African Bush

She married a missionary

Perhaps the most remarkable person to work at a Christian college was Zelma Lawyer, but she was not a professor, she was a “dorm mother.” For decades she “mothered” young women at Abilene Christian College with an iron hand and a loving touch. But she was much more than a mere “dorm mom.”

Zelma Lawyer was a hero.

She and her husband were missionaries in the mid-nineteen twenties in the bush country of modern day Zambia. They lived in a mud and thatch hut. Zelma cooked meals over an open fire. Ray preached the Gospel to the Tonga people who lived in the area.

They were over a hundred miles from the nearest hospital in Livingstone when her husband was injured in a hunting accident. He was stalking some antelope when he spotted his dog following him. Knowing that the dog’s excited barking would scare the animals, he tried to shoo the dog away. It playfully rolled over on its belly.

So Lawyer took his spear, held it upside down, the point near his hand, to swing at the dog and startle it on its way. Sensing that he was serious, the dog ran a few feet away. Lawyer ran after it, hoping that it would go all the way back home.

He fell on his own spear, and died a horrifying death a day later, on the African veldt. He left a wife and a child in the heart of Africa. I grew up listening to that story. I always wondered who wrote the letter that was sent back to his parents in the US? And I wondered how his colleagues felt, in the middle of nowhere, dealing with the loss and working on. And I wonder how Zelma, a young American woman, managed with a small family, without him.

Her life story is told in a little book entitled, I Married a Missionary.

When we ask whether we “have to” attend Wednesday night services, or “have to” forgive our brethren, or “have to” obey God’s commands, we miss the point. We have been told that it pays to become a Christian. Instead, Jesus declares that it costs to become a Christian.

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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3 thoughts on “She married a missionary

  1. “I Married a Missionary,” Zelma Lawyer is punished by Choate publishers. See: worldevangelism.com

  2. I suspect that auto-correct has struck again. I believe you intended “published,” not “punished.” … but it does evoke a smile.

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