In 1974 when we were living in Pleiku in the central highlands of Viet Nam, there were many attacks on the villages in the area, particularly between Pleiku and the Cambodian border. As a result, the South Vietnamese government began evacuating people from the villages under threat and moving them to a large open area just south of Pleiku.
We learned these villagers were in dire need of help, so, taking many sacks of rice, oatmeal, noodles, tinned fish, and other staples, we went out to the campsite. On arrival, we learned the camp was divided into Jarai and Bahnar. I went into the Jarai section and the Flemings to the Bahnar. I found the tent of the leader of the group, who immediately came out to welcome me, exclaiming they knew I would come. He proceeded to bow at my feet, proclaiming to everyone the angel with the message had arrived. I pulled him to his feet, assuring him I was not an angel. Fortunately, I had Ilana, our three-year-old daughter, with me and explained I was just a human and she was my daughter. He insisted they knew I was coming because they had a dream, and I looked like the angel in the dream. I was the first white person these people had seen, and I suppose my fair skin and blond hair helped them draw this conclusion. He also insisted I had a Book with an important message. I agreed with him on that point.
He then sent the children to call all the people to come to hear the story from the Book. While the children were running around, he told me, at one time, they knew the story from the Book, but it had been passed down for so many years they no longer had the story correct. But he knew I had the story written down in the Book, so I could tell them the true story. I marvelled at how the Holy Spirit had prepared these people to hear the message of salvation through Jesus Christ.
They all gathered around me; they told me I had to start at the beginning and tell the whole story of the Book. I started with Creation, the fall, God’s promises, the prophecies, the birth of Jesus, His life, His death, His resurrection, the good news of how through Jesus’ death and resurrection we can be cleansed from our sin, made pure in God’s eyes, and can have eternal life.
In summary, I told them the story of the Book from Genesis to Revelation. I was about to ask if any of them wanted to repent from their sin and turn to Jesus when the headman stood up and said they must believe what I was telling them because he knew it was the truth. That day I had the privilege of leading forty-four people to Christ. A week later, I returned with more supplies and some fifty people were waiting for me; they wanted to know Jesus as their Saviour too. We began regular meetings, and almost the whole camp came to profess Christ as Lord and Saviour, all except that headman, who repeatedly explained to me it was too late for him and he had sinned too much to be forgiven. I wept and prayed for him, but ultimately, I had to leave him in God’s hands. Yes, many came to Christ, but we were always aware of the fact that we were in a very real battle for the souls of men and women, boys and girls (Ephesians 6:12).
Ministry in Viet Nam
In June 1967, we attended the field conference in Viet Nam, and as the teachers whom we had replaced were returning, we were asked if we would be willing to be reassigned to Viet Nam under special assignment. We agreed immediately and moved to Dalat, Viet Nam, for language study in July 1967.
God was very gracious to me and gave me facility with the Vietnamese language very quickly, so I was able to finish the two-year course in three months. This, indeed, was a blessing because, by December, I ended up in bed due to problems with my pregnancy. John kept studying in class, and I began to memorize Scriptures in Vietnamese and read classical Vietnamese literature. This went on until Tét 1968 when there was an abrupt escalation in the attacks all over South Viet Nam. We had to leave our house and go up to the school buildings. The following night our compound was being showered with rockets exploding in the air and scattering shrapnel all over. While running for shelter in an underground storeroom, I began to haemorrhage. When we reached the storeroom, our colleagues gathered around me and prayed; the bleeding stopped while praying. All thirty-four of us knew God was with us. We were at peace even though we knew soldiers were searching for us. The next day, after what seemed like an interminable wait, the American military came for us and took us to the signal corps base. After spending two weeks on the American base on Cam Ranh Bay, we were flown to Thailand, where later in the year, our daughter Ilana1, our miracle baby, was born.
Eventually, we returned to Viet Nam and settled in Saigon, where John began working with Garth Hunt in evangelism among the South Vietnamese military. As for myself, I started writing a fifteen-year series of graded Sunday school lessons for the Vietnamese church and running teacher training classes for Sunday school teachers and child evangelism clubs. I managed to complete the Sunday school series before coming back to Canada for home assignment. During these years in Saigon, we saw many men and women, boys and girls, come to faith in Jesus Christ. In particular, many were patients in the military hospital where we held evangelistic services every Sunday evening. We were also involved in city-wide campaigns and outreach to the prisons.
Towards the end of our first term, the field leaders began talking to us about moving to the central highlands when we returned after our year at home. John was very interested in the work with the patients of Hansen’s disease (leprosy) because of one of the men, Dr. Robert Thompson, who had been instrumental in leading him to Christ. He was a chiropractor who had been a missionary in Ethiopia, where he had done considerable work among those suffering from this dreadful disease. The mission was planning to increase the work of the three leprosy clinics in the central highlands; so, they approached John about getting involved in this effort. They also suggested that on our way back to Canada, John could take some training in India at the hospital in Karigiri, where Dr. Paul Brand had had a remarkable ministry and pioneered rehabilitation surgery for leprosy patients and we could visit the leprosy treatment centres in Ethiopia. In addition, there were opportunities for me to get involved in the work on the translation of the Bible into Jarai were we to settle in Pleiku on our return.
Arrangements were made following this plan; on our way back to Canada, we spent a month in India and a month in Ethiopia, where John was able to work in some of the leading leprosy treatment centres. He learned a lot about rehabilitation for these patients after reconstructive surgery. He also learned strategies for preventing deformities and secondary infection, the leading causes of deformity and disfigurement in people suffering from Hansen’s disease. Also, during our year at home, we went to the leprosy treatment and research centre in Carville, Louisiana, where we had the privilege of meeting Dr. Paul Brand and his wife, Dr. Margaret Brand, an ophthalmic surgeon. John spent most of the time in Carville working with Paul, and I spent some time with Margaret, who coached me in diagnostic techniques and in some simple procedures for the prevention of damage to the eyes of leprosy patients. We were able to attend some fascinating lectures on research progress into treatments for this insidious disease. I spent some time in the diagnostic laboratory and received training to later train laboratory technicians in Pleiku.
While we were at home, we both had many opportunities to share the news about some of the marvellous things God was doing in Viet Nam. We also had occasions of challenging young people in the Alliance churches to consider committing their lives to the Lord to minister to the needy people of this world and give them the glorious message of salvation in Jesus Christ.
When we returned to Southeast Asia, we spent the first few months in Chiang Mai, Thailand, at the Presbyterian hospital leprosy treatment centre, where John received further training in preventative and rehabilitation procedures. Then we moved to Pleiku to begin our study of the Jarai language. Even while studying the language, John started doing some work in the Pleiku clinic. Eventually, he had oversight of prevention and rehabilitation in the three leprosy clinics run by the Alliance mission in the central highlands—Pleiku, Cheo Reo, and Banmethuot.
Once again, the Lord graciously gave me facility with the Jarai language. After consulting with the team working on the Jarai translation of the Bible, it became evident they needed someone to do the exegetical checking for the already translated New Testament texts. When they learned I had a working knowledge of both Greek and Hebrew, it seemed sensible for me to do the work while at the same time beginning work on the Old Testament. I assembled a team of Jarai translation helpers, including a school teacher who read Vietnamese, a lab technician whose schooling had been in French, and a young man who was proficient in his own language and eager to serve the Lord.
When we first arrived in Pleiku, we learned there were about four hundred baptized believers among the Jarai. A few pastors had received training at the Bible school in Nhatrang, and a few more were studying in Nhatrang at the time. There were, however, many more active laypeople who were regularly going out from the church in Pleiku on Sunday afternoons to spread the Gospel in the surrounding villages. My three translation helpers were among those who were faithful in this outreach ministry. Each week we heard reports of people who had come to Christ; the church began to multiply among the Jarai, to the extent of there being more than six thousand baptized Jarai believers when we were evacuated from Pleiku four years later in 1975.
In August 1974, we began a Bible study in Plei Br∂i at the request of eight women who were new believers. Within two months, the Bible study attendance had increased to over 30 men and women. After an impressive demonstration of God’s mighty power, the sorceress who was the head of the village came to Christ. By January, we were privileged to baptize 153 people in that village; they were building a church for the village when we suddenly were obliged to leave Pleiku.
Today the church among the Jarai in Viet Nam has grown to close to one million believers, for the Spirit of God continues to move among these people as Jesus builds His church in the central highlands of Southeast Asia. The Jarai living in Cambodia have also been touched by this movement, and the church there is growing too. As the four hundred voice Jarai choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus on the last day of the centennial celebration in 2011, we wept with joy as we marvelled at what God has done and continues to do. God did so many great things in Viet Nam, and we were highly honoured to witness.
1 Ilana, is now Ilana Lobbezoo, who has served in Cambodia with the Alliance since 1996.
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