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Too Late Warning for Irene Ferrel

May 03, 2010
Too Late Warning for Irene Ferrel

"We fear the beating of the drum for classes is inciting the Jeunesse." Nkedi, the Congolese director of the Baptist primary school in Mangungu, spoke with concern. The Jeunesse ("youth") were rebels, notorious for massacres and tortures. They had forced all the village schools to close. Beating a drum (the Congo school bell) was a daily reminder to the terrorists that the mission school was still operating. This spelled danger, for the Marxist guerrillas considered Christianity their most formidable competitor.

Standing in shade in front of their house, missionaries Irene Ferrel and Ruth Hege listened with sympathy as teachers agreed with Nkedi that the school should be closed for a couple weeks until the threat passed. As they talked, the whir of an airplane was heard.

"Avion! Avion! Avion!" shouted the Africans. Excitement was high because airplanes are the lifeline of many remote mission stations. All ran together as the pilot flung out something that trailed a white bandage. It fell into nearby bushes. Attached was a note.

Opening the letter with trembling fingers, Irene read, "Are you in trouble? All missionaries have been evacuated from Mukedi. Kandala Station burned and missionaries evacuated." The note asked them to signal their intentions. "If you want to be evacuated, sit on the ground. We will send a helicopter for you." The red and white plane circled back to get their response. There was no time to weigh options. "Lord, lead us," they gasped. They did not want to abandon the African Christians, and yet, as the only two white women in the region, they stuck out as targets, inviting attack. Hand in hand, Irene and Ruth walked to the clearing and sat. The Cessena plane dipped a wing to show that their reply was understood and zipped away. It was three o'clock, on this day, January 24, 1964 in the Congo (Zaire).

There was no time to lose. No doubt the helicopter would be winging toward them within the hour. "We will be back," they promised their loyal Congolese friends, and hurried to wrap up final details--packing, paying workmen, hiding the car.

Evening brought no helicopter. Christians gathered for a farewell service. When the meeting broke up at midnight, pastor Luka said, "We will be right here. We are not going to our houses to sleep tonight...We want to be here to see the avion come down."

Despite the war, the station had been so peaceful that even now Irene and Ruth found it hard to believe that they were in danger. Ruth went to bed. Suddenly the night air carried urgent cries--Luka and others shouting a warning. There was a sound of running feet.

Shrieks and the crash of broken glass plainly told that the Jeunesse had come. Ruth leaped up and jerked on her clothes. She rushed to Irene's room. What were they to do? The Jeunesse poured into the house, looting everything, even grabbing Ruth's shoes out of her hand. Shoving, pulling, shouting, the drug-crazed bandits dragged the two women fifty feet across the lawn. Ruth's skirt was ripped from her with such violence she was almost flung to the ground. She thanked God that she and Irene were still together.

An arrow hurtled toward them, plunging into Irene's throat. "I am finished," gasped Irene. She took one step and fell--Baptist Mid-Missions' only martyr of the twentieth century. Crying Irene's name, Ruth collapsed beside her and passed out, wounded by a blow.

Because Ruth was bloody and motionless, the Jeunesse thought she was dead. When they had left, she crawled to a hiding place and survived four days of threats and terror before her rescue by helicopter. She managed to tell the Jeunesse of Christ's love. Later, the rebels tortured Pastors Luka and Zechariah, who shielded her, but they escaped and hid in the forest.


  1. Conversation with Dr. William H. Smallman of Baptist Mid-Mission.
  2. "Baptist Mid Missions." Encyclopedia of Associations.
  3. Baptist Mid-Missions article, undated, no exact source.
  4. Hege, Ruth. We Two Alone. Greenville, S.C.: Emerald House, 1997.

Last updated May, 2007.


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