I was the firstborn of eight children all born at home on a farm in northwestern Ohio. My parents were devoted attenders and members of the Church of the Brethren as well as the Friday night cottage prayer meetings and the Byal Park Camp Meeting every August. When I was 5 years old, I knelt at a camp meeting altar and asked Jesus to forgive me and receive me as His child. I felt secure, loved and at peace. When the day was over, I told my parents that when I grew up, I wanted to be a missionary to Africa.
I attended my first eight years of school in Vanlue, Ohio. However, in junior high, I did not feel “at home” anymore. As junior high school progressed, I realized that if I continued there, I would not fit in with what was considered to be the norm. So I asked my parents if I could apply to study at Mount Carmel High School (part of the Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association) in eastern Kentucky. Two of my girlfriends applied with me to attend that school. We shared the same dorm room our first year there.
When I went home for the summer, I discovered that two ladies who taught and preached at Mount Carmel were invited to hold a revival meeting in my home church, the Oak Grove Church of the Brethren. When the evangelist gave the invitation to go forward to seek God, I went immediately. I went forward to pray at the end of every service, asking God to cleanse me from the nature of sin with which I had been born. Other people went too. The church was filled. Some admitted to being alcoholics. It was a new day for our community. On the last Sunday of that meeting, my dad asked me to remain in the car after the rest of the family went to the house. He asked me to accept God’s forgiveness and that I should surrender to whatever God had for me and God would work out a good plan for my life. All at once, I felt I was at peace. I felt so clean, so loved. I had already established regular Bible reading and praying first thing every morning. That seemed essential if I was going to be a Christian, which I wanted to be with all my heart.
I went back to school in Kentucky feeling fully surrendered to the will of God, whatever that would include. I finished high school in the boarding school and then went on to study at Kentucky Mountain Bible College down the road from the high school. My goal to go to Africa as a missionary continued. Fifteen girls at the college said they felt God asking them to be missionaries to Africa. Virgil Eugene (Jim) Kirkpatrick chose me out of that group. We have been together now for 59 years. We and others owe a lot to Kentucky Mountain Holiness Association for the training we received and the knowledge we now have, which is “whatever befalls me, Jesus does all things well.” To God be the glory!
Following graduation from Kentucky Mountain, we were married and graduated from Asbury College. Warren C. McIntire — a retired evangelist in Wilmore, Kentucky — invited us to live in an upstairs apartment at their house while Jim studied at Asbury Theological Seminary and I worked in the registrar’s office at Asbury College. McIntire became our intercessor during unsettled times politically in Burundi. He was sensitive to the leadings of the Holy Spirit and prayed for us when soldiers surrounded our house and until they climbed back into their truck and went back to the barracks. How great is our God!
Jim’s parents were missionaries for 50 years. They had four sons all born in Africa. One day in conversation in Africa, Jim’s father told Free Methodist missionary (and future Bishop) Gerald Bates that he had a son who wanted to be a missionary to Africa. Bates contacted the Free Methodist Mission Board in the United States to recommend us. We knew little about the Free Methodist Church, but it felt like an open door. We were appointed to serve as pastors of the Pulaski Free Methodist Church near Spring Arbor, Michigan, for two years to help us get to know the Free Methodist Church better. After that, we were accepted to go to Belgium for French study and on to Africa.
Our oldest child, Beth, was born in Kentucky before we moved to Michigan. Margi was born in Michigan. Ed was born in Burundi at Kibuye Hope Hospital. Len was born in Michigan after our first term in Africa. Beth passed away at Nyakarago, Burundi, as the result of a fall. She is buried at Kibuye Hope Hospital. A church was built by American friends and family at Nyakarago in Beth’s memory.
My book “Pendo” (the Swahili word for love) reveals much of what we have tried to do. God works in wonderful ways to perfect His plan at bringing people to Himself in a world of influences that are against God. We feel that it is absolutely essential to be cleansed, filled and guided by the Holy Spirit in order to be effective in our work.
We moved several times after we arrived in Burundi in 1965; first to learn the African language Kirundi. Before we got married, we both knew it was God’s will for us to go to Africa. We made an eternal commitment to each other under God. Every day we reassert that commitment to each other through reading our Bibles, praying together and maintaining a love relationship. Because differences of opinion may arise, the conversation never should become so heated that it disturbs our peace; if it does, we drop the conversation.
Martha Kirkpatrick, a retired missionary who served in Central Africa for 41 years, is the author of “Pendo” (fmchr.ch/pendo) and an ordained elder who has served as an associate pastor of First Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis.1