Linda R. Posthuma
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church currently has more than forty career and short-term foreign missionaries laboring in nine countries around the world. Did you ever wonder how they prepared for service to their King in lands distant from their own and in cultures unfamiliar to them? Did you ever stop to think of the kind of commitment they were making when they responded to God's call to serve him so far away?
Some of their preparation might be similar to our own experience: acquiring an education and credentials; learning a skill or job; studying a foreign language. Some preparation might be more specific to being a missionary: learning about a different culture; adjusting to a different climate and difficult living conditions; saying farewell to family and friends for extended periods of time.
But their preparation for and commitment to their calling must go further. Throughout history, those heeding God's call to serve him have put aside personal comfort and security. Missionaries have often lived and worked in the midst of danger and conflict.
In 1974, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church was reminded of the commitment its missionaries make when they place their lives in God's hands and follow where he has called them to go. Two nurses at the Mehreta Yesus Hospital in Ghinda, Eritrea, were kidnapped: Anna Strikwerda was killed shortly after her capture, and Debbie Dortzbach spent twenty-six days as a hostage before her release. Excerpts from their storyas recorded in the August 1974 edition of Worldwide Challengefollow:
At noon, Monday, May 27, four armed men of the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) invaded our Compassion of Jesus Hospital in Ghinda, Eritrea Province, Ethiopia, and took two of our missionary nurses away with themMiss Anna Strikwerda, who had served at the hospital since 1966, and Mrs. Karl (Deborah) Dortzbach, who was nearing the end of a one-year term of service. Within minutes Miss Strikwerda had been cold-bloodedly murdered, and within two hours Mrs. Dortzbach had been flown off in a helicopter to a mountain hideout. In the U.S. it was Memorial Day. It is now also a day that Orthodox Presbyterians will ever remember. Ultimately Debbie, as she is now known throughout the world, was to be held 26 days and be released unharmed on Saturday, June 22.
Both Anna and Debbie were taken out of the hospital and forced to run, being beaten lightly with sticks, across the Mission property toward a place where a helicopter was to pick them up. Anna's shoes were not suitable for the terrain and she immediately started having trouble keeping them on. This hurt her feet, slowed her down, and finally she apparently was unable to go farther. It was then, less than half an hour after they left the hospital, that she was shot. Debbie had been forced to run ahead and did not see the shooting. But she heard the shot and, looking back, saw Anna fall to the ground. Later a boy came to the hospital and said that a stretcher was needed, and George Wright took the new mobile clinic vehicle and went. By that time soldiers of the Ethiopian army had arrived and they permitted him to take her body to the hospital where Dr. Den Hartog pronounced her dead.
On Tuesday, the day after the attack, Anna was buried in the presence of many, many people (estimates range up to 2,000) at a service conducted by Mr. Steltzer and participated in by elders of the congregation. She was buried in the garden of the hospital where, as one of the believers said, all will be able to see. An appropriate marker is to be placed on the grave so that her testimony to God's grace in Christ will continue in her death as in her life.
The response of the missionaries and national Christians to these events was first one of horror and deep sadness that a devout Christian missionary whose only concerns were the spiritual and physical welfare of the Eritrean people had been so brutally killed with a shot in the forehead at close range; but along with the sorrow and shock came the recognition of the indescribable joy and blessing which were hers in the presence of the Christ she loved and had served so faithfully.
Anna gave her life in service to her Lord; Debbie was kidnapped and held hostage. Today there are OP missionaries serving in lands where the government is hostile to the gospel or where there is political unrest and strife. Pray for your missionaries as they serve the Lord in many different lands, sometimes in potentially dangerous situations. Pray that he will prepare them for whatever sacrifices he will call upon them to make.
[Editor's note: Debbie and Karl Dortzbach recorded the events surrounding Debbie's abduction in Kidnapped, which was reprinted by Great Commission Publications in 1992.]
Miss Posthuma is the administrative assistant for the Committee on Foreign Missions. Reprinted from New Horizons, February 1998.