Anne Stebbins Moore sat down with Josh and Jenn Whiteman to talk about her sister and brother-in-law, martyred missionaries Ruth and Ed Thompson.
AL: Describe what your sister was like to somebody who had never met her.
Anne Stebbins Moore: She was the greatest person in my life. She was a mother, a mentor, a teacher, an example—and I’m not just saying this because she died. The first thing that I’d like to express is how selfless she was. We lived on the hillside below Nyack College. She and my older sister were attending Nyack College, and their expenses were quite low because they were living at home. But then my father got a job at the War Information Office in San Francisco, and we had to move west. And they were quite concerned about keeping Harriett and Ruth in school. Could we afford it? Then Ruth said, “I’ve got no problem. Harriett will stay at the school; she’ll finish. I will get a job and pay for her education.” So Ruth accompanied the family west, worked as a secretary in one of the wartime shipyards and sent money regularly to Harriett. What was left over, she saved for her own education [at] Nyack. That was just an example . . .
AL: What did [Ed and Ruth’s] ministry look like in Cambodia?
Moore: They were basically stationed at Kratea with their children. They were establishing churches, . . . but they were getting very, very little response. They decided to try to reach unreached peoples. They would take their Jeep as far as they could go and then ride an elephant the rest of the way into the villages. Ed was a very good photographer, better than most, and [I saw] a picture of Ruth dressed in a sarong sitting sideways on the elephant as they went into the village. They went through a lot of hardship . . . , but Ed was always very positive in his newsletters: “We are doing this for the Lord and the Lord understands and knows what is happening.” This impressed me because Ed could have been very, very discouraged, but he believed God was going to work.
AL: How did they end up going from Cambodia into French Indochina?
Moore: Well, Vietnam was at war, and the Viet Cong had found a way to come down over the boarder, trying to reach Saigon. Prince Sihanouk ordered all Americans out of Cambodia. So [the Thompsons] crossed [the border] and asked to be appointed to Vietnam. They were temporarily in Banmethuot, waiting for their house to be built.
AL: Do you know how they felt about having to leave Cambodia?
Moore: Very sad and the children, too. They loved Cambodia—they loved working there; they loved living there. One thing that was kind of interesting was they knew toward the end that they were being followed all the time; they couldn’t get away from these spies, or whatever you call them, and the children were very aware of it. When they were out playing in the field, they always knew somebody was watching them, so one time the children got together and put on an act that they had found something very secret. They were whispering and buried this—whatever it was. Then they started home and turned around and watched as the spy went over and dug it up. That’s how closely they were being watched.
AL: Do you remember the last time you spoke with them or saw them before they returned to French Indochina?
Moore: I saw them in Nyack just briefly, and Ruth’s last words to me were so great, so encouraging. She said, “Ann, I know you; I understand you.” And that was just wonderful to me. Those were the last words she spoke to me.
AL: Can you explain the work in Banmethuot? What was happening there?
Moore: It was a leprosarium, and I don’t know a whole lot about it, but the people that were there were like Carolyn Griswold and others that were ministering. Ruth Wilting and Betty Olsen were nurses, and they were working with the lepers.
AL: What was going on around Banmethuot at that time?
Moore: There was a build up; they sensed the tension of war. I don’t know a whole lot of details, but there were rumors—there are always rumors—that the Vietcong were coming, and [the missionaries] had packed their bags just in case. They didn’t know when it would happen, but they kind of knew that something was going to happen.
AL: How did you feel knowing that the Thompsons were going back French Indochina at a time when things were not very stable?
Moore: Well, I was so used to missionary life and the faith that we had to use in situations like that that I was just trusting God would take care of them. I can’t say anything really noble here; it was just that I knew they were in God’s hands. I did care, and yet it seemed like I didn’t care; it was just one of those things.
AL: Do you remember when you found out [about the Tet offensive casualties]?
Moore: We were living in Chicago on furlough. I was alone with my son, and I got a call from the National Office. It was very hard for me to believe it at first. I was kind of in shock, and one thing that really struck me was that that was one of the last things that Ruth said to me was that she had willed her children to us. So immediately I thought, Wow, we’re going to get a family. Not long after that, I got another call from the National Office saying that the children were going to Harriett [Irvin, our other sister], whom they knew better. They didn’t know us at all, but I would have been very happy to take them. Judy and David came often to our home, and we were able to be with them a lot during this time and consoled them.
AL: How did you feel during this time? Was God speaking to you?
Moore: I went to church Sunday—that’s the old Tozer church—and someone remarked, “It’s the martyrs who live through the terrible crises in life that are the real martyrs.” You know that’s true, but at the time I thought, Oh, they don’t understand. But then we sang one hymn that to this day has been a strength to me, and I sang it with all my heart. In that first service after Ruth was killed, it was “How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,/Is laid for your hope in His excellent Word!/What more can He say than to you He hath said,/To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?/The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,/I will not, I will not desert to His foes;/That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,/I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!” And those words were so powerful I didn’t even hear the message that morning.
Edie Bower is the sister of martyred missionary Ruth Wilting. She talked to Josh and Jenn Whiteman about her older sister’s call and commitment to the people of Vietnam.
AL: If you met somebody who had never met your sister how would you describe her?
Edie Wilting Bower: That’s easy—a bookworm. The rest of us would go out and play and throw tomatoes at each other or whatever, but Ruth always wanted to read. We would pull her out of the house, and she would carry her book. If she wasn’t up to bat or something, she would be reading.
AL: Do you know how Ruth received her calling?
Bower: Yes, we went to Beulah Beach. As a large family, it was the only thing we could do for vacation that my father could afford. . . . And we went to the missionary rallies faithfully. When she was at the rally, Ruth said that she was sure that God was calling her to be a missionary to South America.
AL: When she went to Vietnam, she was involved in medical work?
Bower: The first year she went to Vietnam she was a nurse at the Da Lat school and really didn’t like it because she really wanted to be with the people. She said, “I haven’t trained all this time to wipe noses.” They really needed her at the leprosarium, so she went there. And then she studied the tribal language. After her first furlough they asked her if she would train to be a midwife, [so] she spent a year in Kentucky. That was very important . . . because when [the patients] came to the leprosy colony, they came with their families and had little huts or whatever set up for them. [There were] a lot of babies being born there.
AL: What were some of the things [Ruth] would talk about [in letters]?
Bower: Her love for the tribal people. At least once or twice a week she would take a bike or car or truck and go out [to] treat the people in the villages. Of course, they always presented the Bible and stories. Her greatest love was to go to the people and serve them in their villages.
AL: What about her personality stands out to you?
Bower: She was really interested in studying. She knew everything about every country in South America, and if you sat down and talked to her very long, she would tell you which missionaries were there and what was going on in that country. . . . I was really shocked when I got the call at Nyack to say she was going to French Indochina instead of South America.
AL: How did she feel about [that]?
Bower: She just accepted it as God’s leading. . . .
AL: What were the specific needs there?
Bower: So many lepers in Vietnam and no hospitals for them, and they were trying to . . . minister to that need.
AL: Do you know some of the technical things they would do at the leprosarium?
Bower: They did everything like treating all the sores of course and trying to give them shots that combat the leprosy but she had pictures of lepers there with no fingers and all kind of things and they did amputations there quite a bit but it was whatever they had to do to help these people with leprosy.
AL: How do you think she felt about that cause it might be a hard thing for most people to approach?
Bower: She worked as a surgical nurse before she went over and she worked at several hospitals in Cleveland as a surgical nurse so I think she was well prepared for that kind of thing.
AL: Can you share about then what happened during the Tet Offensive with your sister?
Bower: When she saw Mr. Ziemer fall she ran out to help him and as Mrs. Ziemer said, she was praying as she was running, “Lord, help me so I can help him and so I can help others.” Then she saw that he was dead, so she ran for the bunker. That’s when they shot her and then threw the grenade in to make sure they blew her up.
AL: When did you hear about attack?
Bower: My husband was working for IBM at the time and transferred to Horseheads, New York. Ruth asked permission to go back [to Vietnam] early. If she hadn’t gone back early, she wouldn’t have been there. But she kept thinking her fiancé, Dan Gerber, might come back, and she wanted to be on the field.
She was hoping to stop by to see us in Horseheads on the way out, but it wasn’t possible. She got the flight and said, “I just can’t work it in.” She called and the last thing she told me [was], “Edie, you remember my favorite song, ‘Under His wings I Am Safely Abiding’? If I don’t see you before, I will see you in heaven.” And that’s the last [time] I talked to her.
AL: How did you that affect you, hearing that news?
Bower: It was really difficult, because I was raised in a family that believed that God could take care of anybody and anything. . . . I really struggled. When I went home I talked to my mom. “Momma, how can you stand this? It’s like God let us down?” I said. “Just think of Ruth’s favorite song, ‘Under His Wings, I Am Safely Abiding.’ God just didn’t take care of her.” [Mom] said, “Oh, Edie, don’t feel like that. Just remember the chorus: ‘Under his wings my soul shall abide, safely abide forever.’ The Vietcong killed Ruth, but they never touched her soul. God kept her safe; He has a reason and He is sovereign and that’s where our faith has to be.” That really helped.
AL: Seeing how the church has grown, flourished, what would you say about how God used Ruth’s sacrifice and her willingness to stay in really hard circumstances . . . ?
Bower: I think most [Alliance] missionaries . . . really go knowing they might give their lives for the cause, and I think these are just very precious people that God called home. I just think that it woke the church up in Vietnam knowing that people really would give their lives because they loved the people and they loved God. If you look at pictures of these missionaries working with the people, you can see real love in their eyes. They really cared about the people, and I think that’s why the church has grown. And I think the church in America would grow if we showed that kind of love to the lost.
AL: I want to go back to something you mentioned earlier, about the boy she was interested in and went back to Vietnam for.
Bower: Dan Gerber was on loan to The Alliance from the Missionary Mennonite Church, and when he came over, Ruth was in charge of teaching him how to do a lot of things in the hospital. They got to be really good friends, and we were shocked when we got a call saying that they were engaged. She had a dress already made in Saigon ready for the wedding when he was captured [in May 1962; see alife, November 2008]. They were [to] get married [in June 1962], six years before Ruth was killed. There have been many stories about those three [Gerber, Dr. Ardel Vietti and Rev. Archie Mitchell] being sighted. The government even got involved at one time to try and find out what did happen to them. And in a church in Ohio, they have a panorama of the whole story of Dan Gerber’s life and him being sent over to work with the leprosarium. They have Ruth in the panorama too.
AL: They were planning on getting married in Vietnam? She waited 6 years for him to come back?
Bower: She had such faith that [the kidnapped missionaries] were going to be brought back and . . . that [she and Dan] would be joined together at one time. And I always thought that, well, she never expected to meet him up in heaven, but I am sure that’s where they met again.
AL: What has the Lord taught you through all of this?
Bower: God has a plan for each of us, but it’s not always the plan that [we] want. So I think . . . the Lord has taught us that we can pray, we can work, we can trust, but ultimately we don’t always know God’s will nor can we understand it. We just have to say, “Thy will be done. You are sovereign; it’s your will, Lord, not mine.”