BATAVIA, IL (May 12, 2016) — Retired missionary Ruth Widman, who braved German U-boats to serve in what was then Belgian Congo, celebrated her 100th birthday on Friday with some of the people whose lives she influenced over the many years.
The celebration was held at The Holmstad, a Covenant Retirement Community here.
Ruth and her husband, Harvey, left for Congo in 1942 even though Covenant leaders suggested that the outbreak of the World War II might be a reason to delay.
When they arrived at the freighter ship filled with munitions that was to take them to South America on the first leg of their trip, the captain met them before the Widmans boarded. He also said they might want to reconsider. But they were determined.
A U-boat did attack the convoy of 48 ships 200 miles off the coast of the United States, but their ship was not targeted. While Ruth and others stood next to life boats, they watched the vessel almost meet with another disaster when another ship made an emergency maneuver that brought it within yards of their ship.
When they left from South America to head to Congo, their ship sailed alone, and Harvey took turns on watch. Passengers were instructed to sleep in their clothes in case they needed to make an emergency escape by lifeboat. One night, a German ship did close in on the ship, but a sudden rain squall wound up separating the two ships.
At nights they sat in the dark on the deck sharing the gospel with the captain and crew. Ruth viewed every situation as an opportunity to share the gospel.
After arriving in Congo, they traveled upriver to their mission station in Karawa. While there, they shared the gospel with soldiers who were headed to the North African front.
In Congo, Ruth taught the Bible to women and led other activities. Her favorite was teaching the Congolese to sing in harmony. “They could sing individually, but they couldn’t hit the half notes,” she recalled laughing. She taught them using songs that had been translated from the Covenant Hymnal into Lingala. “Finally they got to where the kids sang the whole scale and they were able to sing well,” Ruth added, still laughing.
The couple ultimately ministered for 29 years in Congo. Their hearts for missions also inspired others to the mission field.
One couple, Margie and Baxter Swenson, met them in 1974, and conversations they had during a conference where they all were ministering inspired the Swensons to missions.
“The trajectory of our lives was settled because of that God-ordained conversation, and our story is just one of many who were influenced for missionary service by Ruth and Harvey,” said Margie, who currently is co-director with her husband of missionary personnel for the ECC.
“When I think of Ruth Widman I am amazed at the legacy she is still building even now at 100 years old/young!” Margie added. “What a joy it was to be able to celebrate the hundredth birthday of this remarkable missionary, innovator, and motivator.”
Ruth declared the party and open house at The Holmstad “a wonderful time. It was so great being able to celebrate with my friends from Congo and all over.”