This is a complete and accurate transcript of the oral history interview of Helen Irvin Sawyer (CN 256, #T3) in the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. No spoken words have been omitted, except for any non-English phrases which could not be understood by the transcribers. In very few cases words were to too unclear to be distinguished; in these cases "[unclear]" was inserted. Chinese place-names are spelled in the transcript in the old or new transliteration form according to how the speaker pronounced them. Thus, Peking may be used instead of Beijing, because that is how it was pronounced. Chinese terms and phrases which could be understood were spelled as they were pronounced, with some attempt made to identify an accepted transliterated form which corresponds to it. This is a transcription of spoken English, which of course follows a different rhythm and rule than written English.
... Three dots indicate an interruption or break in the train of thought within the sentence on the part of the speaker.
.... Four dots indicate what the transcriber believes to be the end of an incomplete sentence.
() Words in parentheses are asides made by the speaker.
 Words in brackets are comments by the transcriber.
This transcription was made by Christopher Easley and Paul Ericksen, and completed in September 1990.
DIXON: This is an interview with Helen Sawyer by Stephanie Dixon for the Missionary Sources Collection of Wheaton College. This interview took place at 803 Irving, Wheaton, Illinois, on November 22, 1983, at 5:00 p.m. [Whispers "Okay."] Mrs. Sawyer, can you tell me a little bit about your family background?
SAWYER: Okay. I was born in Louisville Kentucky. My parents were both Christians. My father was German and my mother from English background. And they both came to know the Lord shortly after they were married. My mother had been ill and was healed of tuberculosis of the bone. And after her healing she had four children, and she always wanted to dedicate these children to the Lord. So my brother and myself and then another sister and brother came along, and all of us were brought up in a Christian home. And rather interestingly, the Lord led all of us into full-time Christian work in answer to my mother's prayer.
DIXON: That's really interesting. Can you tell me a little about what your parents did while you were growing up...their occupations?
SAWYER: My father was just a ordinary laborer. He was a...an iron molder in a...in a factory. He worked in the same factory for many many years. They were both very active in the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Louisville, Kentucky. My father was the treasurer of the church for many, many years, and both my parents served on the church...in the church as Sunday school teachers, and workers in the church, and always had a great deal of ministry in entertaining people in the home, missionaries and pastors. And I think as a child we grew up with a real respect for missionaries and pastors because we'd had so many of them visit our home.
DIXON: Can you tell me a little about your early education?
SAWYER: All right. I went to school in Louisville. Graduated from an all girls high school. Many years ago in Louisville they had a period of time when they had high schools for boys and girls separated, and I grew up in a...and went to an all girls high school. After high school, I went to Nyack Missionary Training College at Nyack, New York. At that time it was only a three year program, so I was there for that and that's where I met my husband. And we were married and then served in a pastorate before we went oversees as missionaries.
DIXON: Can you tell me a little bit about how you were saved?
SAWYER: All right. The day that I gave my heart to the Lord was at a...at a Sunday school when a missionary from South America spoke. And at the end of the Sunday school program, I think I was about 12 years old, she asked for young people or children who wanted to come forward to accept the Lord to go forward, and at that time I did. And of course that was the initial step, but through my high school years, I really followed the Lord. There was a time when I was a little bit rebellious about going into full-time Christian work. I think I thought my family expected this of me and I wanted to go to college to be a teacher, but the Lord really spoke to my heart and I went to Nyack to train to be a missionary.
DIXON: And your parents, did they support you in that?
DIXON: They did.
SAWYER: Both my parents were very strong about wanting us to serve the Lord full-time.
DIXON: What...what exactly did you study at Nyack?
SAWYER: All right, Nyack is a...at that time was a missionary training institute, and all of our courses at Nyack were either in Christian ed. or Bible, or something related to missions, history of missions and that kind of thing.
DIXON: What...can you tell me a little about what was happening at the time, the current events or anything that affected your life?
SAWYER: All right. Right during the time we were at Nyack and soon after we graduated form Nyack, it was right in the beginning the Wo...of World War II...
SAWYER: ...so when we left Nyack we were not able then to go overseas as missionaries, because no missionaries were being sent out. It was the middle of a time of war, and so my husband and I were required to have at least two or three years in the pastorate at home before going overseas as missionaries, and our first church was in Dixon, Illinois. And we were there during the war, and had almost decided that we probably would not go overseas as missionaries because we were already involved very much in the church there. But soon, when the war was over in 1945, '46, we applied to the field and were appointed to go to the field in 1947. So right after we graduated from Nyack we weren't able to go out because of the World War II situation.
DIXON: Okay. What exactly...how did your husband, (or your future husband that...at that time) fit into your ideas of what you wanted to do as far as, you know, where you wanted to go and that sort of thing?
SAWYER: In the beginning, both of us knew that we were both heading for the mission field, and so there was never any question about that. During the war, when we got into a church, and we had ministry there and were buying a car, and had...buying furniture, and getting set up in a house, and our oldest daughter was born, I think the idea of going overseas kind of took second place in our lives for awhile. And one of the very [pauses] important things that happened to us was that the war was over and on one Monday morning, when I was washing clothes in the basement of the house in the parsonage where we lived, the Lord seemed to speak to me about going to China as a missionary, and I remember very distinctly praying and thinking about that and saying, "Lord I just...just don't want to go," because I was afraid. I'd heard missionaries had to give up their children, be separated from their children for so long, especially up in China, in the northern part of China and west China. And I knew that this is where my husband really wanted to go, was the west China-Tibetan border. And I was just really saying "no" to the Lord. And then suddenly I just sat down on the steps and prayed, and really gave in and told the Lord that I'd be willing to go anywhere, do anything, but that I somehow felt that we probably wouldn't go because we were already settled in ministry in the States. But a few days later, my husband asked me to sit down and said he wanted to talk with me, and told me that at the very same time, on a Monday morning, when he was in his study praying, the Lord spoke to him about applying to go to go to west China, and that he had been thinking about this and praying about it and wanted to know how I felt about it. And it was just a real indication to us that the Lord was definitely calling us to west China and the Tibetan border. So that's where we went in 1947.
DIXON: And then you chose Christian and Missionary Alliance?
SAWYER: Yes, we were both brought up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and this is an organization that is very strong on foreign missions, and this is where we felt the Lord wanted us...that's where we felt the Lord wanted us to be, is in China working with the Christian and Missionary Alliance in the northwest China, Tibet border.
DIXON: I see. What was the extent of their outreach there and how long have they been there?
SAWYER: Okay. The Alliance went into China, oh say [pauses] thirty or...thirty, forty years before we went there, and there were missionaries who were working up in the west China border of Tibet. They were not able to do very much among the Tibetan people, but they were working among the Chinese people and hoping to evangelize areas of Tibet. But because of the very strong resistance against the Gospel among Tibetan people, there were not very many missionaries who had [pauses]...there was not...there was not very much response among the Tibetan people, although there were missionaries who were learning Tibetan language, and working among the Tibetan people. There was a strong church, Chinese church, along...along the border of west China, and missionaries were involved in that. A number of the early missionaries died in China. Almost every couple lost either husband or wife because of the very primitive conditions and life in China during those days. So it was a...it was one of the difficult fields of the Alliance, and we were the first missionaries to join the older missionaries, the first new ones who had gone out in twenty-five years. So there was a whole group of us who went after the World...after World War II. And it was really a challenge to us to be able to go to west China. It was a great encouragement to the older missionaries that were there: to have new missionaries come to help them. But as you know the situation, the war was going on then with the communist in China, and so we were only able to stay from '47 to '49, when we had to evacuate from west China.
DIXON: So was that the first time that the communists really made an effect or....?
SAWYER: Well, that was when the communists began to take over all of...all of China, and nobody really thought that it was going...that all of China was gonna to fall. We thought that areas of China would fall, and we were advised, especially young couples with children or those who didn't speak the language well, to leave west China because if we didn't leave there was a possibility that we would be cut off and have to cross Tibet to get out, which would be several months of travel by caravan, or oxen, you know, across Tibet. So we were advised to get out while there were still airplanes running in west China. So we left there in January of 1949, and went to south China. We actually went first to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong was filling up with missionaries who were evacuating from all over China, so there were really no places for us to stay there. There were no...every mission guest house...every place was full. And the Christian and Missionary Alliance had a large [pauses] almost like a big hotel, a place where they had conferences, and they had a Bible school up in the [pauses] Kwangsi Province of south China. And we were told that the best thing for us to do to wait out the situation would be go up the river to Kwangsi and stay where there was a mission station that could handle all of us. So I think there were four or five families of us who went up into Wuchau in about February of 1949, and then we stayed there until in June, I think it was, of 1949. And we had to...we continued to study there, studied Chinese, lived all together in this big house up in Kwangsi Province. But the communists then took over there and so we had to flee from west...south China too, and go back to Hong Kong in the summer of 1949.
DIXON: Can I just backtrack a little and ask you: did you have any other kind of preparation for the mission field after Nyack? I think your...on your husband's interview their was some mention about Montreat?
SAWYER: Oh, we went down to Montreat, North Carolina, for, I think it was either three or four weeks of linguistics study before we went. Neither of us had had phonetics or linguistics in college and so we were asked to take this course before we went. We studied a little bit of Chinese those few weeks. It was a real concentrated course of preparation for going out.
DIXON: Also looking back, is there anything now that you would change or in your evaluation of your preparation...what do you think about now?
SAWYER: I think at the time we felt that we...we were prepared. I think in today's world the preparation that we had wouldn't have been enough for the missions field. I think that both of us always wished that we had had more linguistic training, mo...maybe a little more language study in the States before we went out, because Chinese is a long arduous task, to learn the Chinese language or the Tibetan language. And your first years on the mission field are very frustrating when you don't know any language and can't communicate and you're dependent on somebody to translate constantly for you. So I think other than that I don't know of any other thing that we felt particularly was lacking at that time.
DIXON: Okay. You went over to China in 1947. You went by ship, right? How long was the trip over there?
SAWYER: Three weeks...
DIXON: Three weeks.
SAWYER: ...on the ship. And it was a very rough, rough, rough, trip in...in November when there are a lot of storms, so it was a very...and it wasn't...it was a converted troop ship, so it was not a luxury liner, so it was quite a trip.
DIXON: And you went...did you...you went over with others...
SAWYER: Yes, there...
DIXON: ...who were also...?
SAWYER: ...were several missionary families that traveled together. We first went to Shanghai. We stayed in Shanghai for one month to get our things through customs and arrange for plane travel up into west China. Then we went up to the capital of Ganzu Province, which was Lanzhou, and ordinarily you would take [pauses]...well you would travel by horseback across from Lanzhou to the inland station where we were gonna live. We lived in a station called Labrang, right on the Tibetan border. But because at that time the mission had a jeep and a paneled truck, they met us with that. But it took us five days by truck to get from Lanzhou to Labrang, where we were gonna live.
DIXON: What were your first impressions of...
SAWYER: [Gasping laugh]
DIXON: ...arriving in China?
SAWYER: We were in west China so it was very, very cold. No heat in the houses. The first guest house we stayed in, in Lanzhou, was run by the Overseas Missionary Fellowship, which used to be called CIM, China Inland Mission. And [pauses] that was very primitive: dirt floors, little stoves in the middle of each room, very cold, no electricity, no running water, very primitive. But when we got onto our mission station, got settled in our house we still didn't have electricity or running water or indoor plumbing or anything like that, but it just, you had your own things, and you set up your own house and it became a way of life. It was very...we were very isolated in China. We had a daughter. Janet was three when we left. And we lived there a year, over a year on our mission station. Only took Janet outside the mission compound twice, because they had never seen foreign children up there and she was just mobbed everywhere we went, because they'd never see, you know, children with blue eyes and blond hair, and...and even if we had a snow suit on her and all this, the Tibetan people just followed us in the markets and pulled on her and wanted to touch her until she was just miserable. So we never took her out. And also we never went out after night because it's very dangerous. There were robbers and Tibetan bands that came in and there were constant skirmishes between the Moslems and the Chinese. So it was a very isolated, primitive kind of life we lived in our first years. We had a Tibetan teacher, and we studied Tibetan very [pauses].... The rules of the mission were very strict: that all the young missionaries live with another missionary couple, an older missionary couple, and they studied, the men six hours a day and women five hours a day, in language study our first year. So we were very rigorous in our attempt to keep all the mission rules and do that. And we finished our first year of language study when we evacuated.
DIXON: Oh. And how many years would it have been?
SAWYER: Two to three years of study, plus you never learn the language really well, but...I mean you're never through with your language study, but you're required to take two full years of language study before you're even considered a senior missionary on the field.
DIXON: How did they...how did you go about learning the language?
SAWYER: 'Kay. We had a course recommended by the senior missionaries. We had a Tibetan monk from the monastery who came...who read the language, and knew the reading and the writing of the language very well, and he came and taught us each day how to read, how to write. We were to memorize things and to...we didn't have all of the...the modern methods of language study to...that we have today, you know. And a lot of our time was spent taking dictation from him, reading with him, and speaking with him. But our frustration during those early days was that the Tibetan Christians...the Tibetans were not Christians and the Chinese were, so we had to go to church and listen to Chinese, but we were studying Tibetan, so it was really hard for us to.... We'd pick up a lot of Chinese vocabulary and even today when we go to church, there is so many things that we can pick up and still remember from the Mandarin of west China. But our written [sic] and our study was all in Tibetan, so actually all the senior missionaries spoke both Tibetan and Chinese, so we would have had to learn both eventually, at least enough Chinese so that we could talk to people, and go to the market and these kinds of things. But Tibetan was...was the language we were to study first.
DIXON: Were the languages really that different?
SAWYER: Very different.
DIXON: They were.
SAWYER: Entirely different.
SAWYER: Writing was different.
DIXON: ...and speech.
SAWYER: The Tibetan language is Sanskrit and the Chinese uses character.
DIXON: Was it really that dif...was it quite a bit different from English?
SAWYER: Oh yes.
DIXON: As far as grammar?
SAWYER: Oh yes, yes, very different. Tibetan language is...comes from...well it's written more like...I suppose more like [pauses] Sanskrit or more like...with a script, you know. But the Chinese itself you memorize every character that you.... Every character stands for a word. So that is, you know.... I guess Chinese grammar, those who...who know Chinese well, say there's not, you know, [loud banging noise] a lot of grammar in the...[interruption from Mr. Sawyer, indistinguishable speaking]. Turn it off. Honey we're recording.
DIXON: Okay, where were we now? Oh, we...we were talking...I guess you were saying something about the languages?
SAWYER: Yeah. Languages are difficult. Both Chinese and Tibetan were very difficult. But most of the missionaries in west China, the older missionaries, spoke both and spoke them very well. But it required a lot of work and many years.
DIXON: Did you do any other work besides your language training while you were there?
DIXON: So it was...
SAWYER: There was not...except we were required to attend the services, and the Chinese people came in for prayers, like we had servants and they came in for prayers, and other than that, all we did was language study, the first year we were there.
DIXON: And then you left there in 1949. And where did you go?
SAWYER: When we were...when we evacuated from west China, we went to south China and lived in Kwangsi for several months. And then we went...we...then we went down to Hong Kong in June, July and August we were in Hong Kong of 1950 [pauses], and that's when we transferred to Laos. At that time, there were hundreds of missionaries in Hong Kong, and everyone was sure that China was gonna fall. And because of that the [clock strikes once] director of the Christian and Missionary Alliance overseas work came to Hong Kong, interviewed each missionary couple and they were just asked...I mean, if you wanted to go home, it was kind of the end of your missionary career, or if you wanted to transfer to another field, and gave us some options. But they pretty much asked a lot of us to go to Indochina. At that time it was French Indochina. And some went to Thailand, some went to the Philippines, but we ourselves were assigned to go to Laos in Indochina.
DIXON: Did you...what kind of feelings did you have about leaving west China...
SAWYER: It was really...
DIXON: ...where you had originally been called?
SAWYER: Yeah, that was really hard. And especially because we had already felt so much a part of the mission and of the missionaries there and then to start over. It was rather frustrating because we had to go first to Dalat, Vietnam, and study French because still all of the government officials were using French. The French hadn't left yet. And that was a very difficult time because we had so much [pauses] time to spend in French language study. We had several months we had to study enough to be able to fill out papers and go to the post office and do things like this. So we went to Dalat Vietnam for almost a year, studied French, before we went to Laos. So by the time we got to Laos we were on...at that time was a five year term, so we only had two years of our term left to be in Laos. So we were there and studied language for two years in Lao language study, and felt like we really didn't have a grip on the Lao when it was time for us to come home on furlough. We had studied and done what was required of us in those two years, but we, you know.... Our whole first year was shot through with all these evacuations, so that was really a difficult time for us. But after coming home on furlough, we went back to full-time work in Laos.
DIXON: And when did you go on furlough?
SAWYER: 1953, probably, after...'52 or '53. We went back to Laos, I think, in 1954, after a year in the States, and we were there then until 1975.
DIXON: With no furlough?
SAWYER: Oh yes.
DIXON: Oh, you did have furloughs.
SAWYER: Every four years.
DIXON: Every four years. Okay. So between up to your first furlough, did you do anything with the Lao people or...
SAWYER: Oh yes, because...
DIXON: You did finish...you did finish language study?
SAWYER: Well, the...when we went to Laos in 1950, there was a great peoples movement had just taken place among hill tribespeople, and we were...we arrived there just when this happened. So as soon as we could do anything, my husband was out in the villages, but he also had a pastor who worked with him. So he traveled a lot in the villages with whatever language he had, picture roles and projectors, and had the pastor explain, you know, life of Christ slides with a little kerosene projector in villages. And he was...he was out in villages in evangelism all the time, even all during our language study. He studied Monday through Friday. But because I had children I stayed on the station, and sometimes I could travel, but not...most of the time it was walking to the villages and you couldn't carry the children, so I stayed on the station and did my missionary work there with the people in the town, worked with children, worked with young people. And then sometimes we'd go to a village and stay for a week or two at a time, take the family and take things along. But for the most part, I didn't travel as much as he did in our early years in evangelism.
DIXON: How many children did you have by this time?
SAWYER: We had one born in Dalat, Vietnam. We had two...two girls. But our children went away to school, so they were not always with us. We usually had one at home. We have four daughters and they're five years apart, so when one would go to school we always had one at home [laughs].
DIXON: What were your first impressions of arriving in Laos?
SAWYER: Well, I think that Laos was just very, very different than China. The Lao people themselves, who were the ruling class of people, lived along the rivers, in the towns, were very strong Buddhists, very friendly people, but very anti-Christian. Very lazy and slow, not nearly as well...not nearly as aggressive as the Chinese. Not...not nearly as loyal. There were lots of loyal Chinese Christians and friends of the missionaries, and you felt just like a part of the church there. But in Laos, the people there, especially the Lao people, were not like that at all. The Chinese used to invite us to their homes for meals, and come and visit us, and the Lao people were timid and they never did that, so we felt, you know, that we were very...we were very lonely at first, because we really missed the Chinese people. But through the years, we began to understand the culture and the people of Laos, and know them very well now. But in our early years there we really missed China, and I guess we've always had a great love for the Chinese, because that was our first choice of missionary service. But the people in Laos, the Lao people did not respond to the Gospel. Missionaries had worked there for years and just as we arrived, a missionary from Thailand, of the Presbyterian mission, had come across the border into Laos, and he had done some evangelism in a province called Sayaboury. And in that province, there were some tribespeople converted. They were called Khamu tribespeople. And those people were brought into the station where we were living, into Luang Prabang, for some short...for some short term Bible school training. And just before we arrived in Laos, some of those people had gone into another province where there were a lot of these Miao tribespeople. And when they began to preach there, a lot of there Miao tribespeople became interested and wanted to burn their fetishes and their tribal spirit worship, and become Christians. So as we arrived in Laos there was this great peoples movement among these Hmong, or at that time they were called the Miao tribespeople. And we were learning the Lao language and working with the Lao people. But there were so many who responded among these Hmong tribal people that our time was taken up with them. The government would not allow us to give them a written language. (They had no written language at that time.) But the government...these people had come into Laos from China and the government was strong about them educated in...in the Lao language rather than have schools in their own tribal dialect. So we didn't try to start schools or anything, but we began to bring the tribal people into the town. Some of them into school. There were seven boys. My husband went out in the villages to preach, and there were villages where there were Christians and there were about...everywhere you went people ...people would say, "How about taking my son down to the city to go to school." Well, we took seven boys from these villages and brought them into our compound, and they lived just in some long houses on the back of our compound. And they [pauses] went to Lao schools, took care of themselves. But I taught those boys, and that's how I learned my language because I...I worked all the time with those boys when my husband was out in villages in a Wednesday afternoon kind of a catechism/Bible class for them, and Sunday school. The interesting thing is that two of those boys are now here in the States. One lives down here on Roosevelt Road [laughs] as a refugee, and one's a pastor out in Denver. So those early, early Christians in Laos were all from among these Hmong or Miao tribespeople. And as a result of that, missionaries had so much work among them that we kind of just didn't have any...too much to do with the Lao. There was...I mean there were some Lao Christians, but we were so busy out in the villages with these people, setting up churches, bringing people in for Bible school training, sending them back out to teach some more. [Phone rings] And we had...actually had twenty-five villages in the...in...in our province where we had Christians. So we were involved in that, so much that we didn't do as much among the [pauses] tribes, you know, as...as much among the Lao as we did among the tribespeople.
DIXON: Had...were there American or non-Laotian missionaries sent that had been sent to the Miao people?
SAWYER: No. None.
DIXON: So the C&MA was just sending people to the Lao.
SAWYER: The C&MA sent people into Laos, not necessarily to...to just the Lao, but that's were they started out working, with the people in the cities. And then as the Gospel spread out into the mountains we had this great peoples movement. And then we just had to concentrate on teaching and training people. And as a result of that, we eventually built a Bible school, a Bible training school, and we accepted anybody in the Bible school, whether they were Lao or Hmong or Khamu, we had all three, but the majority of them were these Miao, who changed their names later to be Hmong, which means free.
DIXON: You said the Miao came from China originally. Was their language then much different from the other people?
SAWYER: Entirely different, and it still is. I mean it's an entirely different language. And they did not have a written language, but now they do. And the...they have...recently had the Bible translated into their language in the last ten years.
DIXON: Is the Khamu and Lao language more similar?
SAWYER: Khamu is different too, and the Khamu do not have a written language. They still don't.
DIXON: What did you do at your various stations. This...I guess this is sort of just a general question to find out where you were at what times.
SAWYER: We lived first in Luang Prabang, and in Luang Prabang we were responsible for twenty-five villages where there were these new Christians. Some of them were villages that came...people turned to the Lord in those villages when my husband went out to minister. We [pauses]...we did a lot of literature distribution to people that could read and write, in the city. We had...we had always some kind of a bookroom or something where we could be reaching the Lao people. We had regular services in the town on our station for the people who were in town. And we always had some people who were from the villages who came into the markets on Saturday and buy on Sunday, stop by for church there. We had constant, constant droves of people who came into our station for medicine, medical help. This is one of the big things in Laos: there were no hospitals out in the villages, no medical help at all in the villages, and only a very inadequate French hospital in our town. And so we had medicine cabinets right in our house, and even though we weren't trained as doctors, we took care of all the basic things: sore eyes, and tummy aches, and ear infections and all of this kind of thing. We did all kinds of medical work. In fact, almost every day somebody would come from villages or someplace to ask for medicine and things. We also [pauses] as we began to get Christians the first thing the mission did was to set up a program of short term Bible schools. We'd bring men in from the villages for six weeks of teaching, send them out to preach in the villages [pauses] what they knew, and after two or three months come back for another six weeks. And we continued to do this, and then we began to go into the villages and hold short term Bible schools, and pick out key men. We would have like a week or ten day school in the village, pick out key men who could read and write the Lao language well, who did well in those...in their studies, bring them in then for a...it was three months for...of school. And then later we changed that to six months, and later we changed it to eight months. And then we gradually brought the level of teaching up, and so that during our time that we were in Laos, we graduated fifty...over fifty men from our Laos Bible Training Center. By that time it had developed into a four year program, three years in school, one year out and one year back in school, And there were about fifty who graduated. But we built a school then. And had a regular Bible school with dormitories for the students, dining room and really lovely building before we left in '75.
DIXON: So were you in Luang Prabang...
SAWYER: We were in Luang Prabang ten...
DIXON: ...for the whole time?
SAWYER: ...ten...no, ten years. Then we [pauses] came back and our Bible school built in...in Vientiane Province, because all in...in the north there was so much war, and refugees fleeing from place to place, that the mission decided the best place to have the school would be right down in the city. It was right outside the capital city, our school was. So from 19...[pauses], see, after ten years, about 1960 on we were in Vientiane, the capital city.
DIXON: And how long did you stay there for?
SAWYER: 'Til 1975.
DIXON: So you were in two places.
DIXON: What kind of work did you do specifically at both places?
SAWYER: Okay. In the beginning, evangelism. Later, taught right along with my husband in the short-term schools. Then later, I was involved in starting women's meetings in Laos. They'd never had specifically...meetings specifically for women. And we did that in our capital city church, and also started youth meetings there. But then later, all of the...when the students went out from the Bible school, first in the villages, they would hold children's meetings using picture rolls and...and have all the children come. Maybe two hundred children would sit in the meeting and they'd use this flip chart kind of picture roll. Well then they got to the point where "We've been through all of the pictures in the picture roll. What do we do next?" And we saw our need then of beginning literature work and Sunday school materials, aids for the church. As the church began to develop, it became stronger and stronger, and more independent, able to handle a lot of the preaching and everything themselves, and evangelism. So then we started more supportive type ministries. And my husband and I were in literature work the last [pauses] five or six years on the field, where we prepared not only teacher translation and teacher training books, but we prepared Sunday school lessons for all these different villages. And what we did was simply have a...a quarterly. The easiest way we could do it to get it out in a hurry was...was just to have thirteen week les...thirteen lessons for thirteen weeks and one quarterly, and just present the lesson very simply. And then we had a lesson leaflet for children, and lesson leaflet for adults. And the lesson leaflet for adults would have the Sun...would have the Scripture written on it, some lessons from the lesson, and something to do for next week, some questions to answer kind of thing. So that each time they came, we never gave them books because it's...it's too difficult for them to take care of the book and bring it back, and not.... They don't have any cupboards, they don't have any thing in their pla...house to put it...or any place to put it. There's no furniture in their houses, this kind of thing. So it worked very well to pass out a leaflet every Sunday that they used. And for the children they had some kind of a Bible story with a picture to color, some questions and a memory verse on the leaflet. So we...we did this, we produced these books. And then we would go to the villages and teach the teachers how to teach and how to use these and start a Sunday school program. That was the thing that we were doing in the last years in Laos. Plus we had a literature department where we were. We were involved some in checking the Bible translation, and in all kinds of books. And we had a bookroom, and...in our end of town. It's sort of a library kind of book room were people could come and read. So our last years on the field, we were in [pauses] literature work. But before that, my husband was the one who built our Laos Bible Training Center. It was quite a big building program, so along with our teaching he was really, really busy those days, because he had to oversee the...the structure of the building of the school at the same time.
DIXON: Did you...were you involved in one particular church in the....?
SAWYER: The only church that there...there was only one church in the city of Vientiane, and that was our Lao Hmong church, or Miao tribespeople, and we ourselves attended the church there all the time. The same church building was used for an international community that was there, because the [pauses] Americans had sent so many people in because of the war, and aid programs and health programs and this kind of thing. So we were involved some in the international church, but our role in the...in the big church itself was just to teach the people how to run it themselves. We didn't do the preaching. I sometimes taught the women's Sunday school class, but I was constantly trying to teach a woman how to do it, and I'd sit beside her and help her teach the class rather than teach it myself. And our missionary men, as much as possible, would have a national pastor preach. If he needed help, they'd help him on the side, but have him take the responsibility. Because we were trying to develop an indigenous church that could run itself. And we did. I mean the...the church among the Miao tribespeople was strong, and that's why it's so strong here in the church today, because they had a strong independent spirit when they were on the field.
DIXON: You mentioned something before about concentrating in the southern part of the country because of fighting in the north. How...how exactly did that effect your work?
SAWYER: Okay. When we first were young missionaries we could travel in the villages and evangelize. But because of the war with the...there was the war with the French for awhile, and then Laos became independent. But then when the war began in Vietnam, Laos was used just as a...a pathway from North Vietnam to South Vietnam by the communists. And so it was constantly...there was constant war in the north. And although American soldiers were supposedly not stationed in Laos, they came across from North Vietnam [pauses] across the northern part of Laos, and villages were bombed all the time in order to drive the communists back. And as a result of this, while...you know, we hated all that war and everything, it actually was a great [chuckles]...great help to our missionary work, because all these isolated villages were missionaries or national pastors would work...would walk four to five days to get to a group of twenty-five houses, for instance, were there were maybe twenty of them were Christians, and sometimes the whole village was a Christian village. They would walk there and...and work with those twenty-five families for a weekend or spend a week there, and then they wouldn't see 'em again for months, because they had other villages to go to. But when the war came and there was all this fighting in the north, all this travel of missionaries out to those villages was completely cut off and we began to concentrate on training men and sending them into the villages. But, as the villages...as the war continued, and there was more and more difficulty, and people were afraid of being cut off, and they couldn't make their rice fields because of the bombings and everything, they fled and came into large centers. So what we had was five or six villages in one center, and at that time we initiated the MAF program, Mission Aviation Fellowship, so that missionaries could fly over all the trouble and fly up into these centers. Instead of going up to a place and having twenty-five village...twenty-five families, they'd go up to a place were there were a hundred or two hundred Christian families concentrated in an area, and they could, you know, preach to four or five hundred people in one...one center like that. And so the church really began to get strong because they got more teaching, and they were in these centers, and they were visited by missionaries and by the national pastors on a regular basis. And then when we used MAF, we had Bible school in Vientiane...in the capital city, every weekend we sent the students out by plane to these villages for Sunday school teaching, and...and young peoples work, and they would also preach in the villages and...and help the pastors. If there were...there're no pa...no pastors, we took the responsibility from the Bible school. So because of the war actually it...it helped us. But for years missionaries did not travel over land anymore because of the communist war.
DIXON: Were there any negative feelings on the part of the Laotian people because of the Americans being in the war.
SAWYER: You always have that, especially...not the.... The Miao or the Hmong tribal people were very loyal. They were called the CIA army, you know. They were the ones that were fighting up in the north. But the Lao people themselves, some of them, especially if they were influenced at all by the communists, were anti-American. But we didn't have that so much in Laos as you do in other countries. The Lao people were...were kind of slow, easygoing, not [pauses] very antagonistic, just...not really really friendly to us, sincerely friendly to us, but they were...they were kind. And we had a lot...a lot of friends among the Lao people, even before we left Laos. And there were several strong Christian families in the southern part of Laos, and some of them as they grew up and married came up into the north, and we did have strong Christians among the Lao, but not as many as among the tribal people.
DIXON: Did you actually have any brushes with the communists?
SAWYER: Actually, we...we have been through, you know, a lot of times when there was [pauses] coup d'etats right in our...our city. But as far as being out in the villages, we just didn't expose ourselves to areas where we knew the communists were. When the communists were taking over Laos we knew that we might have to evacuate, and we, you know...we just didn't know how it would go, but for the most part we didn't...actually as far as a squirmish [sic] right with the communists, we didn't have any. But we were in a...in our house once when [pauses] there was a coup d'etat in our town when the police and the military were fighting for control of the city, and we lived next door to the police station. So our house got riddled with bullets and about eight people got killed in our yard. And we were inside. And we were all right, but we made a barricade with...with mattresses at that time. For a couple days we sat in our house, you know, just barricaded with mattresses and waited out the shooting. And there were some things like that that happened [laughs], you know, experienced, but actually we never...we...we never traveled over the road or outside the city when we were told not to because of the communists.
DIXON: Boy. So it sounds like then that they were very...it was evident that they were there...
SAWYER: Oh yes.
DIXON: ...even where you were.
SAWYER: Well, and then we constantly we had people coming into the city in large groups, you know, fleeing from their village. So there was poverty and killing and fighting the whole time we were in Laos. I mean, we just lived with war the whole time. There were things we couldn't do, and there were times when, you know, like the men flew up country and you just didn't know if they were gonna get back or not because of the shooting...shooting down of planes and things like that. But we had one of our mission stations burned completely. And [pauses], you know, a lot of...a lot of loss of property and a lot of damage that way, but not a lot...lot of loss of lives [pauses] among the missionaries. There were among the national Christians.
DIXON: What...were there any other mission boards there at the time you were there?
SAWYER: Not until the last few years, just before we left Laos. We were...I mean in the north of Laos. In the south...the southern part of Laos, the Overseas Missionary Fellowship worked in the southern part, and they cooperated with us. There was...the first missionaries to Laos were Swiss Brethren missionaries, and they were in the southern part, and we also worked very closely with them. Then the last few years before we left Laos the Southern Baptists came into north Laos. They were only there a short time. They had two missionary couples who learned the language. They were not able to work very long before they evacuated, so they were only there a few years. But for the most part the Christian and Missionary Alliance was about the only Evangelical missionary society working in Indochina for many many years. So, actually there're not many...there were not any other missionaries except the Christian and Missionary Alliance in north Laos [pauses] until the Baptists came in.
DIXON: What did you do with the other mission boards then?
SAWYER: You mean, who wanted to come in?
SAWYER: You mean in cooperation with them?
DIXON: In cooperation while you were there?
SAWYER: Oh, okay. We held...we did our literature work together. We always met in literature committees, deciding who was going to print what. If they were going to do a book, that we wouldn't do it. We had some conferences or dialogue back and forth. They worked among the Lao people in the south. There were no tribespeople down there, so their work was a little different, and they [pauses]...they sent some of their students up to our Bible school. They had also a short term kind of Bible school there [clock chiming six times]. So their work was more among the Lao and ours was more among the tribal people in the mountains.
DIXON: Did...did that mean then that there work was quite different?
SAWYER: It was quite different because they worked among a group of...their work started out as a...among the Lao, because the Lao had a...there were poor villages in the southern part of Laos, of Lao people, and if...if there was someone in the village who was not well liked or there was a lot of trouble in the village, they often had the cultural thing of placing the blame on one person in the village and they called this person the...the cause of all the trouble. And when this would happen, that person would have to leave the village, be homeless, and missionaries began to befriend people like that and take them in and...and help them. And as a result they had a lot of Christians among those people and kind of a church among those people, and so their work was very different. Whereas we...our church was growing among these tribespeople. And the tribespeople were very (especially the Hmong or the Miao)...were very aggressive and energetic and smart people, and so they sort of progressed much faster than the church did among the Lao people in the south. But then they also had some converts among Lao people in the north who were...especially one large family from southern Laos came up to the north, and were a strong part of our church there. And they were educated...well educated Lao leaders.
DIXON: How were you supported from home?
SAWYER: The Christian and Missionary Alliance is a little bit different than other organizations in that we do not raise our personal support each time we come home, like that. We do speak about the work of the Christian and Missionary Alliance in churches that have a regular missionary conference every year, where they take pledges for missionary work worldwide. They call it the Great Commission Fund of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. And all of the monies that the churches pledge go into the Great Commission Fund, and that money is divided out among the missionaries. So we were always on a regular salary from the Christian and Missionary Alliance. We had to speak in churches and keep the money coming into the Alliance, but we didn't have to raise our own funds, our own support. Our travel was paid to and from the field, and our...and a living allowance while we were on the field.
DIXON: That's interesting. When we were talking before about the church you attended, you were saying that you...that you were trying to make them self-sufficient. How did CM...Christian and Missionary Alliance go about trying to make churches being able to support themselves?
SAWYER: Okay. First of all, we never paid the pastors. We never paid a pastor to work for us. We did hire some people to work in our literature department, or we would help hire someone to work in our...in our homes, or something like that. But as far as Christian work, we encouraged the pastors to go into the villages and the villages to support the pastor. That is they'd build him a bamboo house like they had, and they worked their rice fields and give him a tenth of the rice. He always had chickens and eggs and things like that himself, and some kind of a garden. And then they took up offerings in their villages and there was a certain percentage of that offering that was to go to him for his...his service as a pastor. And some of the pastors didn't get very much, but we never paid them [pauses] in our years in Laos. They did before we went to Laos, but that policy was all thrown away about the time we went to Laos in 1950. And so they...they learned to support their own pastors. And also, then we had a conference for them every year, and showed them how to solve their own problems and run their own church business, which they did [pauses] , and they...they ran their own committees. Then later, in the last years in Laos, only missionaries sat on...on committees as advisors. They did not have the final say, and were not the boss. The church themselves...or the church itself was independent. And in more recent years, they were at the point where they were going to decide which missionaries they wanted to come back, you know, which ones they wanted and which ones they thought would be useful and what kind of missionaries they wanted. They asked for help or rejected help when they wanted to as they became more and more independent.
DIXON: So are there any missionaries there now?
SAWYER: No, none at all.
DIXON: None at all.
DIXON: And is the church thriving there still?
SAWYER: Many thousands and thousands of them have evacuated and come to the States. There are very few. But we hear that the Christians who are there are still carrying on, and that there are strong groups of Christians. But the...the large church among the hill tribespeople has all disintegrated because they're either in Thailand or they're here in the States. In 1975, when the communists began to take over and we realized that the missionaries had to get out, the American government flew a plane in and picked up Huang Bao [phonetic approximation, sp.?], who was a general, Huang Bao. He was the head of all the Hmong tribal people. And they flew him with his seven wives and about two hundred of his closest associates over into Thailand to protect them against the communists, because the communists were really angry with them because they called them "the CIA army." Well, that just triggered a mass exodus of all the hill tribespeople. About 35,000 of them within a few days crossed over the border and went into Thailand. And that, you know, has continued the whole story of the refugees in Thailand, you know, is known quite widely because there've been thousands and thousands of 'em who have crossed. And now there are, I think, 30,000 Hmong here in the States, and is a very strong church among them. Over fifty of the pastors we...I mean, out of the fifty or so pastors that we've taught there are about twenty of them here in the States, plus many of 'em who have studied since then or completed their training since then. And there are forty-six Alliance churches among the Hmong, some of them number five or six hundred people. And right here in Wheaton, there's a church of a hundred fifty or sixty that meets every Sunday. And they have their own pastor. We taught him four years in Bible school. It's kind of mind boggling to realize he lives right down the street [laughs] from us here in Wheaton, you know. He's just a tribesman. But a lot of people have told us that some of the Hmong have had some real hard adjustments. They have been here long enough now, you know, to know that America is not all just heaven like they thought it was gonna to be and some of them are having a real hard time, while others have done very, very well. I think the hill tribespeople have had the hardest time adjusting to American way of life because of their community life they lived, and the fact that they had no written language and many of the women and older people were illiterate before they came, so it's been really hard for them. But the church has grown among them. It's one of the largest ethnic churches of the Christian and Missionary Alliance now.
DIXON: What...what is the government of the church like over there?
DIXON: How is it run?
SAWYER: ...in the country now?
DIXON: Now, or when you were there.
SAWYER: Well, when we were there, the...the church was organized as a...you know, an independent church, with a president and vice-president, secretary and church treasurer, executives committee that met regularly and had regular conferences for the pastors. But, of course, that's all dissolved now, and the only kind of a church organization they have there now would be whatever the communists allow them to have, but we're not to sure about that. But I'm sure there's nothing much this way as organization in the country today, as far as the church.
DIXON: How...how were their...a Sunday church service run?
SAWYER: Very similar to...[pauses] to our type of...of service, mostly because the missionaries, you know.... At first the missionaries were the ones that held the service for them. They have done a lot in...in both Hmong and then Lao in translating songs into native tunes and dialects, and they...[pauses] they use those. They like the hymns of the church, and were constantly translating them and using them in their services. Most of the services in the village were patterned very much like a worship service in our churches here in the States.
DIXON: Do they...do they write some of their own music...
SAWYER: Some, yes...
DIXON: ...in their own...in their own....?
SAWYER: ...and they're still doing that now.
DIXON: Did...were there other weekly meetings or events that....?
SAWYER: Yes, women's meetings, a prayer service, usually in the church on Wednesday or Thursday, usually in the afternoon, especially in the villages. They had a youth meeting and a Sunday school, and they had a...in later years they had evangelistic teams. Almost every [pauses] church would have an evangelistic teams that would go out to other villages to sing and preach on Sundays or on weekends.
DIXON: What...did you help in particular with any of them?
SAWYER: Not in the villages. We trained the pastors to go out and do that in the villages.
DIXON: How did the church handle its problems?
SAWYER: They did that very well. Especially if you had somebody, for instance, who needed to be disciplined because of...like if they knew a pastor was smoking opium or something like that, you know, or was involved in...as taking a second wife, which was very common among the tribespeople. They were very strong about that. It would be brought up to church conference, and you'd be called on the carpet and asked to leave the ministry if...if he was living with two different women at the same time, which was the...you know, custom. But they knew that it was wrong for a leader of the church to do that. So they...they were almost harder on their own people than we would have been had we been governing the church.
DIXON: What kind of problems or opportunities were there for evangelism in the villages?
SAWYER: Tremendous opportunities for evangelism in our early days, because people were ripe and ready to receive the Gospel. So all it meant was just getting out there and doing it, going from village to village. And then later, as I said, we turned this kind of work over to the pastors and to the preachers, but they did it. They'd go to a village for evangelism, and stay, take a picture roll, sit around the fire at night, talk about the Gospel. After a few days there ask if they wanted to become Christians, and then the people burned their fetishes and...and accepted Christ. And then they had to go back, and go back and go back, and continue the teaching and help them, you know, setup churches in their village.
DIXON: Did they see Christianity as a...as an American or a Western or a white man's religion?
SAWYER: Some people thought of that, And some I know became Christians because they wanted education for their children, wanted a better way of life, and [pauses].... I mean, that was, I'm sure that was in the minds of some of the people, especially ambitious, aggressive Hmong tribal people, who wanted to better their standard of living and everything else. But at the same time, it was an opportunity [laughs] to show them a better way of life, and a better way of life [?]. So, I mean, we...we were always encouraged. Especially our work among the hill people was very encouraging because the response was always so great.
DIXON: What...what was the economy or the lifestyle of these people?
SAWYER: Most of the people in Laos lived a very, [pauses] very frugal, very poor, just barely enough to live on, barely enough to exist. Especially tribespeople, never had enou...quite enough to eat, never enough clothes. Malnutrition was very prevalent, sickness, disease. Most Hmong families...that's...they would have ten children and raise two to adulthood, because of sickness disease, malaria, no medicine, malnutrition. So life was hard, very hard, especially in the hills where there were...you know, was just constant making a rice field, harvesting rice, planting vegetables, and they just ate...lived off of the land. There were no factories, no companies there. I mean it was just a very, you know, isolated, landlocked land. People in the cities, who were government officials, there was a lot of grafting, a lot of taking of money that should have gone to different projects, you know, went into the pockets of the high officials. And Laos was not a very...you know, it was like Thailand. There was so much [pauses] graft and so much dishonesty in the officials. A lot of people think that's why the countries fall so easily to communists, because the common people know, you know, that the leaders of the country were not good anyway, so they look for a better way. And they just gave in to communism because of that.
DIXON: Were...were there any cultural problems with the status of men or women or children that you faced?
SAWYER: Well, especially among the Hmong tribal people, they look down on the women. And we would have to almost even force them to make the women (who came into Bible school) come to class. They didn't see any point to it. They didn't think women ought to study, or they didn't think the women needed any...didn't need to learn to read and write. But one of the requirements that we made with anybody who came into school for a four year school program: if he was married, his wife had to attend class too. So we had special classes for the women. If they couldn't read, we taught them to read while they were there. So we had classes in reading and in singing and in children's work, and taught them life of Christ from the simple courses, you know. And they...they had to attend school. But our biggest problem was that the men would not help them. They would never, you know, take care of the child so the wife could study a little bit at night. She had to take care of the child herself and then he studied, you know, because it's very much a man's world, especially among the Hmong tribal people. They always sat down to eat first. Women always wait, sit down after the men had finished, eat what's left. They never, never ate together. Even in church they never sit together, men on one side, the women on the other. And I think all that affected, you know, the Hmong women. They never...[pauses], some of them now, especially having come here to the States, a lot of the girls are getting educated and...and, you know, dropping all these cultural things, which is kind of a shock to their families. But they were never educated before, so they...all they did was take...have children, take care of the pigs, help in the rice fields, and they didn't have an opportunity for education.
DIXON: Did that affect your ministry there or the way you had to come across?
SAWYER: Well naturally, it did, because we...you know, we were very strong in telling them all the time that the women should have an opportunity to study. And, you know, we used to insist that they go to class, and insist that the men allow them to go to class, and help them to go to class, and things like that.
DIXON: I guess I meant more in your...your personal ministry, being a women yourself?
SAWYER: Oh. No, I don't think that affected me. I mean, once you understand the culture of the people, just do what you can. I mean, you don't have to change their culture as a missionary. But whereas...whereas their culture conflicts with...with the purpose of the Lord in their lives, or the church, then it's necessary to change some of the cultural things.
DIXON: What...how is the strength of nationalism or anti-foreignism affecting your presentation of the Gospel? You did mention that some people were anti-....
SAWYER: The Lao people themselves, talking about the Lao, they were Buddhist, and they...if you ever talked to them about Christ, the Lao would say, "Well Christ was good. He taught and so did Buddha. Buddha taught the same things. And so there's no difference between your religion and ours, and we have ours and you have yours." And so they would be friendly with us and just say, "Oh, it's just the same, you know, but yours is a foreign religion and ours is a religion of our country." And there the...the king, you know, went through all the Buddhist ceremonies. There were all the Buddhist ceremonies in the schools. It was all a part of...of...of their life. And every, every Lao town had a...was named, you know, different centers of the town were named after the temple. There was a temple and there was a group of houses around the temple, and there were priests in the temple. So their whole life, when they had affairs, or they had special plays, or you know, fun times, and...and they called it [pauses] "boun." These were actually like a fair, and a lot of stuff they did at that time was to present money to the temple, or to give money to the priests. All these things were done to gain merit, you know, for their life to come. So everything you did, as far as the Lao culture, was centered around the temple. It was not that way among the tribal people. The tribal people were spirit worshippers, so when the tribal people became Christians, the Lao people themselves laughed at 'em and said, "Well, they don't have a religion really. All they do is fear evil spirits. They don't really have a religion. We have Buddha, the Christians have Christ. They have nothing, so they've taken the Christian's Christ." And the...the...the Lao people, you know, because of that were just not, I mean because they had their own Buddhism, were just not responsive to the Gospel very much.
DIXON: So, what did you find your most effective method of presenting the Gospel?
SAWYER: To the Lao? To the Lao people themselves? For the Lao people it was presenting them the Word. Asking them to read the Bible and literature. It's very interesting that we always had every year at the great That Luang fair, (that's the great fairground in Laos)...and every year, we had a fair. They had a Buddhist fair there with lots of cultural things: Lao dancing, Lao singing, music, displays from all the different provinces, just like a regular county fair. And we always went to that fair and produced some special tracts or literature. We always had a stand with pictures and charts and stories up and we would have people in the stands. Our family would go and stay for hours on end at the stand, sell literature and pass out tracts. Here in the States recently we were working with Lao people, and we were meeting more and more who became...who have become Christians. And when we asked them, "When did you first think about the true God or first think about leaving Buddhism and becoming a Christians?" they'd say, "By reading tracts or hearing about it at That Luang Fair. So we know that, you know, a lot of Lao people have heard the Gospel through just literature and...and radio. We had radio too. So even though.... And some few of them came to church in our contact with them, and any contacts we had with officials or anything, they knew what we stood for but we never had really a...like very many evangelistic meetings or anything else for the Lao people. It was mostly through literature and radio that we evangelized the Lao.
DIXON: And for the Hmong?
SAWYER: For the Hmong it was pastors, Christian workers going from village to village, [pauses] preaching, teaching.
DIXON: What were the attitudes of the two groups to...?
SAWYER: Toward each other?
DIXON: Well, towards...towards you the missionaries.
SAWYER: The Hmong have always been very responsive, very kind, very loyal to Americans, very loyal to us. We never had any problems. The Lao, like I say, were very friendly but just so far. They did not accept...you know, it was alright as long as we didn't ask them to become a Christian. But they were not antagonistic toward us in the sense that they ever tried to kick us out of Laos until...you know, before the communists came.
DIXON: Can you tell me a little bit about how a person might have been converted?
SAWYER: Alright. First of all if he was a Hmong, and you told him that he no longer had to make an offering to an evil spirit, or fear an evil spirit, that there was Christ who had more power than an evil spirit. And when he...when he came to the point where he was ready, and usually they did it as a family group, not as a person, they would decide that they were going to no longer worship evil spirits, they were gonna turn to the true God, the first thing they did was to allow the missionary, Christian worker, whoever was in their village preaching go with them into their house and take the fetishes out, all the things, parts, you know, that had to do with spirit worship. They have a little altar in the corner where they'd put an egg up and have a mirror somewhere where they hoped that the spirit that came into the house would look at himself in the mirror and flee. And they had someplace else where they'd make an offering to the spirit. And they had strings on their arms. I think someone had chains on their arms, which they tied on, like if they.... They'd tie a string onto a baby immediately when the baby was born. They'd say that would keep the soul from leaving the body. And this would guard the child. If the child got very sick they'd tie more and more strings on the arms to protect them from the evil spirits. Well, when they became Christians, the first thing they did was cut all these strings off, and they'd pile up the whole...all that stuff in the middle of the village, burn it, throw it away, bury it or something like that. And that was their first step among the tribespeople in becoming a Christian. And then, as I said, the missionaries or workers would then go back to the village, begin to teach them. And some of them turned back. They'd be very fearful if they didn't see anybody for a long time. So, we always felt it was very important that they were followed up. And that they were taught. And then the people would...the pastors or the elders, and that they left an elder in the village. He'd come in for training, and one of the things that we insisted that they learn how to do would be go to...from house to house and pray with the sick and pray with the people who were having problems. So it was in that way that the church grew among the Hmong tribal people. The Lao, we had a lot of trouble with the Lao who were Christians, because they would feel a lot of pressure from society to go to the temple, to make an offering or to join in with, you know, and to be two-faced as a Lao Christian. So that was always a problem with us. But the Lao, there were Lao who...you know, would come and say they wanted to become a Christian. What they used to say is to throw out their old heart and take a new heart and believe in Jesus Christ. And they would come, you know, sometimes after a fair, or sometimes after reading literature or books and say, "What do you do if you want to become a Christian?" We've dealt with a lot of people. I'm not sure that all of them were actually converted. But we just led them in praying a simple prayer inviting Christ into their life, like you would anyone else. And some followed through and really became a Christian and some didn't.
DIXON: So the...the Hmong then, for them it sounds like it was something very liberating...
DIXON: ...to be freed.
SAWYER: It was, it was. And the testimonies that we're hearing among Lao people now is the same too. They say, you know, they never really had any peace, even though they were Buddhists, that didn't bring them peace and it didn't really change their lives. You know, a man this week gave his...his testimony. He's just come from Thailand as a refugee. He was a government official, became a Christian in a refugee camp, and he gave his testimony in our meeting on Sunday, saying that, you know, "Even while I was a Buddhist, priest I still was very unfaithful to my wife and I was dishonest and all these things, you know." He said, Buddhism didn't change his life at all. It was when he became a Christian that he saw these things were wrong, felt they were wrong, felt guilty about doing them. So, you know, for the Lao too it has to be a change in experience, but some of them experience it and some of them didn't.
DIXON: Well, I think [laughs] we've about run out of tape [laughs].
SAWYER: Okay. Okay.
DIXON: That's why I kept watching that, so, and then I'm also at a good breaking point.
END OF TAPE