald, July 10, 1945, 2.

  5. “C. Dunbar Henri: Missionary,” A Star Gives Light: Seventh-day Adventist African American Heritage Resource Guide (Decatur, GA: Southern Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Office of Education, 1989), 235.

  6. R.W. Coon, “The School without a Classroom,” West African Advent Messenger, October 1954, 7.

  7. “Gala Opening of New Church in Monrovia Liberia,” North American Informant, July-August 1953, 4; “Report From Liberia,” North American Informant, March-April 1954, 2; “President Tubman Writes,” North American Informant, November-December, 1956, 4.

  8. “Where Honor is Due,” North American Informant, July-August 1975, 8.

  9. “C. Dunbar Henri: Missionary,” A Star Gives Light, 235-236; Carol Hammond, Precious Memories of Missionaries of Color, Vol. 1 (Pleasant Word Publishing 2008), 30-40.

  10. General Conference Committee, October 4, 1988, 88-318, General Conference Online Archives, accessed December 14, 2021, https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1988-10.pdf; “To New Positions,” ARH, November 10, 1988, 6.

  11. “Dunbar Henri obituary,” Southern Tidings, March 2002, 18; “C. D. Henri, Former Church Leader, Rests in Jesus,” ARH, February 28, 2002, 19.

  12. “Retired Educator, Lorraine D. Henri, Passes at Age 96,” Southern Tidings online news, July 2019, accessed December 14, 2021, https://www.southerntidings.com/news/retired-educator-lorraine-d-henri-passes-at-age-96/.

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Williams, DeWitt S. "Henri, Coleridge Dunbar, Sr. (1912–2002)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 31, 2020. Accessed June 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6CET.

Williams, DeWitt S. "Henri, Coleridge Dunbar, Sr. (1912–2002)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. December 31, 2020. Date of access June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6CET.

Williams, DeWitt S. (2020, December 31). Henri, Coleridge Dunbar, Sr. (1912–2002). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved June 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=6CET.