By Linnea Boese
Often, when things happen in one’s youth or childhood, they seem insignificant. What is thrilling is living long enough to be able to look back and understand their real impact.
In 1964, during my family’s home assignment, when I was 11 years old, I had my first “call” to missions in response to a South American missionary’s message in Pontiac, Michigan. My parents had been missionaries, so I understood that God had a passion for reaching those who have not yet heard the Good News. We had gone through a traumatic evacuation from the Congo after turmoil erupted when it gained its independence, and in 1961 we relocated to Côte d’Ivoire.
My father and mother, Dr. Dwight M. and Barbara Slater, and my uncle and his wife, Dr. John and Marion Slater, were sent to Ferkessédougou (Ferké) to re-open the medical clinic that had been operating briefly in the mid-’50s, then closed. About the same time, Jim and Lois Gould and their two children, Lori and Greg, also arrived in Côte d’Ivoire after French language study.
I turned 9 that year. It was a year of dramatic transition for my whole family. All that we had known and loved in Congo was left behind, and the intense heat and different languages and cultures in Côte d’Ivoire required huge adaptation. It seemed like all the missionaries around us were old folks, already integrated into ministries, but Jim and Lois were young, friendly and attractive to me. I really loved getting to know them once we had all been installed at Ferké on the hospital station, where Jim’s ministry would be following up on patient contacts when anyone expressed interest in the Gospel. The way I knew him best was in the context of Friday night missionary gatherings in my parents’ home. He taught us all how to make pizza and play Yahtzee.
Since Ferkessédougou was the central town of the Nyarafolo people (the indigenous farmers in that area), Jim began learning the language. It was unwritten but related to the Cebaara language that our mission had been working with to the west of Ferké. He based some of his study on their data and kept learning via friends. A couple of men from the Nyarafolo village of Pisankaha heard about Jesus at the Baptist Hospital and wanted to follow him. Jim began to go to their village south of the town to disciple them.
Christmas, 1965 was a life-changing day for all of us. Jim had brought the five young men who were now Jesus-followers from Pisankaha into the town of Ferké so that they could attend the Christmas Eve all-night gathering of the small church group there. No other Nyarafolos were in the group, but at least they could be part of a larger community of fellowship. The next morning, he took them back to Pisankaha, about 21 miles away. The men who were with him say that, on the way, there was a moment when the car swerved erratically, but Jim told them that all was well. It was on his way home alone to Ferké that his car went off the road near a village just south of Ferké and rolled over three times.
Jim, only in his mid-thirties, was killed.
My family had returned home after the early morning Christmas service in town. We lived at the hospital station, in one of the larger homes first built in the ’50s. We had just finished exchanging gifts when a policeman arrived at the front door and told Dad that he thought that it was one of our people that had been in an accident; he wanted Dad to come to identify the body.
Yes, it was Jim.
Dad went to the town courtyard where Lois and the children were waiting for Jim to come home. He had said he would not be long, but two hours passed. When Lois went to welcome my dad at the door, he said that Jim had had an accident and she asked if he was okay. The answer was “no,” but Lois accepted it without shock. God had given her dreams three times about Jim dying.
The night before Jim died, she had told him about it and they also discussed their relationship. “Our discussion was led of God, I know . . . it made Jim’s passing away easier to bear,” Lois said. “It did not surprise me [when I heard ‘no’], after the Lord speaking to me asking me if I would continue to love only Him if He took Jim ‘home,’ and I would say yes.” Her calmness came from shock, or from knowing that God was in it all.
Dad brought Lois, Lori and Greg out to our house at the hospital station and the missionary community gathered in the living room with Lois. I was the “big girl” at age 13 and was supposed to watch the younger kids who were gathered to play in the back porch of the house. But once they were occupied, I went out to the front porch that linked the hallway and the living room and listened to what was going on. The missionaries were praying for Lois and the children and bringing their grief to the Lord. What I will never forget is my father’s prayer: “Lord, we don’t know why you would take Jim right now when he has only begun this work among the Nyarafolo. Please send someone to continue this ministry!”
I felt as though my heart turned over, or was gripped and released. I quickly pushed the feeling away and told myself, “You’re only a girl!” I did not tell anyone about it.
That eighth-grade year was one in which I was really seeking to go deeper with the Lord, and the missionaries filling in that year as dorm parents in my dorm at Ivory Coast Academy were Don and Glenna Bigelow. They helped me process my grief. Throughout high school, I continued to try to figure out what God had planned for me. Should I be a doctor, like Dad? I spent many hours assisting him in surgery during vacations, partly just to spend time with him. On Sunday nights, I also accompanied my mom and dad when they went out to the village of Pisankaha as part of the team taking turns discipling the little group of believers (using translators) as the believers grew. I even helped the team teach some people to read Cebaara, the only Senoufo language written at that time, learning to pronounce the alphabet and help people recognize the sounds and words. During my junior year, I studied at home since ICA had not yet added an 11th grade. Often, I walked from the hospital station to town with Lois. She taught me the Nyarafolo greetings so that we could greet people we met as we walked. But it never occurred to me that the Lord might lead me into linguistics or Bible translation, of even Nyarafolo language learning.
By the time our family returned to the U.S. for home assignment in 1969, my senior year of high school, I was really questioning my “call” to missions. Maybe it was just a consequence of being a missionary kid? That life was all I had ever known. I became really excited about ministry among American peers when the Lord led my brother Dwight and I to begin a Christian club at Royal Oak Kimball High School after we had met some new believers who were eager to be discipled. In April of that senior year, I met a young man, Glenn Boese at an Inter-Varsity weekend camp. He was pursuing me, and I knew that he had never considered missions. Besides, my life on the mission field had informed me, when you count the married women and the huge numbers of single women, that there are far more women in missions than men. I didn’t realize it, but I wanted to avoid being in that last category—single.
I began attending Michigan State University and became active in Inter-Varsity there. Glenn was at Delta Community College, also in Inter-Varsity, so we both went to the Urbana ’70 Missions Conference where my parents were going to represent C.B.F.M.S.
It was Paul Little’s message, “Affirming the Will of God for Your Life,” that cut through all my defenses to the real issue that I was facing: I did indeed say that “God is good,” but I didn’t believe it — I didn’t trust him to have a good plan for my life. As soon as I admitted that, asked forgiveness, and gave him control, I knew that he wanted me to serve somewhere overseas. Glenn and I were in different Bible study groups and I had no idea what he was thinking, but I knew that, when the final invitations were given, I would need to stand to declare my commitment to obey my Lord and be a missionary. When the moment came, I popped out of my seat and stood, just in case Glenn did, so that no one would ever think I only followed someone. Glenn had been processing the same things, and he also popped up. Ahhhhh . . . things did become more serious between us. We finally were married in June 1973.
By then Glenn (now at Michigan State) had decided to major in medical technology. I changed my major from pre-med to journalism, realizing that what I really was “made for” was writing. I was a “word nerd.” Journalism majors had to choose two cognate areas of study. My choices were linguistics and African studies. In my heart, I still felt that God would never send me to Africa to be a missionary, but to someplace foreign to me such as southeast Asia or the Middle East.
When we finally completed our preparations and applied to C.B.F.M.S., we made it clear that we were both willing to go anywhere. It startled us when we were told that, of the five medical facilities the mission had around the world, only the Baptist Hospital at Ferké had requested a medical technologist! Based on Glenn’s occupation, that is where they would send us. (My father had put in that request many years before we even met but had never told us!)
And then I remembered that moment when Dad had prayed that someone would be sent to continue the outreach to the Nyarafolo. No one had yet learned that language to specifically reach them. I told Glenn about all of this, and he affirmed that we should pursue that. Every missionary working at the hospital also had a ministry outside of the medical work, so we knew that it could fit.
To make a long story short, we did study Nyarafolo. When the Lord used relationships built during language-learning to start a group of believers at the village of Tiepogovogo, we realized we needed to translate the Bible into their language. I studied linguistics, then Hebrew and Greek in the process of getting an M.Div. Eventually, I did gather a team to do Bible translation while Glenn continued to disciple the believers and encourage the pastors as the Lord raised up two young Nyarafolo men to work with us.
Lois Gould (now Richardson), and Lori and Greg have been some of our constant prayer partners and close friends. In a very special way, we have been graced to continue their story and to love this least-reached people group that Jim had begun to engage. Yes, I was just a girl when the Lord first pressed this into my heart, but he can use anyone he chooses. And he had a plan!
About the Author:
Linnea and her husband, Glenn Boese were appointed to serve in Côte d’Ivoire with WorldVenture (then C.B.F.M.S) in January 1977. While Glenn mainly worked in conjunction with the Baptist Hospital in Ferkessédougou, Linnea concentrated on the linguistic analysis of Nyarafolo and eventually on Bible translation. Together they planted a church in the village of Tiepogovogo which is reaching out to the surrounding region.