Dispatches: Day 14

Her name was Blanche Cowherd Oglesby.  She died in this lonely place on Feb 20th, 1941, due to, as far as I can tell, an Italian bomber squadron that came out of nowhere.  She apparently died a few days later from her wounds.  Her grave site sits off in the weeds not far from a trail that many people walk on every day.  There her body lies with four other missionaries who gave their lives to come to the Sudan and shine the light of the Gospel.  I was able to find out that the missionary  in another grave died of typhoid fever.  Their graves, and their sacrifice, long forgotten by this world, but not by the God they serve.

   These graves remind me of the day, several years ago now,when we were camping out  at Kaba Hill in Zambia to bring the word of God to the people who live in that remote place.  Remember the base camp we built out there, Stacey? on the top of a hill in the middle of a plain.  As we were clearing off some brush, I noticed a white stone protruding from the ground and upon further investigation found the grave site of Eva Watney who had died in the early part of the twentieth century as a missionary to the VaMbunda people who lived there.  Her grave site sat there for over 80 years by then.  What is even more amazing is that day we met a woman in one of the villages who was 112 years old and she told us that she remembered Eva Watney.  “She had black hair and blue eyes,” she said.  We were amazed.  She told us the story of how there was a mission station at the top of Kaba Hill and that the missionaries had unknowingly offended the paramount chief and then had to flee the area.  She said that Eva Watney died because she did not wear her hat, but almost ten years later (this year) I was contacted by one of her relatives and he told me that she had actually died of sun stroke.   What an amazing story.  Her grave still sits out there, I am sure no missionary or outsider for that matter has visited it since. Remember what Dr. B used to say at Seminary? That we should remember that every missionary work grows up from the graves of those who went before them.

Why am I so interested in grave sites? One word sums it all up, legacy.  A friend of mine who lives near here told me that sometimes he will go over to the grave sites and have a devotion so that he would be reminded of the sacrifice these missionaries made to reach the people of Sudan for Christ.  I remember when I was a boy my parents would lay flowers every year on my grandfather’s grave.  Why did my parents take me on this excursion every year?  It was so that I would never forget the legacy of my grand father.   He was a good man who loved his family and he loved the Lord Jesus. Even during times of rebellion in my life when I was growing up, God would bring to mind those visits to the  grave site, those reminders of legacy, and it caused me to remember that I had a legacy to live up to and not to bring shame to it.  Praise God, for the legacies of people who have made a difference in my life and in this world.

   So, Now I return to the person I was discussing in the beginning, Blanche Cowherd Oglesby.  She must of been a tough woman before she died at the age of 39.  Any woman with the middle name Cowherd I would imagine came from tough beginnings.  She had to be tough to come out here in the Sudan and live over 70 year ago.  It is so difficult surviving out here now, I can only imagine what is was like then.

   Stacey, sweetheart, my time out here has been long and arduous.  I have already told you of the heat.  But there is a strange lingering spiritual darkness out here.  These missionaries are constantly fighting it, as if daily surviving in South Sudan was not enough, they have Satan’s fiery darts to contend with as well.   I was talking to a missionary today with another organization who has two little children and they are building a house out here.  They have such big plans.  I prayed intently for them tonight.  Why?  Because I know Satan is going to attack them with everything he’s got.  They have come here to do church planting and Satan does not give up his territory very easily.  God be with them, they will certainly need it.   Lord, give them your constant protection, let no harm or evil come near them.  May their marriage stay strong and may they along with their two little girls stay focused on you, oh Lord.

One thought on “Dispatches: Day 14

  1. Rob Congdon

    You are correct, Mark, that the Italian attack on Doro which dropped more than 80 bombs on the little station in the span of a few minutes, not only took the lives of Dr. Bob and Claire Grieve, but also injured Blanche Oglesby. It was the rainy season, August, and there was no leaving Doro in those days except by donkey, that time of the year. He nursed her along, and she lived out the year and died early the next, of complications from the shrapnel according to her husband. In the SIM archives I found his report from the year AFTER her death: He rejoiced at reporting the first Mabaan Christian; the harvest multiplied year after year, until there were thousands of believers among the Mabaan people. I’m struck by the fact that the sacrifice of those three missionaries (out of the small band of five pioneer missionaries to Doro) was, as the Lord promised, ‘not in vain’. I’m also struck by the realization that Blanche’s husband Kenneth, who’d gone to Khartoum in the dry season at the end of 1940 with his dying wife and remained with her there until her death, was a uniquely-committed fellow. Rather than considering that the trauma of 1940-41 deserved a furlough for some recuperation and perhaps trauma counseling, he returned up the Nile, walked 100 miles through the bush to Doro, buried his wife’s remains, and went out to declare a Message more precious than life itself. Lord, infuse us with some of that passion for the lost.


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