Ray and Zelma Lawyer

Recently I have been researching my aunt Zelma and her husband Ray Lawyer.  My cousin Kathy Wyler is their remaining surviving daughter at age 90.  Their story has been told in several books.  Zelma wrote a book after her return from Africa in about 1928.  The title of this book is “I Married a Missionary” and is likely out of print but may be available in some of the Christian University library’s.

Jeannie was their first child and she was born in the United States and was about 3 when they traveled to Northern Rhodesia to work in the mission field.  Northern Rhodesia has in recent years changed its name to Zambia.  Before Jeannie’s death a few years ago she completed a book with the title “I Dream of Jeanne”.

After arriving in Africa they proceeded to Northern Rhodesia and the community of Kalomo.  They and another missionary family, Dow and Alice Merritt were selected by the group to continue up to Kabanga to establish a mission clinic.  The road stopped at Kalomo and the vehicle had to go over grassy meadows and rough terrain to reach the village.  No road signs of course but the estimated distance was forty miles.

Their first child born in Africa was a son.  His name was George but he unfortunately died at age two of dysentery.  Mary Katherine Lawyer was born shortly after Georges’ death.

Another unfortunate incident was a fire in their grass hut that burned their belongs and also the car that they had purchased after arriving in Africa.  They were able to build another grass hut in a few days and later a brick house using home made brick from the baked clay that was prominent in that area.

One day Ray and one of the mission employees were going out to hunt.  Ray had a gun and the employee had a spear.  The natives were not allowed to carry guns.  They waved to Dow Merritt as they were leaving the settlement area and it was not long until the native employee came running back telling Dow to come quickly.

Dow found Ray lying in the trail bleeding badly from his abdomen.  He had his shirt covering his abdomen and when Dow arrived he took the shirt away.  He found some intestines on the top of Ray’s abdomen.  Ray told him he was using the blunt end of the spear to shoo a dog back to the settlement.  Ray slipped on the wet grass and fell on the spear.  Ray told Dow that he made a mistake by pulling the spear out of the wound before Dow arrived on the scene.

Ray was transported first by teams of litter bearers for twenty miles and then forty miles by vehicle to a train station.  A freight train carried him in to Livingstone where he was hospitalized.  He died two days after the injury.

I will tell more of this story later but with this article I want to tell my readers that I an establishing an endowed scholarship at Harding University  called The Ray and Zelma Missionary Scholarship.  For more information call Ken Bissell at 501-322-9893






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