Chapter 1: Louella Gingerich Blosser - Early years, Call To Service, and Trip to China

Spiritual Beginnings
Educational Pursuits
Nurse's Training
An Unexpected Path
Final Good-bye's and Long Journey


Mary Zehr and Christian Gingerich (Just married)
Louella Gingerich was born on April 26th, 1918, near Parnell, Iowa. Her parents were Christian J. and Mary R. Zehr Gingerich. Her father was born and raised in the large Mennonite farming community of South-East Iowa. Her mother was born and raised in Ontario, Canada, in the home of a medical doctor. They were both of German-speaking Anabaptist stock, and were a real part of the West Union Mennonite Church community.

Chris & Mary's home - Louella's birthplace

When Louella was born, there was great joy that a little girl had come to bless the home. At the same time, however, there was deep sorrow because the Doctor told the family that their mother could not live long because of severe peritonitis. Only three days later, their dear wife and mother was taken from them as she went to be with her Lord. For the father, Chris, and the three older brothers, this was a most crushing experience.

Menno & Lizzy Gingerich
(who raised Louella)
Before her death, realizing that she could not live long, Mary had asked her husband's brother, Menno, and sister-in-law, Lizzy Gingerich, who lived a quarter of a mile west, to take Louella to raise until she was grown. There, she was loved and cared for by her aunt and uncle, plus three cousins, Ella, Irving, and Esther. As she grew up, these cousins were recognized as her own brother and sisters.

Two years later, her father was married again to Tillie Swartzendruber from Nebraska. It was some time later that another little girl, Ruth, was born.

Louella Gingerich 4 years
Now, Louella had a half-sister living at her father's house close by. Louella often spoke fondly of her childhood and her two families. She often told very amusing stories about the mischief that she and her brother, Bill, found to do, such as throwing rotten eggs against the back side of the garage. She would distinguish between her two fathers by calling her own father "Chris-Pop," while referring to her second father as "Menno-Dad." Louella never returned to the home of her father after he remarried, but remained in the home of her Aunt and Uncle, and their home was always home to her.

Louella and half sister Ruth - in front of the house where L. was born

In Louella's early childhood, she suffered many attacks from asthma. When the weather was exceptionally cold and snowy, or otherwise disagreeable, she was taken to the one-room school on a horse. These attacks gradually subsided, but she later experienced hay fever. Her family said that she tended to be a real "tom-boy," and was a good pal to her brothers down the road. She also went with her Menno-Dad when he went out to do chores. She told many stories about how they worked together as they took care of the animals. Frequently, as they grew older, she and Ruth walked to each other's house to play. She was happy to have a younger sister who was near her own age.

Playmates - From Left: Nora Doolin, Louella and Grace Shettler

While she was still very young, Louella learned to help with much of the family work, such as using the rake and hoe in the garden. She also learned to milk cows, feed the chickens, gather the eggs, and to do house work. She really enjoyed doing the common, ordinary tasks that Iowa farm girls were expected to do. These work habits were an asset to her later in life when she went into service, and still later when she established her own home. She shared many happy experiences with her cousins on Lizzy's side of the family. These were the grand-children of Gabe and Anna Kemp Yoder, and they frequently gathered for family dinners, or for picnics in the timber.

Spiritual Beginnings

A series of evangelistic meetings began at West Union Church on April 20th 1930, and continued through May 9th. These meetings were led by James Bucher of Montgomery County, Indiana. There were more than 140 confessions of faith that happened at these meetings. Some of those making confessions were professed Christians who had sin in their lives, and felt they needed to make a new start in their life of faith in Christ.

Church where Louella was baptized and worshipped in early years
Louella and her brother, Bill, however, were among those who received Christ for the first time. Then, on Sunday morning, May 25th, a beautiful Sunday morning, twenty-one new members were baptized and received into the fellowship of West Union Church by Abner G. Yoder. Louella and Bill were among them.

Educational Pursuits
1 of the two rural schools that Louella attended

Louella attended school during the first eight years of her education at both Green Center and Tucker one-room schools, and neither school was very far from her home. It was the custom in her community for young girls to not attend school beyond the elementary level, so Louella did not go to high school following her elementary education. Instead of pursuing further studies, young girls were, at this time, expected to find work and earn money for the family, or for their own use later in life.

Louella's elementary school class

When Louella was about twenty years old, her brother, Jerry, who was at Hesston College in Kansas at the time, invited her to come there for a six-week Bible course during the winter. Since the study was taking place during the winter months, and not much work needed to be done on the farm, her parents consented for her to go. At the end of her six-week Bible course, Jerry suggested that she stay until the end of the year and work on her high school credits, and her parents reluctantly consented for her to stay. The following year, beginning in September, Louella was old enough to plan her own future, and decided to finish her high school education at Hesston. She graduated in the Spring of 1941.

Ruth & Louella

During the summer of 1941 Louella was at home with her family again. She was making plans to begin nurses training at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing in Iowa City, Iowa. Unfortunately, her family thought that she was foolish to pursue such a future, and they tried to discourage her. Louella's brother, Bill, told me how everything came to be. One Sunday afternoon, Bill went to his Uncle Menno's farm, where Louella lived, to get some water for his cattle. While he was there, Louella came out of the house, crying. She told him about her plans to go to Nursing School, and of how her family was all opposing her. Bill said to her, "Why don't you come to my house this evening, and we'll go to church, and maybe we can find someone who will help you." She agreed that it might be a good idea. That evening, they went to church, and when the service was over, and as they went out, they saw an older man standing near the door. Bill suggested that she talk to him about her problem. When Jerry and his sister were finally in the car, and on the way home, Louella said, "I have firmly decided I am going to Nursing School." Her friend, the older man, had given her the encouragement that she needed.

Louella in her youth

When Bill told me this story, I asked whether she wanted to take nurses' training because her mother had, or because her grandfather was a doctor? Bill said that he could not answer the question. Having been with Louella for thirty-four years, and sometimes talking about these things, I am not certain whether or not she was influenced by either her mother or her grandfather in her desire. It may be that, as her family talked about the experiences of her grandfather and mother, her mind was unknowingly influenced in that direction. In the autumn of 1941, Louella began her training in Iowa City. She was thrilled to be pursuing the dream that she had so long anticipated.

Nurse's Training

Louella found her studies at Mercy Hospital School of Nursing most interesting. Most of all, she enjoyed the practical bed-side patient care, no doubt because she enjoyed people so much. The school where she was studying was also a fully-functioning, Catholic-operated hospital. Many Mennonite and Amish people from her home community came to Mercy Hospital for treatment and for surgery, so she was always happy to have opportunities to care for these people, and to get to know them as persons.

Louella & friend Ophia Sevits

Early in her second year, she became aware that she was not getting all of the courses that she should have been receiving, according to the curriculum. Another disappointing discover was that the Director of Nursing was not providing some of the practical work that had previously been promised. She and a good friend who was also in the course of study were disturbed about this development. They talked to the Director of the School, but failed to extract a promise that they would receive the training they wanted. As they thought about the problem, they both recalled that our church had a hospital and school in La Junta, Colorado. Before the end of the semester, they made a call to the Director of the School of Nursing in La Junta. They told him about their problem and asked, "If we would transfer to La Junta, would we be accepted?" His reply was that they would both be gladly accepted, but they would need to take tests over the materials that they had studied so far. They both agreed and said, "We will come."

Louella and her friend made plans leave for La Junta at the end of the semester. It was a long train ride to Colorado from Iowa City, but they felt certain that they were doing the right thing.

Louella graduated from nursing.
La Junta. CO. Class of '44.
When they got to La Junta, the first thing they had to do was take the tests concerning their previous work. They discovered that their results were better than they had received in Iowa City, so the La Junta School accepted the grades the tests taken there, rather than what they had received from Iowa City. The girls were elated, and they joyfully continued their studies.

While Louella was in training at La Junta, Sanford Yoder, who was President of the Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities (as it was called then), visited the School of Nursing to recruit nurses for their mission-work in India. While Sanford was there, he talked with Louella, and asked her if she would consider going to India. Mr. Yoder was very surprised to hear Louella say that she did not want to go to India. Rather, she had a desire to go to China. He said, "That is fine if you want to go to China. You go ahead and finish your college work, and by that time I think we can have a group ready to go to China."

Maple Grove Church in Belville, PA.
Louella appointed here for China, '47.

Louella's interest in China actually began while she was in nurses' training in Iowa City. She, of course, had heard many missionaries speak at her church of different countries, but she had not heard anyone speak about China. The idea of going to China had come to her while she was studying in Iowa City, where another student, Mary Helen Huber, whom she had known well, was also interested in China. Mary had talked about China continuously, and Louella became very interested in this far-off country, and began to want very much to go there. God works in Amazing ways! Mary Helen Huber wanted so much to go to China, but she never did get to go there. However, she was use to cause Louella to have an intense desire to go. I am convinced that God was at work in these lives to find people who would go to China. Through Louella, my own interest was stimulated to also want to go there, and through it all, God's purposes were being fulfilled.

An Unexpected Path

Louella had not planned on going to college, but now that seemed to be the path she needed to take. So, the autumn of 1944 found her back at Hesston College. By the spring of 1946, she graduated from Hesston Junior College, and that summer she entered school at Goshen College to continue her final two years of study. That same summer I, also from Iowa, appeared on campus. I had just finished my war-time alternate service on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, and was enrolled in the accelerated Pastoral training course. We had known each other casually in Iowa before my war-time service, and we had a couple of dates together during that first summer at Goshen.

Nursing staff at Goshen '46.

In September we were both in school again. We began dating again that autumn, but with some apprehension, because Louella had already decided on her career, and I had not yet received direction from the Lord about my future. Yet, neither of us seemed ready to say, "No, this cannot go any further". We knew that one's direction comes through the influence of another person, and why should this direction not come from someone whom you care about very much? So, our relationship continued.

Louella finished her college work, and she graduated in the summer of 1947 with a B.S. in Science degree. She and the other China-bound missionaries were scheduled to leave in September. By that time, I felt we should make some definite plans, but I sensed that Louella was not ready, so I did not press the issue. The postal services between the U.S. and China were less than speedy back then, but we did manage to maintain a reasonable correspondence with each other.

Final Good-bye's and Long Journey

Menno & Lizzy Gingerich's home in Iowa.
It was a beautiful, but very warm day in Iowa when, on September 8th, Louella was leaving her home to begin the long journey to China. Several pictures were taken. Louella's parents said their good-bye's to her, wished her God-speed, a safe voyage, good health, and the Lord's blessing in their absence from each other. Later, Louella would write with admiration for the way her parents showed clearly resigned submission to the will of God. Lizzy, her aunt/adoptive mother was so gracious and courageous, actually brave and cheerful as if she were seeing her off on a holiday. Menno-Dad did his best, but with tears, he reminded Louella that they may never see each other again. She realized that his statement may be true, yet, knowing of God's providential care, she answered him, "Then, we will be in a better place. Really, as long as we are faithful and walking within God's Will, in our lives it makes little difference where we are when God calls us to Himself." Then, about her cousin, Esther, Louella said, "Poor soul, she is nearly worn out with all the rushing around and preparations. She has worked so hard, but I believe she realizes how fully she must rely on God for help, comfort, wisdom, and guidance, especially since I am leaving. I do hope that she will soon be rested, and can return to her nursing which gives her so much satisfaction."

Bill, Wilma, and the three older children, Lucy, Linda, and Leland, drove her to New York. I traveled with them as far as Goshen since I was going back there to continue my studies. Bill had just traded his car on a new Kaiser which did not seem to work too well, and so he did not make good time. Louella's had mother sent fried chicken, and Wilma brought salad, apple-betty, and tomatoes. We stopped at Lone Tree, an Iowa park, for lunch. Then, we drove on until evening. In Jolliet, Illinois, we stopped at a cabin for the night. The next day, we drove to Elkhart, where Louella wanted to stop at the Mission Board Offices to see Joe Graber. She arranged to have her steamer trunk expressed to New York, so that it would arrive in time to be loaded into the hold of the ship. She deposited her extra money with the Mission Board, where it would be kept for her on interest.

We arrived at Goshen by about noon, and we had lunch at the park. Then, we visited the campus of the college for a short time, and Louella picked up her diploma, which she gave to Bill to keep for her. At that point, I gave my good-bye's to all of them, and they left for New York.

They arrived in the city at the designated place just ten minutes late, only to discover that none of the others had arrived yet. Joe Graber took Louella and Ruth Bean to the Bank of New York to get travelers' checks. Then returned to where the others had gathered at American President Lines headquarters. Louella said, "New York seems to be one mad rush of cars, trucks, and people. They jam up at intersections, honk their horns, and become impatient as if their life depended on them getting there right now!"

The Rev. Haynes made a dinner appointment for the China group and Joe Graber at the Chinese restaurant, "The Shanghai Royal," and what a feast! They had to eat with the chopsticks ordered by Joe Graber, and it sounded like they had some fun trying to eat that day. On the final morning, the China group met with Joe Graber to create a field organization, receive instructions and encouragement, and take a little time for devotions and prayer. Joe read from Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1: 8,9, and from Acts 2. Louella wrote, "We were again inspired with the meaning of the great commission which we had been given, and with the witnessing we were urged to give." Then, Don was chosen as the field secretary-treasurer.

At 9:00 AM, Louella met Bill in the lobby of the hotel, and went with him up the steps of the Empire State Building. At eighty-six stories, it was then the highest building in the world. New York City proper, with all of its rushing cars and people, seemed rather small in appearance from that high perspective, Louella thought. She said that it reminded her of how insignificant man must appear in the sight of God, yet how God still protects and watches over every sparrow. In the afternoon they had group pictures taken, checked out of the hotel, and went on to Eri Terminal in Jersey City. There, again, they had to wait in line, and Bill waited with her, as Louella needed to be checked for a proper passport and immunization record, and to have determined the amount of the excess baggage fees that she needed to pay. Finally, at around 3:40, they were able to get to the ship. During this process, Bill took some eight-millimeter movies of the group.

Louella told of a rather dramatic incident that happened during their preparations to board the ship that was nothing short of a miracle! About two hours before the ship was scheduled to sail, a missionary named Helen discovered they she also needed a Visa for her little son, Eric. A man named Abe Wicke rushed her and her son to the American Consulate in New York. Helen and her son were on their way to Manila, where she was to join her husband who was in relief work. The ship whistle had sounded, and everyone not going on the ship was ordered to disembark. At that moment, here came Helen flying through the station, baby, bags, and all, and Joe Graber helped her board at the very last second. Was this not one of God's incidences?

That evening aboard ship, Louella began writing of her feelings and impressions. I guess that today we would call such a thing "journaling."

"I have a mixture of feelings and emotions that sweep over me as we sail away, waving goodbye to Bill and his family. It is somewhat unexpected, exciting, and strangely different. I feel a slight tinge of sadness at the thought of not seeing my family for a period of years, but I also sense a deep peace and completeness. I'm not at all sorrowful, but rather glad to be on my way to the place I believe the Lord has called me to serve. As I waved goodbye to Lucy, Linda, Lee, Bill, and Wilma, my heart was full of gratitude for all they had done for me in helping me off, and making my leaving so pleasant. They are so unselfish, and Wilma is such a devoted Christian mother. Oh! for more like her in America. It would be so interesting to know what was in the minds of those little children as our ship sailed off. My thoughts also went home to Mom, Dad, and Esther. I'm confident that God will grant them courage, and will strengthen them now and in the future. They have borne up so bravely, and seemed so willing to give me up for God's service. How wonderfully they have shared themselves with me!"