Wednesday, 25 November 2015

The Single Missionary Woman (Part 2): Roberta Edwards (1960-2015)

     One of the great female missionaries of the 20th century was Sarah Andrews, who devoted the last two-thirds of her life to God’s work in Japan <see Part 1>. The year before a stroke ended Sarah’s distinguished missionary service, a baby girl was born in the USA who was destined to become one of the great female missionaries of the 21st century.
There’s a Call Comes Ringing
     Roberta was the only daughter of Robert (Bob) and Laura Edwards. Raised in a military family, she was smart, disciplined, and determined. She was a homecoming queen, a college graduate, a department store manger, and a homeowner. By the world’s standards Roberta was a successful young woman. She also had a heart for Christ and his cause.
     She married Robert Aldate and left her comfortable life in North Carolina to serve the Lord in Robert’s homeland of Haiti in 1995. Roberta learned the language and adapted to the culture of one of the least developed nations in the world, where four out of five people live in abject poverty. For about six years the Aldates were an effective missionary team, teaching the gospel, ministering to the Haitian people, and helping the church grow.
For Such is the Kingdom of Heaven
     One day a desperate Haitian mother left her two baby boys outside the Adalte’s home in the hopes that the starving infants would be cared for. Not long thereafter Robert, who had been unfaithful to his marriage vows, abandoned his family responsibilities, leaving Roberta to care for the children alone. Church support ended. But Roberta refused to leave.
     Jesse Robertson knew of Roberta’s plight, and he managed to secure $100 per month support for her. Destitute children continued to be brought to Roberta’s house and placed in her care. The Estes church of Christ in Henderson, TN took oversight of this work in 2003, and with a facility provided by Manna Global Ministries, the SonLight Children’s Home in Port-au-Prince was secured.
     At least 31 children have been taken into the Home, and the oldest (Widlord Thomas, now 29) figures that some 50 to 60 children have passed through at various times. Christian Woman magazine featured Roberta on the cover of the January/ February 2010 issue, and in the feature article Debbie Bumbalough observes: Roberta looks at every child as a gift from God. Her home is filled with those who not only have found food and security but also have found the true meaning of being loved and being able to return that love to others. Each of Roberta’s children has come to her with a past life of shame, regret, hurt, abuse or loss. Roberta has restored their self-worth and the support of a loving family atmosphere” <Link>.
Woman of Hope
     Roberta has homeschooled the children and taught daily Bible lessons. They have grown their own crops on the small property, raised egg-laying hens, and initiated a variety of business ventures to supplement their income. They have worshiped and worked with the Santo church of Christ, as well as assisting nearby congregations. They have translated Bible study materials. The boys have been trained to serve as interpreters for visiting preachers, while Roberta and the girls have likewise assisted visiting lady teachers.
     In addition to her “adopted” kids, Roberta has also provided two meals a day, five days a week, for around 160 neighborhood children through her nutrition center, in operation since 1997. This work was originally overseen by the Amory, MS church of Christ and later taken over by the Estes congregation. Moreover, Roberta has administered funds to enable these kids to attend school, which is a very big deal. Due to the expense of supplies and uniforms, fewer than 15 percent of Haitian children aged 6 to 11 are enrolled in public school. Consequently the country’s illiteracy rate is an estimated 52 percent.
     Roberta has organized ladies classes, mentored interns, and coordinated several short-term mission and medical teams each year that have served the poor and up to 15 congregations at a time. The people of Haiti have suffered from numerous natural disasters, and Roberta has always been available to help facilitate relief efforts from North American churches. One of Roberta’s kids was killed in the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti in 2010, and despite significant property damage, Roberta’s home became a center for aid distribution that helped save thousands of lives. Since then Roberta’s work expanded to other development projects to help the poverty-stricken community. In 2011 she was named “Woman of Hope” at the annual Women of Hope conference in Nashville, TN.
O Death, Where is Your Victory?
     On the evening of October 10, 2015, the day after a 29-member medical mission team had arrived from the States, the unthinkable happened. Roberta was stopped by armed gunmen and shot to death, while her 4-year-0ld foster son JoJo was abducted. Although the case is still under investigation, JoJo has reportedly been found alive and well, and two suspects are in custody.
     More than a thousand people attended Roberta’s funeral in Haiti, and two more memorial services were held in the United States: one in Henderson, TN and the other in Wilmington, NC. At the Oct. 29th service in Henderson, Jesse Robertson read a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, aptly describing Roberta’s life: “My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night; But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends – It gives a lovely light.”
     Although Roberta’s candle is no longer burning, its radiant light continues to shine in the multitudes of lives she has impacted. Through her devoted ministry and lasting influence, the God she faithfully served for over five decades has provided love to the unloved and hope to the hopeless. Roberta’s work will carry on in Haiti thanks to the commitment of the Estes church and numerous other supporters, Widlord Thomas and his new bride Karen, the Haitian Christians, and the children Roberta molded and cherished. She is painfully missed. Thank God for the heavenly rest.
--Kevin L. Moore

Works Consulted:
Bumbalough, Debbie. “Roberta Edwards–Saving Lost Children in Haiti,” Christian Woman 26 (Jan./Feb. 2010): 12.
Estes church website, <Link>.
Thomas, Widlord. Sermon preached to the Estes church of Christ, 15 Nov. 2015.
Tryggestad, Erik. “Roberta Edwards named ‘Woman of Hope’,” The Christian Chronicle (7 Feb. 2011) <Link>.

Some of the many tributes:
Paula Harrington, “Why you need to know about Roberta Edwards,” Marshall County Daily (12 Oct. 2015), <Link>.
Colton Scott, “In Honor of Roberta Edwards,” Apologetics Press Blog (16 Oct. 2015), <Link>.
Larry Waymire, “A Tribute to Roberta Edwards, Facebook (13 Nov. 15), <Link>.

Related Posts: Part 1: Sarah AndrewsWoman's Service in the Church

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Wednesday, 18 November 2015

The Single Missionary Woman (Part 1): Sarah Andrews (1892-1961)

The Early Years
     Sarah Sheppard Andrews was one of at least eight children, born to Mr. and Mrs. Will Andrews on a farm in Dickson, Tennessee in the early 1890s.1 The family lived about 25 miles from the nearest congregation, so they started the church in their own community. Sarah was baptized at age 14 by their preacher, I. B. Bradley.
     Having learned of the missionary endeavors of J. M. and Della McCaleb in Japan, and hearing bro. McCaleb speak in Dickson in 1904 about this work, young Sarah began dreaming of becoming a missionary to Japan. She wrote to bro. McCaleb about her intentions, and he encouraged her to get an education to help prepare for this work. Sarah then earned a certificate in teaching from Dickson’s Normal College and took additional classes at State College in Memphis and David Lipscomb College in Nashville.
     In the summer of 1915 Sarah received commendations from McCaleb and Bradley in the Christian Leader. Bro. Bradley observes, “She is enthusiastic over the prospects of going to Japan and to the work. I think she is dependable and will make an earnest, zealous worker. I have … watched her development and noted with delight her zeal and earnestness, as well as her loyalty to the Lord’s revealed will and way” (as quoted in J. M. McCaleb, “Another Worker” 4). Later that month, in a subsequent issue, Sarah writes:
Will say at the outset that I expect, with God’s help, to continue to remain within the bounds of woman’s realm as clearly taught in the New Testament …. If God permit, I expect to care for the sick, give to the poor, help the heavy ladened, weary and oppressed, teach in the school if Bro. McCaleb desires – in fact, do anything by which some may come to the knowledge of the truth. Is there a better way of teaching humanity than by becoming a servant to all? True happiness comes through helping others. In Japan alone there are forty millions who have never heard of Christ as the Savior of mankind. Hence, there is plenty of work to be accomplished. In many respects woman’s place in the church cannot be filled by a man. (“Sister Andrews” 4)
The Early Missionary Years
     In her early-20s,2 sponsored by no congregation and supported only by her parents, Sarah left alone for Japan on Christmas Day 1915, boarding a ship in San Francisco and arriving in Tokyo in January 1916. For many years she was largely supported by her parents, and later by the Dickson congregation. Initially intending to stay in Japan for 5 to 7 years, she ended up serving there for 46 years.
     Sarah started out in Tokyo working with the McCalebs, learning the Japanese language and teaching Bible classes in English. She struggled to acclimate to her new environment and developed a number of health issues. She taught cooking and sewing to neighborhood women and children, and helped them learn about Jesus. As the years passed the kids became teenagers and were baptized along with some mothers and fathers. Among the early converts were a young girl named Oiki San and her mother. Oiki San (a.k.a. “Bible Woman”) became Sarah’s lifelong friend and coworker.
     Sarah moved south of Tokyo in 1919 to Okitsu-machi in Shizuoka Prefecture, with Oiki San and Oiki San’s mother, and established a Bible school and kindergarten. Periodically a Japanese evangelist (Otoshige Fujimori)3 would be invited to conduct a meeting in their home. They made friends with the parents of their students and invited them to the meetings. Their work, which also included benevolence and Bible distribution, resulted in the planting of at least four congregations (in Okitsu, Shemedza, Numazu, and Shizuoka City), which eventually grew into eight.
The War Years
     When World War II broke out, although U.S. citizens (including the McCalebs) were evacuated from Japan, Sarah was determined to stay. She was concerned that if all the missionaries left, the Japanese government would seize property and force the Christians into a government-controlled State Church. She was imprisoned in 1942,4 and because of damp conditions and a starvation diet, she contracted tuberculosis and was sent to her home in Numazu, Shizuoka to die.5    
     Seventeen wounded soldiers were brought to Sarah’s house for her to nurse. She was allowed only one cup of rice each day, and at times was so weak she had to crawl between cots. She had to sell her furniture, piece by piece, to buy food. She boiled leaves and cornstalks for nourishment, used seawater for salt, and ate grasshoppers. Neighborhood children, to whom she had ministered, supplemented her measly diet and helped prolong her life. In July 1945, near the end of the war, the city was bombed while Sarah slept. The entire area was devastated, and the only house left standing was hers.
     For nearly three years there was no communication between Sarah and her loved ones in the States. Her sister, Mrs. T. B. (Myrtle) Thompson in Tyler, Texas, regularly invited air force men for Sunday dinner, and she gave each one the last known address for Sarah. Weeks after General Douglas MacArthur entered Tokyo, a Christian soldier and two comrades, with an address Myrtle had provided, drove a Jeep 70 miles to find Sarah weighing only 75 pounds and near death. The soldiers left their emergency rations, returned to Tokyo, and came back with groceries and supplies, saving her life.
The Post War Years
     Sarah continued working with churches in Japan and opened a rest home for women whose husbands and sons had died in the war. Although she didn’t like leaving the work,6 periodic furloughs to the U.S. were necessary because of her poor health. While at home in 1958, only three years before her death, Sarah’s family begged her to stay. She simply replied, “It is as near to heaven from Japan as it is from Tennessee.” 
     Back in Japan, where she had lived 46 of her 69 years, Sarah Andrews suffered a second stroke and died on the 17th of Sept. 1961. A monument was erected for her by both Christians and non-Christians, inscribed with these words: “She dedicated her whole life to her beloved Japan and Japanese people. She taught and trained many believers in Jesus Christ and gave all the glory to God. When she knew it was her time to leave, she recited Psalm 23 for hours, which moved those attending her death bed to tears.”7
     Back in the United States, the year before Sarah’s death, a baby girl was born who would grow up to continue the legacy of Sarah Andrews as another outstanding servant of God. Her name was Roberta Edwards, and she will be the subject of the next post.
--Kevin L. Moore

     1 There is a discrepancy as to whether Sarah Andrews was born in 1890, 1891, 1892 or 1893, thus up to a three year difference in respective accounts of her life.
     2 Reports range from ages 22 to 25. Other single women who went to Japan were Clara Kennedy, Lillie Cypert, and Hettie Lee Ewing.
     3 Otoshige (Oto) Fujimori was a young Japanese businessman in Detroit, Michigan, who was befriended and taught the gospel by Frederick A. Wagner. In 1898 Fujimori and Wagner founded a mission colony seven miles from Sawara, the end of the railroad from Tokyo, starting a school, an orphan’s home, a home for the elderly, a small congregation, and six preaching stations. Wagner died of illness in 1901, but Fujimori carried on the work.
     4 The Japanese government reportedly sent Sarah to a concentration camp, admitted her to a sanitarium, placed her in solitary confinement on a house boat, and then confined her to house arrest.
     5 David Lipscomb’s widow, Margaret, helped Sarah raise the funds for this western-style house, where Sarah lived until her death. I. B. Bradley and Robert S. King also assisted.
     6 Sarah writes, “Some folks may think and talk of being in Japan as a sacrifice, but to me leaving is the supreme sacrifice” (from Gospel Advocate [1927]: 799, as quoted in R. E. Hooper’s A Distinct People 82).
     7 Another report cites Psalm 103. Ten years after Sarah’s death, at the Sunday morning service in Shizuoka (26 Dec. 1971), Hugo and Lois McCord met with, embraced, and reminisced with one of the grey-haired orphans for whom Sarah had become “mother.”

Works Consulted:
Andrews, Sarah. “My Maintenance During the War,” Gospel Advocate 89 (13 Nov. 1947): 919.
---. “Reports and Plans of Work in Japan,” Gospel Advocate 90 (20 Nov. 1947): 950.
---. “Sister Andrews’ Future Work,” Christian Leader (29 June 1915): 4.
Burger, Wayne. “Sarah Andrews,” <Link>.
Daugherty, Bruce. “Sarah Andrews: A Woman with a Dream,” <Link>.
Foster, Douglas A., Paul M. Blowers, et al., eds. The Encyclopedia of the Stone-Campbell Movement (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004): 29.
Hooper, Robert E. A Distinct People: A History of the Churches of Christ in the 20th Century (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2001): 81-85.
Hughes, Richard T. Reviving the Ancient Faith: The Story of Churches of Christ in America (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1996): 379.
Hughes, Richard Thomas and R. L. Roberts. The Churches of Christ (Wesport, CT: Greenwood, 2001): 165-66.
McCaleb, J. M. “Another Worker For Japan,” Christian Leader (8 June 1915): 4.
McCord, Hugo. “The Love of God Constraineth Us,” <Link>.
Rutherford, Rod. Practical Principles of World Evangelism (Powel, TN: Rutherford Publications): 51-53.
West, Earl I. Search for the Ancient Order (Nashville: Gospel Advocate, 1987): 4:340 ff.

Related Sources: Fiona Soltes, Virtuous Servant: Sarah Sheppard Andrews, Christian Missionary to Japan (Franklin, TN: Providence House Publishers, 2009).

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