Monday, November 30, 2009

The Family with Itchy Feet

I spent an hour on Friday, the National Day of Listening, interviewing John and Ruby Schlosser. Over half of their 68 years together were spent in Asia. They raised a daughter and three sons, and gave them all the gift of itchy feet.

John was born and raised in China, the son of missionary parents; Ruby grew up in California, the daughter of a Free Methodist pastor. They met as students at Greenville College in Illinois. (John said he worked as a custodian in the administration office at school and looked up Ruby's file before he asked her out!) They married after seminary and pastored a couple of churches, but John's heart was still in China, and that's where he went after finishing language school. Women and children were not being granted visas because of the political unrest in China, so Ruby and their daughter, Lora Jean, could not join John. After a year they were able to get a passport and find a ship to take them to  China where the family was reunited.

China was a difficult place in the mid- to late-1940s, following Japanese occupation and later the encroachment of the Communists. When missionaries were evacuated from China John and Ruby spent time in Hong Kong, getting their papers in order to go on to the Philippines. Aboard the ship to Manila seasickness had overtaken the passengers on the ship, but as everyone else had recovered John continued to get sicker. Arriving in port with a storm raging around them, John was taken off the ship and delivered to the hospital, where his ruptured appendix was removed.

Their destination, Southern Mindanao, was deemed unsafe for babies, and by now they had two small children. So they spent a year in Manila, where John recorded two weekly radio programs at Far East Broadcasting Company -- a study of the Gospel of John in Chinese and an English devotional program -- before moving on to Mindinao

The Schlossers spent 25 years in the Philippines. They began a pastoral training center with five students which has since educated hundreds of pastors. Today the Philippine Conference of the Free Methodist Church has 220 churches, over 20,000 members, and its own bishop. While John was supervising a large district, Ruby was privileged to plant and pastor two churches in that district.

More language training, in Cantonese this time, prepared them for five years of service in Hong Kong. They later served another five-year term in the Philippines and retired in 1983.

As for the gift of itchy feet, they gave their children a generous dose of compassion along with it. Jean, a registered nurse, was on her way to midwife school in Kentucky, preparing for overseas missions herself, when she lost her life in a car accident. Their sons have worked with ethnic populations to promote legal and social justice. And most of the Schlosser children and grandchildren have gone to the Philippines to see the people and places of their past.

One of John and Ruby's grandchildren is currently in Japan teaching English. Looks like the gift of itchy feet just keeps getting passed on.

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