It was a time of turmoil and unrest in a place filled with anger and resentment. It was a place of revolution and riots; it was a time of chaos and anarchy. In June of 1960 the Belgian Congo declared its independence from Belgium, establishing the Republic of the Congo. However, intense political struggles and a continual and downward spiral of military control quickly led to civil war.

In September the President dismissed his Prime Minister, Patrice Lumumba, who in turn rallied the senate and had the President deposed and assumed leadership of the Republic. The mutinous army had other allegiances, however, and after the parties of the President and Prime Minister had been gripped in a political clash for national power, the military incapacitated both men, holding them under house-arrest. Lumumba escaped, but in December was captured. In January he was tortured and executed by firing squad. Later his corpse was dismembered and his remains were dissolved in acid.

Pierre Mulele had been part of Lumumba’s cabinet, and now became a leading figure in a revolt against the Belgian-backed government. In the aftermath of Lumumba’s death, he helped establish the Lumumba Congo National Liberation Committee. In 1963  Mulele and a band of Congolese youths were trained in China in guerrilla warfare. Mulele became an avowed Maoist, and his insurgency garnered the support of the Chinese government who leant their aid to the Simba Rebellion of 1964. One of three figure-heads, Mulele led his Maoist faction of simba’s in the Kwilu District, which became known particularly as the Kwilu Rebellion.

In this land of unrest and strife, of fear and death, came a band of Christian missionaries, a fellowship of friends and family members who had adopted the Great Commission of Christ as their own mandate of service, and had committed themselves to the propagation of the Gospel in the Congo. Catholic missions had earlier been established, a legacy of the Belgian colony; but this Baptist group came with a fresh and vibrant presentation of Christ apart from human work and ceremonial religion.

The Grings-Champlin family had served in Africa since 1917 and the Congo since the 1920’s. When Irene Ferrel graduated from the Fundamental Bible Institute of Los Angeles, she soon answered the call to join her sister’s family (Grings) in the Congo. Irene ministered together with fellow missionary, Ruth Hege, overseeing four mission schools consisting of 125 children. They all served in the fated Kwilu district.

Irene was raised in Idaho, and came to Southern California for the purpose of preparing for the mission field. While attending the Fundamental Bible Institute she met my grandmother, Wanda Ester (Osborne). Irene and Wanda became the closest of friends, as they were both tom-boys, the kind of girls who enjoyed an action-packed western over a lovey-dovey romance story. They played volleyball every Saturday morning, and Wanda says you always wanted Irene on your side, she was so good and athletic. They had many good times together, especially when they went on a evangelistic trip to Oregon where they stayed with Wanda’s parents. Irene was a real “character” as Wanda remembers, and she would joke about being single and becoming an old maid, though she was only 27 at the time. Back in Los Angeles, the dorm girls would lovingly tease Irene with a popular folk song of the time, “Good Night, Irene.” They would sing and laugh together on many a night. However, in public Irene was actually quite shy. Although eight years older, Irene would squeeze Wanda’s arm or hide behind her whenever she thought she might be put in a position to speak while on an evangelistic outing.

In 1952 as Wanda and my grandfather, Jerry Osborne, began their ministry in a cabbage patch in Norwalk, California, Irene Ferrel left for the Congo and the Kwilu river. She ministered there for over a decade before the Rebellion broke out in January 1964.

On Sunday, January 26th, Irene (42) and her companion, Ruth (58), were alerted to the danger of Mulele’s Maoist faction of rebel youths who were on the move and headed toward them. They had already pillaged a Catholic mission, murdering the priests and raping the nuns. Mission Aviation Fellowship had sent word that if Irene and Ruth wanted to be evacuated, they should signal a scheduled fly-over by sitting in the field. Irene and Ruth did so, and when the plane passed over, it tipped its wing affirming their evacuation request. Since there was no airstrip a helicopter would be sent. But it failed to arrive before nightfall.

The rebels came that night. The two women were dragged from their house and thrown to the ground. As they struggled to their feet they wondered what would become of them. But in the eyes of this insurgent mob they were no more than a reminder of the Belgian colonialist, and their school was simply a mocking structure of that which they hated. Christ was not their Savior, nor their God. They followed the Lumumbists and the teachings of Mao Zedong. They abhorred all that these women stood for, and in a rage one of the rebels stretched an arrow on his bow and shot it through Irene’s throat. Irene reflexively reached for the arrow and pulled it out. “I’m finished!” She cried as she stumbled and fell to the ground. The blood had gushed and spurted from the wound and soaked Ruth next to her, and as Irene went down Ruth collapsed on top of her.

The women were dragged to a tree and left for dead; but not before one of the rebels yanked a clump of hair from Ruth’s head to wear as a trophy. Ruth recounts how she trembled and cried in the darkness, but that the Lord gave her the miraculous strength and ability to remain perfectly still and apparently lifeless as four times the men checked her for signs of life and then pulled out her hair. After ransacking the place, the rebels set the missionary compound ablaze and eventually left. After a four day adventure which I cannot recount here, Ruth was finally found by Mission Aviation Fellowship and was rescued by helicopter.

Challenged in her own faith concerning the tragic events that had befallen her and taken the life of her friend, Ruth strengthened herself in the Lord. She came to realize that God has in own ways, and that His ways are right, even when they seem so tragic. Later Ruth said this of Irene‘s death: “Only eternity will reveal the harvest that was reaped from the grain of wheat which fell into the ground in Congo” (John 12:24). Certainly many were touched by this story of love and sacrifice for the Savior, some dedicating their own lives to Christ’s mission field, and others re-evaluating their own Christian commitment here at home.

As for Mulele and the rebellion: The rebels were beaten by April, and four years later Mulele was publicly tortured and executed in gruesome fashion. He was dismembered while still alive, then tossed in a river.

In all of the carnage wrecked over the Congo that day, my grandmother lost one of her dearest friends. But I’ve never heard a complaint of God’s unfairness, nor a quip about good people suffering unrighteously at His hand. My grandmother and Irene shared the same heart of love and service for the Lord. Both of them believed that the Gospel is the only hope of a sinful world, and that sharing it was of the utmost importance and the Christian’s highest calling.

Like Irene, grandma was preparing to be a missionary herself. They knew the dangers and the risks, but they loved Jesus Christ, and they desired to do nothing but His will. Whatever His will entailed, they desired it for themselves. Their love for their Savior was not abstract and theoretical, it was passionate and practical. They lived to serve the Lord. Their friendship flourished because of it, and their lives were built on nothing other than the sure rock of Christ. Wanda served alongside her husband in Norwalk till he died, and Irene served as a single-woman in the Congo until she died. When Wanda heard of her friend’s death, she mourned her loss deeply. As she listened to a recording of Ruth’s account at a memorial service held at Biola College, Wanda could feel Irene’s fear as she thought about the young girl from 14 years earlier who hid behind her during evangelistic street meetings. Yet, she could also hear the Western-loving tom-boy in her dying words, “They got me, I’m finished!” Wanda grieved the death of her friend indeed, but she also glorified the Lord. For ever after did she continue to tell the story of her friend Irene, encouraging young and old alike with her great love of Jesus and of her courage in service to him.

So the question is now poised to you, reader: What does the love of Jesus compel you to do and give? If the answer is nothing, I would challenge your claim as a Christian. If the answer is something, I would ask, “Is it everything?” Jesus said to follow Him.

Today is the anniversary of the death of a Christian who followed Christ faithfully, giving her life for His service. And when you die... what will anyone say about your Christian testimony? Do you even have one worth mentioning?