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Missionaries in the Pentecostal Century

Here is a selection of stories of Assemblies of God missionaries who gave their lives on foreign soil during the Pentecostal century.

Victor and Grace Plymire

The Plymires

My uncle, Victor, lost his first wife, Grace, and 6-year-old son, John David, in the bitter cold Tibetan winter of 1927.

Sixty-seven years after he laid his wife and only son in a simple single grave on a hillside overlooking a Tibetan valley, the deed to that grave became the means by which the local government granted the church in that town a return of the church property. In the providence of God, Uncle Victor had vested title to a personal grave – not in his own name, but in the name of the church. Until 1991, no one knew he had done that. But when the local church was refused permission to possess its property again because it had no legal paper to prove ownership, my cousin, David Plymire, found the deed in his dad’s file in the Division of Foreign Missions in Springfield, Mo. Today that church is a prospering congregation.

On numerous occasions, I have stood at that simple grave and talked with my cousin, David, about the long-range events that flowed out of that great loss. We have marveled at the living application of Romans 8:28 – God is working good in all things – in the history of our own family.

The Weidmans

Paul and Virginia Weidman with their sons, Paul Jr. and Johnnie

Across the world, I have stood at the grave of another cousin, Paul Weidman Jr. Paul and Virginia Weidman, my mother’s youngest brother and his wife, arrived in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in 1937 as missionaries to the Mossi people with their two little boys, Paul Jr. and Johnnie. Paul Jr. quickly learned the language of the Mossi and began interpreting for his missionary dad. The Mossi loved this little boy who stood beside his father and translated the strange words into a tongue they could understand.

Just before his seventh birthday, on February 5, 1938, Paul Jr. suddenly became ill with blackwater fever and died three days later. He is buried in a grassless, brown-dirt cemetery on a little hillside outside the town of Tenkodogo.

Shortly before his death and while in a delirium, he broke into song, "There’s not a Friend like the lowly Jesus," in the language of the Mossi. He then preached, saying, "Do not follow Satan’s road but follow God’s road, for it alone leads to heaven through Jesus Christ our Lord."

The Weidmans stayed and established churches in the area where Paul Jr. died.

Forty years later the Weidmans, who had since retired, again visited Tenkodogo. An old Mossi pastor, who was in his 70s at that time and had decades earlier watched them go through that loss, came in from hoeing in the fields. When he saw Uncle Paul, he threw his arms around him. They danced, sang, smiled and laughed aloud. Between the tears and the joy, the old pastor, Dakoega, said, "It was not in vain, Missionary. There are now churches everywhere."

John Eric and Lucile Booth-Clibborn with their daughter, Phyllis.

The Booth-Clibborns

In the cemetery in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, the remains of a number of Assemblies of God missionaries and their children lie in the barren dirt ground strewn with leaves from the kouka trees overhead.

The markers include those of John Eric Booth-Clibborn, grandson of Salvation Army founder William Booth, who died of dysentery and malaria at 29, only three weeks after arriving in Ouagadougou in 1924. He left behind his little girl and his wife, Lucile, pregnant with their second child.

Her letter home, published in the Pentecostal Evangel, is a gripping account of faith. She describes the scene as the lid to her husband’s coffin was hammered on with nails and lifted onto a crude cart. The chapel bell tolled as they started toward the cemetery, and the casket was lowered into the ground after Scripture reading and prayer. She wrote, "In drawing this narrative to a close, I call to mind words written by Eric to his mother shortly before his departure from the United States: ‘And now as we turn to Africa … I know how hard it will be for us to part, but our Lord bade us to occupy till He comes, and we are obeying His command without reasoning till our work is done.’ "

And then, Lucile added, "Oh for more of that implicit trust, that exquisite faith! What a difference it would make for Africa and for every other … land if those called responded joyfully, without ‘reasoning’ or ‘questioning’ till their work was done."

The Halls

John and Cuba Hall and their family.

Among the other headstones in that cemetery is that of Billie Hall, 6 months.

John and Cuba Hall had gone out as single missionaries, learned the language and were married on the field – their ceremony performed both in English and the language of the Mossi. Billie died of dysentery.

In more than 30 years of living among the Mossi, they had spearheaded the translation of the entire Bible into the Mossi language and helped create the written text for the language itself. When the Halls finished the New Testament, with the help of another missionary couple, Brother Hall went on to translate most of the Old Testament himself, reproducing book by book on mimeograph machine. During his missionary work, he personally typed the Bible six times. The Mossi added books to the Bible and carried their Bible-in-the-making in their knapsacks. None of that would have been accomplished had they abandoned their call to the Mossi and come back to America because of sorrow and grief over losing their firstborn son.

Sister Hall said, "When Billie was so sick, every day and night the Mossi would come and look through our windows. They were watching to see how the faith of the white man would be affected if, after praying to their God, their baby died. But we committed Billie to the Lord, accepted his death as God’s will, refused to be bitter, and that became the initial means of breaking the ice and opening hearts for the entrance of the gospel. The Africans lose so many children to death that our experience allowed us to identify with them as in no other manner."

Today, the Assemblies of God in Burkina Faso is one of our strongest churches in Africa, with nearly a tenth of the population of that country a part of an Assemblies of God church. The seeds sown in the ground, which died, have borne great fruit.

Clarence and Dorothy Radley

The Radleys

The same year Eric Booth-Clibborn died (1924), Clarence and Dorothy Radley arrived in Nicaragua. Shortly afterward, Clarence died – probably from the combined effects of malaria and an infection from blood poisoning caused by a doctor who wished him dead. His widow was marooned in Esteli because of civil war and was without help for the burial. She built the casket with the help of some Nicaraguan believers, conducted the service and sang the solo at her husband’s burial.

B.A. Schoeneich, a missionary who made it through the battle lines to Esteli after the burial, wrote home in the Evangel: "There are happenings in the course of our lives and in our work that we fail to understand. We know not why God allows such things to take place, but one thing is sure. He knows and ‘He doeth all things well.’ "*

Sister Radley came home with her 4-year-old daughter, Evangeline. When Clarence died, they had not let her bury him in the graveyard, so she buried him in a field named "the Dung Heap." Years later the Pan American Highway was built and passed only 10 feet from his grave. The believers erected a 10-foot-high marker adjacent to the highway, which read in Spanish, "He sowed the Word at the cost of his life." When the highway was later widened, they moved his bones and the marker, giving him a prominent place at the entrance to the graveyard where his burial had first been denied.

The Mungers

Oren and Florence Munger

Nineteen years after Clarence Radley’s death, a young missionary couple – Oren and Florence Munger – arrived in Nicaragua. Oren was 23 and just out of Central Bible College, where he had collaborated with H.C. McKinney on the song known well in the yesteryear of our Fellowship, "I have seen the heathen in their darkness."

Two years later, at age 25, Oren was stricken with typhoid. When he arrived in Nicaragua, only two of 12 Assemblies of God pastors had received the baptism in the Spirit. His passion for God sparked the beginnings of revival in that land. On Saturday morning, August 25, 1945, he called Florence, the mother of his two little children, to his side. She had been writing a letter to her parents. He whispered, "Tell them I am passing through deep waters, but that the Lord is Lord even of the deep waters."

That evening he became the fourth Assemblies of God missionary in Nicaragua during those early years to give his life for the cause of Christ.

We should never forget the words he wrote home, "It is not in the great numbers of missionaries that the evangelism of the world lies, but in the intense glow with which the firebrands burn."

W.E., Margaret, Louise and W.W. Simpson in 1918.

The Simpsons

W.W. Simpson was a pioneer missionary to China and Tibet, whose son, Willie, grew up in that remote region of the world. At 18, Willie probably holds the record for the youngest missionary ever to receive appointment from the Assemblies of God – given in absentia since Willie was already on the field. At 32, he was killed from a random shot fired by mutinous troops into the truck in which he was riding. His body was robbed of valuables, and the nearby villagers buried him alongside the road.

Five days later his dad, W.W., arrived by horseback to the place where his son had been killed and buried. I take up the story in his own words: "When some distance away we saw the forlorn truck. We galloped our horses to the dreaded lonely spot. Dismounting, we started toward the rude grave. How I longed for one last word with my darling boy. Seeing a paper lying on the bloody ground, I picked it up. It was a Sunday school paper folded on which I read, ‘In Remembrance of Me.’

George Wood at the grave of John Eric Booth-Clibborn in Burkina Faso.

"Opening it I saw smeared over the paper the blood and brain of my beloved son. And I remembered how I had laid my son on the altar years before, knowing it probably meant his death. And I remembered too that Paul wrote, ‘Be ye followers of God as dear children,’ and I thought, As God gave His Son to make salvation possible, I have given my son to make salvation known. So the Lord arranged for this paper to convey my son’s last word to me."

One of W.W. Simpson’s grandsons has recently returned from the area of China in which his grandfather and uncle served and reported finding several thousand believers who are still singing the hymns taught them by the missionaries.

Our response

In our 85-year history, the Lord has given us a most precious gift in the lives of people who have sown the seed of the gospel at the cost of their lives. We must not forget them. And we must evaluate our own commitment to the Lord in light of the example of those who gave all to advance this gospel.

*Noel Perkin, "Missionary news," The Pentecostal Evangel, 2 July 1927, 10.

George O. Wood is general secretary of the Assemblies of God.


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