Billy Graham Center

Papers of Ralph Edwin Shannon - Collection 335

[Note: What follows is a description of the documents in this collection which are available for use at BGC Archives in Wheaton, Illinois, USA. The actual documents are not, in most cases, available online, only this description of them. Nor are they available for sale or rent. Some or all of this collection can be borrowed through interlibrary loan. ]

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions


An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection (Location Records)
    Audio Tapes
List of the Contents of Boxes of Paper Records in This Collection (Container List)

Brief Description.
Four interviews in which Shannon describes his childhood in the Belgian Congo (Zaire) with his missionary parents; his Wheaton College undergraduate and Graduate School education; his service in Zaire as a medical missionary with the Presbyterian Church US (southern branch) and its successor, PC-USA; the Church of Christ in Zaire and its internal politics and corruption; the experience of his children as MK's; his wife's work in ethnomusicology; and the AIDS epidemic in Zaire. Interviews were recorded on 7/3/86, 7/7/86, 7/8/86, and 5/16/90. Also included are manuscripts of term papers Shannon wrote as a Wheaton College Graduate School student on missions-related issues. For more information, please see guide.
Vol: 8 Reels of Audio Tape, 1 Folder

Collection 335
[January 11, 2001]
Shannon, Ralph Edwin; 1938-
Papers; 1986-1990


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Ralph Shannon was born in 1938 to Clyde and Elizabeth Lemiere Shannon, the eldest of four children. His parents were missionaries with the Unevangelized Tribes Mission, based at the rural station in Kajiji, Belgian Congo, near the Angolan border. The Shannons returned to the United States for their scheduled furlough in 1939. Unable to return to Africa due to World War II, Shannon's parents had an evangelistic ministry among French Catholics in Louisiana. It was during this time when Shannon was five or six that he was converted during a Bible club taught by his mother. With the conclusion of the war, the Shannons were able to return to Kajiji. Shannon lived on the station with his parents, and was educated through grade school by his mother, using the Calvert programmed learning course. Shannon returned to the United States, living in Monroe, Iowa, where he attended high school; his siblings were educated in a local boarding school which opened when Shannon was in high school. With the dissolution of the UTM in 1953, the Shannons returned to the United States. His parents then affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren, returning to Kajiji in 1955. Shannon entered Wheaton College in 1955 with a declared major of pre-med, intending to become a doctor. He graduated from Wheaton in 1959. He then went to Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston. Between his junior and senior years at Baylor, he was granted a fellowship to work as part of a study group on medical problems in developing areas of Latin America; his assignment was to Guatemala. While there, he met Ralph Winter, then a missionary in Guatemala. Shannon graduated from Baylor in 1963. While a student at Wheaton, Shannon had moved from his Baptist roots to Presbyterianism, and in 1964, Shannon was accepted for a three-year short term appointment (eventually four years) as a missionary doctor to Zaire by the Presbyterian US Board of World Missions. He was momentarily stationed at Lubondaie before he was transferred to Kinshasa for a government-required orientation. After completing the program, Shannon was returned to Lubondaie. He was then assigned to the medical station in Bibanga, where he developed his interest in ophthalmology. Shannon left the station three times during this term: first, for his wedding (See below); then for the birth of their first child, and lastly for an evacuation due to political turmoil.

Returning to the United States in 1968, Shannon began his study and residency in ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania in anticipation of establishing an eye treatment center in Zaire. He spent 1971 in Switzerland studying French, and returned to Kananga in 1972 to begin the eye program. The Shannons lived and worked in Kananga from that time, with furloughs in 1975-1976 (Decatur, Georgia), 1980-1981 (Decatur), 1985-86 (Wheaton, Illinois) and 1989-1990 (Wheaton, while Shannon studied at Wheaton College Graduate School in the Missions/Intercultural Studies program).

In 1966, Shannon married Elsbeth Johanna Scheidegger, a Swiss woman working as a secretary and administrative assistant to the Mennonite Central Committee in the Congo. The Shannons had four children: Cedric, Corrine, Scott and Stephanie.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of four interviews with Shannon. Also included are several papers written by Shannon while a student in the Wheaton College Graduate School, all related to aspects of the church and ministry in Zaire, including African independent churches (like the Kimbanguist Church), witchcraft among Sub-Saharan Africans, church to mission relationships. These papers tend to be more theoretical in nature, yet express Shannon's thinking on areas also he discussed in his interviews.

Ralph Shannon was interviewed by Paul Ericksen on July 3, 7 and 8, 1986, at the office of the Archives in Wheaton, Illinois. The time period covered by the interviews is as follows: T1, 1938-1959; T2, 1955-1969; T3, 1945-1985; T4, 1976-1985; T5, 1972-1985; T6, 1972-1986; T7, 1986-1989; T8, 1988-1989.

Time elapsed in seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to the cassette copy and not the reel-to-reel original. The boldfaced entries correspond with the Cross Reference List at the end of this guide and are intended to highlight the topics covered in the interview.

T1 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
01:15 Introduction to interview on July 3, 1986.
01:30 Parents' work with Unevangelized Tribes Mission in Congo; childhood impressions of parents' work; ministry in Louisiana while in the US during World War II; ministry in Canada after Angolan revolution; dissolution of Unevangelized Tribe Mission and parents' reaction.
12:00 Childhood: education at home on the mission field, conversion and spiritual growth; mother's Bible clubs in Louisiana.
16:15 Return boat trip to Africa. Childhood recollections in rural Africa; impact of isolation on social maturity; description of mission station.
25:45 Father's responsibilities: itinerant rural evangelism and administration. Mother's responsibilities: school and dispensary work, education of the children, development of primers; languages used.
28:45 Church buildings, worship, and music.
31:00 Limited contact with African children. Examples of and feelings about animism: idols, practices, sense of evil, Christian response. His role among African children; contact with other missionaries: field conferences.
41:00 Education: home schooling with programmed learning system; exclusion from boarding school. Feelings about returning to America.
43:45 End of Side 1.

T1 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
00:30 Continuation on feelings about returning to America; isolation in church community.
03:30 Wheaton College: decision to attend, freedom to raise questions, ministry, spiritual climate.
11:00 Involvement in Sunday school in Chicago, church involvement.
13:45 End of Side 2.

T2 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
02:00 Continuation on Sunday school ministry: children's responses, behavior, conversions and follow-up.
04:45 Wheaton College: academics, favorite classes and overall evaluation, pranks.
14:15 Process of becoming a medical missionary: internship in Guatemala; acquaintance with and influence of Ralph Winter; circumstances; short term service in Zaire.
27:15 Process of becoming a Presbyterian; rigorous questioning before joining Board of World Missions.
34:00 Orientation prior to short term mission term.
35:15 Ralph Winter.
37:15 Philosophy of missions: desire to help others in all areas of life; evaluation of missions practice of holistic ministry to whole person; evaluation of Presbyterian board's missions philosophy.
44:15 End of Side 1.

T2 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:15 Overlap from Side 1.
00:45 Continuation of discussion about philosophy of missions.
02:00 Assignment to Zaire; status of medical work when he arrived; government requirement for orientation in tropical medicine; rural stations at which he worked; beginning interest in ophthalmology.
09:15 End of Side 2 and interview.

T3 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
01:30 Introduction to interview on July 7, 1986.
01:45 American assumptions and stereotypes about missionary children and missionary work.
05:15 Support fund raising: observations from childhood and as missionary; Board of World Mission support policies.
12:15 Furlough schedule of assignments
17:00 Mission relationship with the national church: change of emphasis, problems.
19:15 Presbyterian Church USA: distinctives of pre-merger programs of northern and southern branches; structure developed through merger.
25:45 First impressions of Zaire as a missionary; impact of age and marital status on effectiveness; early traumatic medical experiences; duration of adjustment.
35:45 Changes observed since his departure in 1953; missionaries' roles and transfer of responsibility to national Christians; problems with too rapid transition.
45:00 End of Side 1.

T3 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
03:00 Continuation of discussion on transfer of leadership: problems, continuing paternalism, comparison of missions handling of leadership transfer.
08:00 Medical work: placement in church/mission bureaucracy, organization, program, teaching function, leadership.
11:30 Ophthalmology: initial interest, development of program, services, typical week at clinic and surrounding areas.
19:30 End of Side 2.

T4 - Side 1.
00:00 Beginning of tape.
02:00 Involvement in local congregation in Kananga; history of power struggle, Jean Bokeleale, conflict and corruption in national Presbyterian church affecting church.
20:45 Kananga congregation: Shannons' role and influence, indigenous music, leadership, membership. Missionaries' role in Zairian church.
35:45 Common eye diseases.
41:45 Medical care in Zairians' world view.
44:15 End of Side 1.

T4 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
03:30 Continuation of discussion of Zairians' view of medical care; role of witchcraft, fetishes and superstition in illness and healing; struggles faced by Christians; Christian response.
15:30 End of interview and Side 2.

T5 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
01:15 Introduction to interview on July 8, 1986.
01:45 Evangelism: role in medical work and response of patients; role of Zairians; need for Christian education.
09:45 Cross-tribal outreach; impact of tribal loyalty.
13:30 Assets and obstacles to conversion and discipleship; nominalism, corruption, animism, urbanization.
21:30 Evaluation of evangelistic methods: leadership training, role of people, literature, radio effectiveness and programming, relationships.
32:00 Response to culture: changing nature, female roles, concubinage and prostitution.
41:45 Values in society: church discipline, deterioration, Christian response.
44:30 End of Side 1.

T5 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
03:00 Christian leadership: training, effectiveness of Christian education, shift from lower to higher status of those entering ministry.
08:45 Indigenous sects: development and characteristics of Kimbanguism; other groups; syncretism.
16:15 Charismatic movement in Zaire.
18:00 Cooperation among missions and denominations.
22:45 National association: Church of Christ in Zaire (Eglise du Christ au Zaire, ECZ), its development and history, corruption, Bokeleale.
26:45 End of Side 2.

T6 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
01:15 Interwoven politics of the Zairian government and the Church of Christ in Zaire (ECZ): struggle for and misuse of power, Bokeleale, corruption, legal maneuvers, examples of Christian faithfulness, witness of reform movement, reputation of ECZ among Zairians.
28:00 Raising children on mission field: education, attending boarding school, priorities as families, advantages and disadvantages.
34:15 Strains on family: shortages in electricity and water, job-related, marriage.
37:30 Deciding to stay a missionary: considerations, family input, limited professional contacts and current knowledge.
44:45 End of Side 1.

T6 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
01:00 Concluding remarks.
01:15 End of Side 2 and interview.

T7 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Introduction to interview on May 16, 1990.
00:15 Furlough experience: comparison with previous furloughs, studies at Wheaton College Graduate School and emphasis on issues related to field experiences, changes at Wheaton since his undergraduate education, changes in participation by wife in furlough ministry.
09:15 Indigenous music in the Zairian church: wife's involvement in field recording for analysis at Wheaton, coordinating further analysis, multiple church choirs, role of original compositions in worship, distribution of anthems, status of composers, worship service length.
19:45 Impact of Presbyterian Church-USA union on US and mission field adminis-tration and practice.
23:30 Concentration of missionaries vs. widespread presence. Deficiencies in church-mission relationship which reduce ministry effectiveness; shared responsibility for missionary care and assignment.
29:15 Extent of involvement in church politics in Zaire.
33:00 Contact with other missions and the presence of non-Church of Christ in Zaire (ECZ) affiliated missionaries and sects. Conditions in Zaire.
38:00 ECZ politics: Bokeleale's consolidation of power, mandated replacement of elected with appointed leadership, unchecked corruption in Brethren Church and resignation of missionaries, case of transferred missionary pilot and legal implications.
46:00 End of Side 1.

T7 - Side 2
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:05 Overlap from Side 1.
00:30 Continuation on case of missionary pilot.
02:30 Other members' responses to ECZ politics and Bokeleale's maneuvering. Response of Presbyterian Church in Zaire: extent of maneuvering, examples and extent of opposition, cases of retribution, process of overturning mandate, role of prayer, General Assembly meetings, threat of being refused re-entry. [Break in interview to change tapes.]
17:45 End of Side 2.
T8 - Side 1
00:00 Beginning of tape.
00:30 Review of comments at end of T7. Continuation on the Presbyterian Church's rejection of the mandate in its General Assembly and subsequent developments in relation to the ECZ and Bokeleale's leadership. Legal status of ECZ members and survey of member compliance with mandate, personal position due to involvement in issues, role of American regional representative.
11:30 The Shannon children: decision to leave children in Wheaton to return to Zaire, comparison of his experience and education as a missionary child with that of his children, children's feelings and role in family decision- making, complaints about Zaire.
18:00 Observations about new missionaries: decline of long-term commitment, short-term missionaries, factors contributing to decline in new missionaries.
27:30 AIDS: history in Zaire, availability of medical care, personal exposure and treatment philosophy, caring attitude among Zairian Christians.
34:45 Conclusion of interview.
35:00 Follow-up comments on ECZ politics and Bokeleale, rationale for life-time terms for leadership, comparison of ECZ structure with Zairian government and tribal structures.
39:00 End of Side 1 and interview.


The materials in this collection were received by the Center in July 1986 and May 1990 from Ralph Shannon.

Acc.: 86-72, 86-75, 86-76, 90-53, 90-54

June 7, 1990
Paul A. Ericksen
C. Easley

Accession : Acc.: 86-72, 86-75, 86-76
Type of material: Audio Tapes

The following items are located in the Audio Tape File.

T1 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 60 minutes, one side only. Interview with Ralph Shannon by Paul Ericksen recorded on July 3, 1986. Discussion of his childhood, parent's work with Unevangelized Tribes Mission, conversion and spiritual growth, education in Zaire and at Wheaton College, and Sunday school ministry.

T2 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 50 minutes, one side only. Continuation of interview with Ralph Shannon on T1 recorded on July 3, 1986. Discussion of education and ministry while a student at Wheaton, decision to become a medical missionary, Ralph Winter, mission program and philosophy of the Presbyterian church, and medical missions in Zaire.

T3 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 60 minutes, one side only. Interview with Ralph Shannon by Paul Ericksen recorded on July 7, 1986. Discussion of missionaries' children, support raising and furloughs, relationships between mission board and national church, transition of leadership to national Christians, Presbyterian Church USA, and ongoing paternalism.

T4 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 60 minutes, one side only. Continuation of interview with Ralph Shannon on T3 recorded on July 7, 1986. Discussion of a local congregation in Zaire, conflict and corruption in national association (Church of Christ in Zaire), indigenous church music and syncretism, and medical care.

T5 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 70 minutes, one side only. Interview with Ralph Shannon by Paul Ericksen recorded on July 8, 1986. Discussion of evangelistic component of medical work, outreach to tribes, impact of culture on evangelism, indigenous sects and the Church of Christ in Zaire.

T6 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 45 minutes, one side only. Continuation of interview with Ralph Shannon on T5 recorded on July 8, 1986. Discussion of intermingled politics of the Zairian government and the Church of Christ in Zaire, corruption and opposing Christian witness, and issues related to the family on the mission field.

T7 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 65 minutes, one side only. Interview with Ralph Shannon by Paul Ericksen recorded on May 16, 1990. Discussion of their furlough, study at Wheaton College Graduate School, his wife's involvement in ethnomusicology in Zaire, the Presbyterian Church-USA, and the political maneuvering in the Church of Christ in Zaire (ECZ) by Jean Bokeleale and others, and its impact on the Zairian Presbyterian church.

T8 - Reel-to-reel, 3-3/4 ips, approximately 40 minutes, one side only. Continuation of interview with Ralph Shannon on T7 recorded on May 16, 1990. Continued discussion of Church of Christ in Zaire politics, the Shannon's children, observations about new missionaries and short term workers, and the presence and treatment of AIDS in Zaire.

1 1 Term papers; 1989-1990

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Last Revised: 1/11/01
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