The following is written by Donna Kahlstorf, a co-laborer in the mission field with Eunice. The piece summarizes Eunice’s mission work in Africa and the events surrounding her death. It was given as a contribution to Diane Powell Hawkins for her work, who graciously shared it with the transcriber.
Another person who was keenly interested in training teachers was Eunice Ott. She arrived in Africa on April 22, 1944, where she temporarily worked in a children’s home in Durban, South Africa. In April 1945 she was assigned to Msengedzi Mission Station in the hot Zambezi Valley, in Southern Rhodesia. There she learned from and worked with the Dunkelds and the Jacksons. Her first year was spent studying the Shona language. One year after her arrival she was teaching 55 African students in the day school. By the time she had completed her second year of teaching, all the students had professed salvation and some were witnessing in the villages. There were also four other people who came to the mission, seeking the Lord and were saved. These spiritual babies needed instruction, so Eunice taught a young converts’ class and a baptismal class as well as her Bible classes in school and children’s classes in the village. What a blessing to her and to her students!
In 1948 a severe famine drove many Africans from the valley. The beer drinks in the village hindered the visitation work. In spite of these obstacles, Eunice was encouraged because three outstanding boys graduated from her school. One was Temani, who she later taught with.
In October 1949 Eunice sailed from Durban to New York for her first furlough. Her year was filled with family, further studies, conferences and deputation, so the time went quickly. Returning to the mission field, she sailed from New York on Thanksgiving Day 1950, and got back “home” to Msengedzi on January 13, 1951. When she arrived, she found that a new school had been erected and the entire Bible translated into the Shona language. One hundred students were enrolled at her school. In August the Africans started work on a new church. Things were really looking good, but before the year ended a storm demolished both school and church.
In December 1951, Eunice was assigned to Mavuradonha to teach in the boarding school there, and also to work in the dispensary in the afternoons. During her four years there, the dispensary work greatly increased, the number of students multiplied, and a Bible school was started by Norman Everswick. That meant there were Bible students’ wives who needed training, so she had that added responsibility. She loved this work, but she was also concerned about raising the standards of teaching in our mission schools.
Eunice wrote in a prayer letter in August 1955, “One of the immediate needs in our work is trained teachers for the schools which are the spear-heads of our evangelistic work. In the years past we have used untrained young men as teachers but this is no longer permitted by the government and they are requiring that teachers have a two-year teacher training course. This is an opportunity. By training future teachers the Gospel can have an unlimited influence on all of Rhodesia. So we have launched out on faith and are establishing a Teacher Training School on a new mission station, Chironga. We plan to give an intensive Bible course so that as the teachers go out into their schools they will be well-grounded in the Word. We are accepting only Christians as students, and only those whom we know. I shall be moving there in December, as I have been assigned to help in the teaching next year.”
During her last year at Mavuradonha, in 1955, there were many victories in every phase of the work. Twenty-two students finished Standard 6 to become teachers in the villages. Also a large memorial church was being erected at the school in honor of her father, Roy Ott, by co-workers, Warren Bruton and Carl Hendrickson.
Eunice was due for furlough at the end of that year, but she stayed on because of a staff shortage. In December 1955, she was appointed to her last field of service to teach at Chironga Teacher Training Institute and supervise the practicing school. She worked with Donna Kahlstorf, the methods teacher under Cliff Ratzlaff, the principal, for just one term. Together they trained a class of 29 student teachers as they taught 163 children in practice teaching. One of them was Temani, whom she had taught in primary school, had seen develop as a village teacher, and now was back to become a “real trained teacher.” Eunice was thrilled to hear her prodigy preach as a part of his Christian service. Surely God was working.
One night near the end of the school term on April 12, 1956, a leopard clawed the grass thatch off of her chicken house and got three of her chickens. The next morning, while she was talking to Carol Olsen at the clinic, she heard a terrific racket in her chicken house. Her first thought – the leopard is back! She grabbed a broom and ran to drive it away. But it wasn’t. Instead a mad dog from a nearby village lunged at her. It bit her right leg and wouldn’t let go. Carol and the African men at the clinic heard her scream. They came running to help. When they got close, Eunice yelled at Carol telling her to run, for it was a mad dog. It let go of her leg and ran for Carol, but Prince, Carol’s little dog, came between them, so it bit Prince instead. The dog’s owner immediately killed it. Later a smear was taken from its brain and sent to the lab. And then we waited…
Les Austin wrote, “Eunice was given 14 rabies injections and was still taking them during the field conference at Kapfundi Mission station. Most people have a reaction from the shots, but she kept saying that she felt fine except for a cold. On April 28, the Saturday evening of conference, the missionary family had a special dinner for Les and Lil Austin’s fifth anniversary. Everyone was to wear their best ‘bib and tucker.’ Eunice came in her stylish dress, white knitted stole and sparkling necklace. Wow! She did a graceful bow as everyone sang, ‘Stand up Eunice, stand up!’ – the queen of the conference!”
According to Marie Schober, “Conference closed on May 7, and after four days in Salisbury to finish shopping, Eunice, together with other Chironga staff, left for their station in order to prepare for school. The days were busy, since all the Teacher Training students and staff was leaving in a few days to go to Mavuradonha for the dedication of the church built in memory of her father.”
Marian Wilterdink wrote, “Eunice went back to the Chironga station on May 11. But Tuesday, May 15, she was not feeling well so went to bed quite early that evening. During the night she became worse and by morning was really in pain when Carol went over to see her. The leg that had been bitten was hurting and also her back and chest. In the meantime the dog that had bitten her was found to have rabies.”
She had to go back to the doctor so Clarence Cedarholm took her to Salisbury on Wednesday May 17. During the trip she cried with pain. She was taken to the hospital, where she was treated for malaria and released. That night at the TEAM Home in Hayfield she was very restless, but she still thought that she could go to Mavuradonha on Saturday for the dedication. The field council decided to change the dedication from Saturday to Sunday due to Eunice’s delay.
A blood slide showed that she did not have malaria so that treatment was called off. Later two doctors came to the Hayfield home and diagnosed polio, called an ambulance, and Friday night she was taken to the isolation hospital. The next morning she had a tracheotomy because she was unable to swallow. A few hours later, May 19, she was called home to be with the Lord. The autopsy ruled out polio, but gave the cause of death as “an unknown virus.” (Several weeks later test results came back: rabies.)
The Austins wrote, “The last words from God’s Word were given to her from the ‘Daily Light’ for May 18, the day before she passed away. They were really words of encouragement and victory – not realizing that she would so soon be with the Lord. The words were: ‘in a twinkling of an eye, when the last trump shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.’”
Meanwhile at Mavuradonha, the events began as planned with even more Africans coming than anticipated. There were stirring messages Saturday morning but no response. In the evening, Norm Everswick preached a powerful message on heaven from John 14. Still no response. At midnight a messenger arrived at the Mavuradonha station with the news that Eunice had passed away.
After much prayer, the missionaries at Mavuradonha felt it was the Lord’s will to have the dedication on Sunday May 20th as planned, but instead of naming the church after her father, they would call it The Ott Memorial Church, for both Eunice and her father. Her death prevented her attendance of the dedication, but made possible her reunion with her father.
At the service, both the Mavuradonha and the Chironga school choirs sang. An informal message was preached on the brevity of life and the urgency to preach the gospel. Out of the 1,000 Africans who attended, four stood to their feet to accept Christ, and Christians confessed sins. That afternoon fifty African Christians followed the Lord though the waters of baptism. Following that service, 100 Africans took part in the Lord’s supper with their missionary brethren. The missionaries spent that evening in prayer, while the Africans conducted their own service.
On Monday evening, her body was brought to Mavuradonha for burial. It was thrilling to see the groups of African teachers and students who offered their help to dig the grave and acted as pall bearers. The government official, Mr. Jackson, who had known Eunice for some time, made a special trip out for her funeral. He gave an impromptu talk to the Africans in their language about why missionaries come – not for wealth or fame, but because of the love of God. The music included “Sweet Hour of Prayer” sung by the Mavuradonha school girls. Cliff Ratzlaff, the Teacher Training Institute principal, sang “I Shall Know Him,” And the Mungers sang “Face to Face.”
The following spoke at the funeral:
- Warren Bruton spoke in English on the Lord’s leading His redeemed people, and those who have pure hands being able to stand in His Holy place. And that finally He shall wipe away all tears….and there will be no more death or mourning.
- Norm Everswick spoke in Shona from Rev 14:13, “…Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord..” and Phil 1:21, “For me to live is Christ, but to die is gain…”
- At the grave Russ Jackson spoke in Shona on John 17, Christ’s High Priestly prayer.
- Lastly, Orla Blair spoke in Shona on Ps 116:15, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
Austins write, “From the church the entire group walked slowly up toward the mountain to a spot where two other graves are. There under the peaceful shade of a beautiful tree at the foot of the mountains, Eunice’s earthly body was laid to rest. But how vividly God’s assurance was and still is – that she is not in her body, but is present with Jesus.”
Eunice’s last letter to her supporters at Radio Chapel closed with these words: “God bless you for your faithfulness to the cause of Christ here in this part of Africa. I’m praying for your work there in Mason City and the Word as it goes out over the air. As we heard over and over again at our conference, ‘We are not on the losing side; we are on the Lord’s side and the victory is His.’ So we press on as victors, regardless of how things look.”
Austins continued, “We do believe that her life was a living epistle that glorified God. The following Saturday, one school lad, who had committed a sin, confessed it before the entire school group. The headman of this area, hardened for years, came voluntarily on Sunday to ask God’s forgiveness and grace. We trust that this is only the beginning of a chain of spiritual awakening and blessing. Only as we allow God’s Spirit to work, can we say, ‘Thanks be to Him, Who gives abundantly more that we can ever ask or think.’”
– “Eunice Ott’s Death” by Donna Kahlstorf, as presented to Diane Powell Hawkins as a contribution to the book Ordinary People in God’s Hands: A Tribute to God by TEAM Zimbabwe Missionaries by Diane Powell Hawkins, Xulon Press, 2005