Chapter 4: Two Year Sojourn in America

Return Trip to US 1951
Deputation - Summer of 1951
A Time of Celebration and Despair
Our Next Field -- Japan

Return Trip to US 1951

In late February we boarded the President Cleveland to return to the States via Japan. En route, our ship stopped at Osaka, Japan one evening for a twenty-four hour lay-over. There, we spent some time with Carl and Esther Beck, who were Mennonite Board of Missions workers still doing language study in Osaka. I recall that they gave us "Whale Steak" that evening for dinner. If they had not told us, we would not have known that it was not the real thing.

The next day, they drove us around Osaka, and we were able to observe some of the destruction still evident from The War. In one area we visited, there were miles of house foundations where homes had once stood that had been burned by incendiary bombs. We felt real horror at the destruction that war causes, and by the suffering that must have accompanied such devastation.

That evening, we boarded the ship for an overnight trip to Tokyo for another twenty-four hour stop-over. There, we met Ralph and Genny Buckwalter, also with Mennonite Board of Missions, and in language study. They gave us a good introduction to the capital City of Japan, where we were impressed with the great number of people and the heavy traffic on the streets of this enormous city. It seemed that everyone here was always on the move and very busy. Both the Becks and the Buckwalters gave us a hearty welcome to come and work with them in Japan. At that time we needed time to assess what we had been through in China, and to be sure about what the Lord wanted us to do in the future.

Back aboard the President Cleveland, which was beginning to feel like home to us, we had two weeks to think and to share stories with other people who were also returning from China. We arrived in San Francisco on Palm Sunday, March 15, 1951. Louella's Brother Jerry and his family were there to meet us, and it was mid-morning when we finally docked. We were permitted to leave the ship fairly soon, but we had to wait on the dock for our excess, or hold baggage, to be unloaded from the ship. This seemed to take hours. We could see Jerry and his family on the other side of a fence some distance away, but they were unable to come to us, and we were unable to go to them. What a wearying situation it was.

Finally, they got all the baggage off and lined up on the dock so that the customs agents were able to come and check our bags and trunks. Fortunately, they did not spend much time with most persons coming out of China. By a little past noon we were able to have them check our things, then have them taken near by to a shipping agency, and then have the heavier things sent ahead to Iowa. It was such a relief to these tasks finished, and not have to worry about those particular things any longer. Now, we were ready to enjoy spending time with Jerry, his wife, Letha, and their family again. We soon found a place to get something to eat, and then we were on our way to Winton California, where we would spend the night with some friends of Jerry and Letha.

In Winton, we met the Horsts, who gave us food and a comfortable bed. As we traveled, Philip had watched the lights along the way for so long that he seemed to be weary, but he could not sleep right. When he did fall asleep, his eyes were still open. It was very strange, but by the next day and through the following night he seemed to be all right. The Horst family lived in a little Mennonite Community where there was a small church. The next morning we were on the road again for Los Angeles, and we were to spend time at Ora Conrad's home. Mrs. Conrad was a cousin of Louella's, and her home was in Oregon, but she was spending the winter in California, and we occupied the house for a while. We were learning many new names, and so many of them have slipped through the cracks of my memory that I have trouble recalling them now.

Jerry, Letha, and family were with us for a few days in Upland, but they soon needed to find their way back to Idaho, where spring work was beginning on their farm. While we were in Upland, Kenneth Good from Elida, Ohio came to hold meetings at the Upland Mennonite Church, and they were also staying at Mrs. Conrad's house. Kenneth's wife is a first cousin of mine, so it was a real privilege for us to be there for a part of the renewal meetings, and to have some good visits together while we were there.

By the time we arrived in California, the cast on Louella's arm was ready to come off, and Jerry and I undertook the task. Louella encouraged us to do it, for it would only have cost a lot of money for a Doctor to do the same job. So, we took a tin snips and cut it off for her. She was surely happy to be free from that cast, and to be able to do things for herself again. Philip was growing and becoming an active little boy, so his daddy was still kept pretty busy!

During the last week of March we took the train back to Iowa to meet our families again, and to introduce our son, Philip, to them. It was a blessing to be back in Iowa, and to relate to families and to churches again. The churches kept us busy reporting on the China Experience, and since Don McCammon was from Manson, Iowa, the people from the Manson Church were anxious to hear more about him. Because we were the first missionaries to return to the U. S., it fell to us to do the first reporting to the churches about China. This seemed a little unfair to the other China Missionaries, but the situation called for us to report.

Dorothy (Don's wife), Christine Weaver, and Ruth Bean were still being held at Hochwan, where they had been living in China. They had freedom to live in their own houses, and to move around town, but they were not allowed to leave town. We encouraged the churches to continue praying for them, that their faith would be strong, and to remember Don as he was waiting for them in Hong Kong. This was a very trying situation for him.

In early May, we made a trip to the Elkhart-Goshen area of Indiana to meet the Board people, and to meet with friends in the area. We gave several days to the Mission Board Staff, and made contacts with people whom they especially wanted us to report to. There was a real whirlwind of activity from morning till night without many chances for us to catch our breath. They took us to different offices to settle accounts, plan for deputation to the churches, and they asked us to have a Chapel meeting with the Board Staff to report in some detail the experiences we had while in China. The staff had also scheduled meetings with churches in the community. When we left, they said that we should be careful not to let the churches work us too hard. We had to smile a little at that!

Deputation - Summer of 1951

That summer (the summer of 1951), Louella, Philip, and I made our home with Menno and Lizzy Gingerich in Iowa. When we returned with Philip, we called them Grandpa and Grandma. They enjoyed him so much, and he enjoyed all the attention as well. The Mission Board staff planned deputation trips for us that took us to most of the churches in the Iowa-Nebraska Conference, and to some other near-by churches. In every area, there was an intense desire to know what had happened, and what was happening with the Missionaries who were still in China, and especially what had happened with Don, who had been arrested. This was no doubt the result of poor mail service between China and the U.S. during the recent years when we were in China. During the summer when I was on my way to China, it had seemed that the only sure way the Board and the field could have real communication with us was by using cabled messages. Mail, even then, was too uncertain.

We not only shared much with the churches, but it was very rewarding for us to become aquainted with the Iowa-Nebraska Conference churches and the people in their communities. We visited many of the South-East Iowa churches, at their convenience, from our home in Parnell.

Gene, Phil & Louella - back in U.S.
(Goshen, IN).

Soon, it was late August, and we loaded our few belongings into our little Chevrolet Coupe, and went to Goshen, Indiana where I would be spending the next nine months, finishing my Seminary studies. The Mission Board had arranged for us to have an apartment at 1701 9th Street, just a few blocks from the college. We soon learned that our next door neighbors across the hall would be James and Ann Martin, who were in school preparing to go to South America as missionaries. Since they had two little daughters near Philip's age, he had playmates at almost any time that he wanted them.

A Time of Celebration and Despair

Since I was back in school to finish my work in Seminary, it was arranged that I should get my practical experience by serving as Assistant Pastor at the East Goshen Mennonite Church where Paul M. Miller was pastor. This was a very enjoyable plan for me, as Paul was a pastor with some years experience, which made him a capable mentor from whom I could learn much. Again, on weekends, when we were available, we visited churches in the area to report on the China Experience.

During our Christmas vacation that year, we were invited to spend some time in the Harrisonburg, Virginia area, and in the Denbigh-Newport News area. This was very profitable for me since my parents had both come from the Harrisonburg area to Iowa in 1902. For that reason I was excited about visiting some of the churches where they had known people years before.

We arrived back at Goshen on January 3rd, and on the 4th we were unpacking from the trip to Virginia. Louella was busy with Philip, and preparing food for the days ahead. Much of my time was spent on studies that I would have done during vacation if we had not gone to Virginia. On the 6th, we were with the East Goshen Church where I was assistant pastor for the morning and evening services. Then, on Monday we began making preparations for a trip to Iowa. This was one trip that we could hardly escape since my parents were celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary on the 9th of January. So, we determinedly set our faces toward Iowa again. We had expected to make our return trip to Goshen on Wednesday, the 9th, after my parents celebration, and on the night of the 8th we stayed at Louella's parental home.

First thing, on the morning of the 9th, we received a call telling us that my mother, Ada Blosser, had experienced a severe stroke early that morning. During the night, she had asked my father, Perry, for some medication, which she took and then went back to sleep. But, when my father awoke around 5:25, she was unconscious and breathing heavily. He called the doctor immediately, but the doctor was unable to do anything for her, and he announced that she could not live long. This day of anniversary celebration had turned into a day of sadness for us all. She passed away on the following evening the at 5:30 in the evening.

I stayed with my father that night so that he would not have to be alone. My brothers and I took turns staying with him for a number of days, as this was a terrible shock that had come at such a time. Preparations for the funeral were then made, and it was to be held on the following Sunday afternoon, which was January 13th, 1952. The funeral was held at the Methodist Church in South English, on account of the large crowd which was expected, and Simon Gingerich from the Sugar Creek Church at Wayland preached the sermon. My mother was buried at the Brethren Church Cemetery, which is east of South English. Sudden partings like this are often difficult, and they create much stress for those left behind, but are they worse than long, extended illnesses in which a whole family or an entire community is involved in the protracted caring of lingering sickness? I believe that only God knows.


The Mission Board began the application process for our entrance into India during the summer of 1952. We began setting our hearts in that direction by reading everything about India that we could find. The past school year had been an extremely busy one, but I had learned much, and was able to finish the work that I had planned to do. It had been such a busy year that I was unable to do the depth of study in some areas that I would have liked to have done, and I felt somewhat disappointed. As I thought about it, however, I came to realize that in my work as a missionary and pastor, my studies would continue, and I would be able to do more in-depth study along with my work. Also, I realized that a practical setting for my studies would ultimately make the lessons learned more valuable.

The final days of the school year were typical for me, in that I was very busy with taking tests and finishing term-papers. As always, these I found these days to be somewhat stressful. However, once that final effort was completed, and my graduation exercises were finished, I certainly felt grateful that the church had offered such an institution where I had received such dedicated instruction from people who were so concerned that all of us received the training necessary to accomplish all the work that God had called us to do. Praise be to God!

After graduation, we left Goshen for Iowa with feelings of peace and accomplishment. However, we were also aware of our need for God's grace, guidance, and help, as we were about to undertake the sharing of the Gospel with people of nations yet unknown to our experience.

Our hearts' desire was that we would be servants of Jesus Christ, communicating His Gospel to people who would learn to know Our Savior, and to worship Him with us. We were so grateful for each other, and for our son Philip, as well as for the confidence that we had that God would use us in India for His glory. In short, Louella and I were really anticipating going to India as drove back to Iowa.

Our friends in Iowa made plans for us to rent the house which had been Jacob Swartzendruber's house(Eleanor Yoder's Grandparents). They had passed away some years before and no one was living there at the time. We expected to be going to India by mid-July or, at the latest, in early August. Before leaving we would need to plan what we should take along. We would need to buy clothing and things we would need for living there. We got some lists from Missionarid on furlough. Since they were emphasizing that missionaries should travel lightly, young missionaries tended to take less than those who had gone earlier. We had also talked with students from India who had been in school with us about what we would need. They didn't feel we would need to take anything extra along. They felt there was plenty of everything in India, but it was recognized that westerners tended to need more than Nationals. By early July we had our baggage that would be stored in the hold of the ship ready for shipment. That meant that it was boxed, crated and address labels were attached. We were ready to go. The day we planned to ship off our necessities we received a telegram from Elkhart saying, "Hold your baggage. India Visa rejected. Letter follows." Now, what did this mean? We were deeply perplexed! Did this mean that India was not for us? Did it mean that they would simply have to apply again, giving more information? Such questions filled our minds as we pondered and waited for the promised letter. We prayed much! Finally, we received the letter from Joe Graber, secretary of the Board, and the letter was encouraging. He said that he would apply again for us, emphasizing the urgency and the necessity of our going.

Joe Graber thought that there was a good chance that another application would bring a positive response. We wrote to him, thanking him for his encouragement, and for making this new application. In the mean time, while we waited, we were asked to share what we anticipated in India, and to give messages from the Word in the local Iowa Churches.

One of the churches we visited occasionally was the little church in Parnell, Iowa. This church was started in the home of one of the members. They had, just eight years earlier, moved a church building from a its previous country location, where it was no longer used. The church members had restored the building, and painted it, so that it looked very nice and neat by the street in Parnell. At the time, there was quite a number of people who attended the church. With a number of workers coming from the West Union congregation, located about ten miles to the east, to help with the singing and with Sunday School, the church was pretty well staffed. Leroy Bender from West Union was the congregational leader, and John Y. Swartzendruber acted as the Bishop in charge.

When they learned that we would not be leaving immediately for India, the people in charge of this little church in Parnell came and asked Louella and me to come and serve as pastors until we needed to leave. We concluded that this would be a good opportunity for us to get some experience before going to India. These folks turned out to be a fine group to work with, and we truly enjoyed being with them.

Later in this summer of 1952, the Mission Board received a letter from the Indian Embassy in New Delhi rejecting the application for a Visa for the Blossers. This was, of course, a keen disappointment for us. We wrote to Joe Graber, suggesting that, due to this second rejection, we should possibly consider India as a closed door for us, and give consideration to another field. Joe replied that he too felt that it would be better for us to consider some other field.

Louella and I gave ourselves to prayer for the Lord's leading in our lives, so that we might be truly ready to do His Will. We tried to open our hearts to Him, praying to know something of His purposes and plans for us. Joe Graber made several suggestions to us as to possible fields that we might consider serving. He had suggested Israel, Argentine Chaco, Uruguay, and Japan. We spent several weeks talking and praying about these different fields. As we prayed and shared our thoughts, Japan seemed to rise to the surface in our thinking more and more frequently. We felt that Japan, being an Oriental country, would be more nearly like China, where we already had some experience, and that our adjustment might be easier there. We knew that the Japanese used some Chinese characters, so we imagined that there would be some similarities in language. These were the factors that helped us to give more consideration to Japan as a possible field

Since our plans to enter India had been terminated, we had promised the Parnell church that we would continue to serve there until the following year, or until another field would be presented to us. Our work at the little church was proving to be a good experience for us and we were happy to serve there.

Our Next Field -- Japan

Soon, we wrote a letter to Joe Graber to tell him that we have a growing conviction that God would have us join the workers in Japan and serve with them. Then, we learned that Don and Dorothy McCammon had decided to go to Japan in the following fall of the year, and that Ruth Bean and Mary Arm Hostetler were leaving for Japan at about the same time. This stirred our excitement even more, as we realized that we might be given the opportunity to serve this new mission with friends.

Gene, Louella & baby Philip in 1953, shortly before leaving for Japan.

After we communicated to the Board our conviction about where we should serve, they began to process our applications. On May 19th of 1953, I was called to attend a meeting of the local West Union Church ministers and their extension committee. Among other things, they were discussing the future of the work at Parnell. At what I thought was the proper time, I suggested that, on the basis of my experience at Parnell, I felt that the members were mature enough to be organized as a congregation, and to have a minister ordained to carry their work forward. These leading ministers, however, insisted that they were not ready for that, and proposed returning to the previous arrangement of having preachers from West Union take responsibility for preaching at Parnell on an a rotating basis. But, by the following year, they did ordain to the ministry Paul E. M. Yoder, who was given responsibility for leading the congregation. Since I had earlier requested release from responsibility for the work at Parnell by June 1st, that release was now granted to me.

The Mission Board meeting for that year was held in Harrisonburg, VA, and it was here where we were to be appointed to Japan. I went alone by train to the Board Meeting, and on the evening of the first day that I was there, I became deathly sick with extreme abdominal pain. They took me to the hospital and put me in bed. They gave me a shot of something that relaxed me, and everything that I had eaten all day started to come back up. I started to feel much better, but they kept me over night to be sure that I was all right. I was released on the following morning from the hospital, and I returned to the Board Meeting. There were no more problems, luckily, and I enjoyed the inspiration as well as the work that the Board was doing in many places all over the world. They were opening up new fields every year, it seemed. Eventually, I was called to be interviewed by the Board, and I was to speak for both Louella and myself. The Board wanted to know about our medical histories, and I informed them of everything that I thought might be of interest. The doctor who was present at the interview tentatively determined that we seemed to be fit enough for extended travel, and I explained that we were excited about the possibility of going to Japan, and that we wanted to go as soon as possible.

Before returning home, Joe Graber asked me to get a physical exam soon, so that we could be absolutely certain that there was nothing wrong with me that would cause problems later if we found ourselves in an isolated place. This, I did when I arrived back in Iowa, and they discovered that I had five gall stones that were about the size of small marbles. I reported this to Joe Graber immediately, and he suggested that I come to Elkhart for the surgery, and they would arrange everything there. So, I was on my way to Elkhart again where they did surgery to remove the gall stones, and I was out of the hospital in a week, and I recuperated at a friends house for another week. I then returned to Iowa by August 3rd.

Friends from Winton, CA see us off to Japan.

After my recovery, we immediately prepared the baggage that we needed to send ahead to the ship we were to depart on. On August 18th, many of my family and friends gathered at the Cedar Rapids train station to see us off for California, via Idaho, where we would spend a little time with Jerry and Letha, Louella's brother and sister-in-law. Philip thoroughly enjoyed the train ride over, around, and through the mountains. He was also excited about seeing Jerry and his family again, but he probably did not remember them from his that first meeting at the ship in California about two years earlier. During this visit in Idaho, Jerry, his boys, and I went up into the mountains where there was a camp for youth being held near the lake. We had quite an enjoyable week-end, sleeping in sleeping bags out on the beach, under the stars. What fun!

Philip shuffling with Dad aboard ship
en route to Japan

When we finally arrived in Japan, we learned that Don and his family were living upstairs in the house where we would be living in the downstairs apartment. We discovered that they had even partially stocked the pantry for us. How thoughtful can people get? Philip and their little daughter, Julia, soon became fast friends, and were constantly playing together. It was very unpredictable what they might find to do next, but they did enjoy being with each other.

On board the President Wilson Passenger Ship leaving for Japan, August 1953.

The very next day, we went back to Yokohama to get our hold baggage through customs, but we were disappointed to learn that they needed more time before they were ready to process it. We then returned to Tokyo and shopped for some furniture that we needed. Finally, on the 18th, we were able to get our baggage hauled to us.

The day after our baggage arrived to us in Tokyo was Louella's and my fourth wedding anniversary. As I look back at all that happened in those four years, it all seems almost unthinkable. We were young then, and able to do things never possible in later years. For our celebration, the missionary family took us out to a Chinese restaurant, which was exactly what we loved. Then, in the afternoon, we returned to reality at our apartment, and began unpacking and putting things away. By evening, we were both very tired. It seemed that being on the ship for two weeks did not give us the kind of activity we needed to keep in shape for what we were trying to do in our home. We were both very happy to be back in the Orient, and ready to settle down to the learning of another language. The Japanese language looked quite formidable as we began our study of it, but we had done this kind of thing before and believed that, with hard work and determination, we could do it again.

On September 20th, on a Sunday morning, we had our first meal alone in our home since we had arrived in Japan. It felt so good! Then, we were off to Sunday worship held at Don Reber's house. It was a group formed by missionary language students and a number of young Japanese University students from the churches in Hokkaido. The service was in Japanese, with the message given in English, and then translated for the Japanese. We were very happy to get to know a few of our brothers and sisters from the northern Island where we might be working someday.