to listen to an audio file of this interview (65 minutes)
This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Ruth Eileen (Witmer) Cook (CN 317, 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. Foreign terms which are not commonly used appear in italics. In very few cases words were too unclear to be distinguished. If the transcriber was not completely sure of having gotten what the speaker said, "[?]" was inserted after the word or phrase in question. If the speech was inaudible or indistinguishable, "[unclear]" was inserted. Grunts and verbal hesitations such as "ah" or "um" were usually omitted. The transcribers have not attempted to phonetically replicate English dialects but have instead entered the standard English word the speaker was expressing.
Readers should remember that this is a transcript of spoken English, which 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 transcript by Robert Shuster and Amber Thomas was completed in November 2010.
Collection 317, T3 Interview of Ruth Eileen (Witmer) Cook by Paul Ericksen, October 1, 1985.
ERICKSEN: This is an interview with Ruth Eileen Witmer Cook by Paul Ericksen for the Missionary Sources Collections of Wheaton College. This interview took place at the Cooks’ home in Fort Wayne Indiana on October 1, 1985 at 12:45 pm. Well, Mrs Cook, I’d like to start by having you describe your early years. I believe you were born right here in Fort Wayne, is that right?
ERICKSEN: And what did your parents do?
COOK: At the time I was born, my father was on the faculty at Fort Wayne Bible College and also he was doing a two-year pastorate at First Missionary Church and I was born into their family, a very sound evangelical Christian family, so from the very beginning I knew what it was like to...to have the background of Christian parents, and be taught the Bible and Scripture and so forth. I had...I was preceded by one sister who was five years older than I was.
COOK: So I... I grew up here in Fort Wayne until I... left to go to school.
ERICKSEN: Having grown up in a....a Christian family, do you remember a time when your own spiritual pilgrimage began?
COOK: Yes I do. At the age of six during some special meetings at our church with some evangelist by the name of Reverend Western, I accepted the Lord as my personal Savior. There were a few times in subsequent years when I felt that any time there was an invitation given in the church that I had to accept the Lord all over again, and it was only after the very wise counsel of my father and when he pointed out Scripture verses to me and showed me that I could be assured that Jesus Christ was my Savior. It wasn’t that I...my life had changed from a lot of drastic sinful things but I knew because of my upbringing that a point and time I needed to ask the Lord into my life.
ERICKSEN: How long a period of time did that ....
COOK: Oh, I suppose maybe three, four, five years. But I knew for sure then after my father sat down with me that there was no doubt in my mind. [laughs]
ERICKSEN: Do you have any recollections of the Bible college where you lived?
COOK: Yes, very much. In the early part of my life the Bible College, of course, was much smaller, the student body was much smaller so there was a lot more contact between the faculty families and the...and the students. Like the faculty would take turns in the old dining room and the students had their meals family style and they would take turns with the faculty member there each evening to sort of head up the meal and hold what they call family devotions. Now on Sunday nights the whole family came and because we lived just three block to the campus I spent a lot of time over at...on the campus and Friday night was their missionary program, every Friday evening and it was just.... We never questioned about whether we would stay home, we just always went. And so there were times....And my mother would help with other ladies from the churches when they would go over and help can food in the summer times and in the fall. And we were just there for a lot of activities so I...it was sort of a second home to me. I just...I would spend a lot of time in the dormitories as a young child.
ERICKSEN: Did you get to know the students?
COOK: Very definitely, yes, very definitely. And some of those students are now home from the mission field and retiring themselves. [laughs] And I can remember them as young men and young women when I was just a very...very small girl. And I have lots of fond memories of some of the friendships that I developed even in those...in those young years. So the Bible College is really a very important part of my life and we had a lot of visitors in our home through the Bible College.
ERICKSEN: When...now you...you went to West...to West Suburban [Hospital, in Oak Park, Illinois]?
ERICKSEN: When did you decide that you wanted to be a nurse?
COOK: Actually, at the age of about [pauses] twelve or fourteen, about twelve. I was at a summer camp at Winona Lake [Indiana]. Now this was not the Winona Lake Camp, it was our...our central district of our Missionary Church denomination using their grounds for their summer camp. And through the speakers at that week at camp I felt very strongly that at some point in the time the Lord wanted me to be a missionary nurse. And I remember my counselor during that camp wrote in my Bible after one of the evening sessions (and I had found my...that particular Bible I found years later when I was finishing high school), but she had written in it “May the Lord bless you to serve Him as a missionary nurse.” So that made quite an impact on my life. And at the time when it was time for me to decide where to go, there were several hospitals here in Fort Wayne, but there were no degree programs in the city at that time and my father was quite interested (being in education) that I get a B.S. [Bachelors of Science] degree along with my nursing, and so since there were none in Fort Wayne, we did some investigation and were introduced to the program at Wheaton and West Sub.
ERICKSEN: Now what was the relationship between the two when you were there?
COOK: This was a five-year affiliated program where we went to the hospital for three years and got our R.N. [Registered Nurse], then went to the college and got our B.S. [Bachelor of Science] degree. And this is the program that was just phased out last year.
ERICKSEN: And so when did you move up to the school?
COOK: West Suburban?
COOK: 1953. And...uh, no, it couldn’t have been 1953l it would have been 1950. I finished in 1953 and then at Wheaton in ‘54 and ‘55.
ERICKSEN: Okay. Is there anything that you remember about your time at West Suburban?
COOK: I made some very lasting friendships at West Suburban. About the middle of my time there, I went...I was assigned for my psychiatric affiliation to the Chicago State Hospital and the way rotations were made out I was with an almost completely different group of nurses than I had worked with up to that time. And I had been going to one church all the time since I’d been up there, but when I went to Chicago State I went to Jefferson Park Bible Church because there were a couple of group...girls in the group who had transportation and it was easier to get there. And it was through going to that church and through the girls that I was associating with at that time that I just developed some very lasting friendships, which I have to this day, and the ministry at Jefferson Park Church during that time was very important in my life. When I first went to the Chicago State Hospital, I can remember thinking that when I was put on one of their very...what’s the word I want? One of their critical wards, very disturbed ward, I was exposed to things that I had never heard of and language that I had never heard of and I remember writing home and saying that I feel like I’m standing at the doors of hell - it was just so terrible. And it was through getting to know (in a very intimate way) other Christian girls and we sort of had our own Bible study support group and I think I grew a lot spiritually during that time.
ERICKSEN: Were there other women who were also planning to go to the mission field?
COOK: Yes, there were, uh-huh. We had quite a number in our class who...I don’t know the exact percentage but I’m sure it was well over twelve or fifteen from our class who went to the mission field.
ERICKSEN: Were there any sorts of things that you did to [pauses] ensure that you were prepared for the mission field? That you might not have done if you’d known you were going to be working in a...city hospital in this country?
COOK: I did a lot of reading on missionary biographies and the churches that I was involved in whenever there were missions conferences (which there were in both of the churches that I went) I tried to arrange my time off so that I could be available at that time. I already had contact with quite a few missionaries by mail. I guess growing up in the Missionary Church and being in a home where we had a lot of missionaries visiting, I just knew missions all of my life. And it wasn’t so much a question of “Should I go to the mission field?” It was almost, “I should go to the mission field unless I have a good excuse to stay home.” [chuckles] It was just...because of making that decision or feeling that the Lord wanted me to go to the mission field as nurse, I just always thought that. I...and I was very prepared to go to the mission field single if the Lord so directed. I just sort of...even through high school, I was planning that way. So it wasn’t that I really had very many doubts about not going, that I was just headed that direction.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember having any...any idea of where you’d like to go?
COOK: I had always thought that probably...some part of Africa. Now I’m not sure why I thought that, except that the earliest stories that I remember as a very young child were from a missionary in Africa, in Congo and that might have been then the reason. Although, through high school and nurses training I was very open to any particular part of the world. I never thought too much about the Orient because I thought the language would be too difficult [chuckles] but I was very open to wherever the Lord wanted me to go. I remember, incidentally, the first missionary story that I ever remember hearing was by a lady by the name of Hanna Bracey [?] who was with the Missionary Church Association in Congo. And I remember her telling a story of how one morning she had opened her door and there was a basket with a towel covered up on it on her front doorstep and then inside of it was a newborn baby boy. And I was very, very young and back in those days I didn’t even know, I guess, where children came from. I wanted a baby brother very, very badly and I thought, “If Hannah Bracey [?]could have a brother on her front porch, the Lord could give me a brother on my front porch.” And I prayed for a long, long, long, long time – to myself I never told my parents, and I used to go down and open the door and look out of the window to see if there was a baby boy on the front porch. [laughs]. That was one of the first missionary stories I ever remember.
ERICKSEN: Can you tell me a little bit about the Missionary Church?
COOK: Yes, I don’t have statistics, um...it’s very similar to the Christian [&] Missionary Alliance doctrinally. Years ago it was a spilt off from the Mennonite Church here in Indiana. It started in Indiana and Ohio. It started here in Fort Wayne. In fact the headquarters are here in Fort Wayne, but they have stretched across the states by now and they have for their size denomination they have a large missionary program. I believe we’re in about eighteen countries. And it’s an active mission. The Bible College was its first college (the Bible college here in Fort Wayne) about oh, eight or nine or so years ago they merged with the...I believe it’s the United Missionary Church and they have a lot of...have had a lot of churches in Canada. And so since then they’re a larger denomination and have now have other churches in Canada and there are two or three other colleges. I think there’s two in Canada and there’s Mishawaka in Indiana, they’re all part of the same denomination.
ERICKSEN: What is it that distinguishes it from say, the C&MA?
COOK: Uh. It’s smaller...I don’t think that doctrinally there’s anything that distinguishes it. I know there has been talk about the two merging off and on in their history. I know that there...they have worked very close together in that because the CMA is larger we have had many of our missionaries on loan to the CMA on various fields where we have not started a work. So they have worked very close together in this respect. I don’t know really what...that there is really any difference...really very, very similar.
ERICKSEN: Were you thinking when you went up to Chicago and were thinking about going overseas of going out with the denomination?
COOK: Yes, it was in my mind and actually I was not exposed to a lot of other missionary organizations until I left Fort Wayne and went to Wheaton. I guess I was very denominationalized in my...in my thinking and that was one of the real pluses for me when I went to Wheaton was that I was exposed to so many other different evangelical groups and different denominations. And it also made me [pauses] more aggressively find out why I believed what I believed. And to be able to give a reason for what I...I believed and I think that was a very stretching experience for me. And it was really (excuse me) the first time that I had been exposed to so many different mission boards and it was then when I was at Wheaton that I began to realize that there were other...other missions other than our Missionary Church. And then, of course, later when Ian [Cook, her future husband] and I met we talked more about South Africa, but when we met we were both very much aware that we were both being led to...into missionary service and I had made this sort of a stipulation to someone that I got serious with that the Lord was calling me to the mission field, so I thought they would have to be called too. And when...after we were married and were living in Indianapolis, the church that we attended there was an independent church. It was a very large missions program and working with many different missions societies and organizations. So there again my horizons were really widened when I...it was a good exposure for me. Since then our church here...we support missionaries with other denominations and other groups other than just our...but up until that time, up until I left Fort Wayne, I really did not have a very wide knowledge of other evangelical missions. So probably if I had stayed in Fort Wayne, I probably would have gone out...
COOK: ...under the Missionary Church.
ERICKSEN: What was it like shifting from your nurses training into more liberal arts education that you went to the college to get?
COOK: It was different in some respects in that a couple of the classes in that...a couple of the classes like...for instance a Lit class that I took, where we were...where we needed to interpret the author’s philosophy or his reason (I think it was a course in American novels) and we didn’t know...we didn’t even know the content but we needed to be able to think like he did and be able to philosophize and so forth. This was foreign to me after three years at the hospital. It was a little bit like my husband was saying, I was used to...to memorizing things verbatim. I had a little trouble switching. So I did...I evidently did not have that type of an English course in high school. But I...I had a little difficulty with that but other than that I think the transition was quite...was quite easy. I think I was prepared for the....I think too having some of the profs like Dr. [Russell] Mixter and (what was her first name?) Dr [Jean T.R.] Kleine (she’s now retired). She was our Psychology prof. When they came out from Wheaton to the hospital to teach that kind of helped bring...bridge the gap because we sort of felt like we were, you know, part of the college and we would...we would have a few social things where we...where we combined but, there...there were some adjustments. I know they...they used to always say you could tell the nurses right away n the dining hall because they finished eating before everybody else [laughs]. We were so much the...we were so used to eating in a big hurry and get back on duty [chuckles].
ERICKSEN: Where did you live in Wheaton?
COOK: I lived in a house which is no longer in existence. It’s...it was called Ferris House and it was right down the hill from Blanchard where the...I think the present buildings and ground building held about seventeen or eighteen girls and coach Lee Pfund and his family lived on the ground floor; they were our house parents. [pauses] That was a fun time.
ERICKSEN: You remember anything about the city of Wheaton?
COOK: Well, I remember that ordering pizzas were just coming into vogue about the time we were in city...in.... And it was also...oh, what was the name of that favorite ice cream and hamburger place downtown? Something...is there a “Castle” or something in Wheaton? Oh, I can’t remember.
ERICKSEN: There’s a Brock’s ice cream.
COOK: I don’t know, maybe that was it. There’s a Don and Angie’s Pizza, isn’t there?
COOK: Maybe that’s not there anymore. I do remember the downtown section very well because I worked at the hospital in...in Elgin and I used to go down on Friday nights to take the train to Elgin, so I got very used to walking down and taking the Aurora-Elgin [train]. And Wheaton was such a lovely place to walk in. You could walk in any direction from the campus if you wanted to get off...from...get away from the dorm or from the house and.... I’m trying to think of the name of the church that I attended the first year. It was a very small church and it wasn’t right in Wheaton, it was out in the country. But to me Wheaton was a very restful place to be in. You had access to the big city if you wanted it, but I really had very little desire to go into Chicago while I was at Wheaton. I was very content on the campus and I certainly did not go in very often. I remember lugging my suitcases from the Elevated [train] to the hospital in Chicago when it was very cold, but in Wheaton I don’t have too many remembrances of that. But I...I think of Wheaton as a very quiet area, conducive to study or conducive to walking or just whatever you want to do. Certainly the....I just love the atmosphere at Wheaton, I’d like any reason to go back. There’s just.... I’ve never been in any other place that has the same atmosphere. And even though we were...we went on campus like beginning of our junior year, we never really felt strangers there ‘cause you make friends very quickly and very easily and....
ERICKSEN: Uh-huh. You mentioned that you were working in a hospital up in Elgin, you were doing that while you were doing your studies?
COOK: Right, right.
ERICKSEN: How did that work out?
COOK: Well, it worked out very well. Actually I never could have made it through Wheaton if I couldn’t have worked part time. In fact it really worked out well that I could get my RN before I went on campus because I could earn more that way. I worked Friday night shift and I worked, I think, evenings on Tuesday and I had to discipline myself to use my time wisely when I...the rest of my time to make up for those two evenings. But it...it worked well, I...I was very thankful for the job. And then my senior year, I was (I don’t even know what they call it now) dorm advisor or whatever they call the student....
COOK: RA or something like that down in our house and that paid for my board so...and my room and so between that and working I was able to make ends meet and it worked out really well really. I was sad to leave when it was all over with [chuckles].
ERICKSEN: What...what were your favorite classes? You mentioned this literature class....
COOK: [laughs] That was not a favorite one at all. My favorite classes at Wheaton...some of my favorite ones were some ex... [brief blank spot in recording] in Christian Ed. I remember having some with the [Lois and Mary] LeBar sisters, I found them very useful and the files that I made in those classes I have often used through the years with different age groups and different circumstances. My theology course and any of my Bible courses were just really, really great. It’s hard...it would be hard to pick out...single out ‘cause I just really enjoy.... I think the literature course was the one I didn’t enjoy, but the rest of them I really enjoyed at Wheaton. I wasn’t taking any science courses or anything because I had had all of those before, so it was mainly Bible and Christian Ed. and....
ERICKSEN: Did yo have time for extra-curricular activities?
COOK: Some, not a whole lot because I was working. I did sing in a girls trio that one year, for a...for a while. And [pauses] I...I attended the...the student missions group on campus for part the time when I was not working, one semester when I was not working. [pauses] So right offhand I can’t think of any. I was not in any of the musical societies or lit groups or anything like that. Between studying and working I was kept busy but comfortably busy.
ERICKSEN: What was dating like on Wheaton’s campus?
COOK: I did some dating on campus, I did more dating with the youth group that I was with in Chicago. I...I continued to go to the church in Chicago for quite a while that I had been going to in nurses’ training. So probably, I felt...socially I probably felt more at home there than I perhaps did at Wheaton for a while ‘cause Ian and I didn’t really start dating a little bit in our senior year, but I think he mentioned to you that he was so busy that he really didn’t have much time for social life. But it seemed like at that point in time that dating was more for the minority than the majority back at...at that time. Possibly it appeared that way because we came...we came on the campus in the middle of our...like we were coming into the middle of the junior year so a lot patterns had been...had been set by then. But I would...I would imagine that perhaps half of the nurses that...or maybe a third of the nurses that came on when I did probably ended up marrying somebody from Wheaton that came on campus at that time. We had a lot of fun having...we’d have dorm parties...dorm parties at Ferris House. We’d invite the fellows in and Reverse Day was always fantastic and that was a lot of fun.
ERICKSEN: What’s Reverse Day?
COOK: Oh, they don’t have Reverse Day now?
ERICKSEN: Well, maybe they do but....
COOK: That was when the girls planned the program and you...the whole day was reverse. It started out with the College newspaper coming out...being printed in reverse, you know upside down and backwards and forwards and all day long, all through campus. The girls waited on the fellows. You open the doors, and the fellows would purposely spill their milk or go for a second glass of milk in the cafeteria and you’d wait on them and pull out their chairs and in the evening there was always some sports event like a faculty-student game of some kind and there was some kind of...there was a dinner in the dining hall that night and you would ask a fellow to go on Reverse Day. And back then it was quite a courageous thing for a girl to ask a fellow, now I suppose the reason they’ve done away with it is because [laughs] it’s kind of...the scene’s kind of changed. But back then it took quite a bit of courage to ask...to ask a fellow. And you’d ask them...you’d ask them for the evening and then take them out and treat them to something afterwards. And you usually made some kind of a real interesting or funny corsage for them to wear. Now, I had asked Ian and I remember the invitation I sent to him was through the P.O. [College post office] and I wrote on it, I said, “You...” something about, “You are invited to be my guest....” and so and so and I...I put down several things for him to check like he was going to be busy, or he had to study, or he’d be delighted, or something like that. He didn’t check either one of them, he put another box and said, “Sorry, I can’t go, I have to wash my hair that night.” [laughs]. So anyway, since he was in pre-med, I made him...and since I had access to some things that were medical, I made him a corsage out of...out of tongue blades and gauze and band-aids and pills and all sorts of things [laughs], so this is the type of thing that went on on Reverse Day.
ERICKSEN: So, in other words, his answer was a way of saying yes?
COOK: Right [laughs]. And then we had to go over and pick them up at their house and we doubled with another couple and would make sure that they got back and.... So there were a lot of fun...a lot of things that were fun that we participated in.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember any big pranks on campus?
COOK: I remember when the...the senior bench was stolen, which is the annual affair and I remember how unique it was that our class all was stowed away and managed to sneak off campus for the Senior Sneak. To me that was just phenomenal how we were able to plan that.
ERICKSEN: What’s the Senior Sneak?
COOK: The Senior Sneak is a...is a weekend or a couple of days (it’s usually held at a different place every year), the senior class plans it and they don’t tell anybody when they’re going. And they plan...plan it so secretively and so well planned...so and so far ahead of time that the whole class disappears and nobody knows where they’ve gone to. You know they have to have check points where they go and hide and then they collect again and eventually somewhere way, way far away from campus they end up getting on buses, that...that kind of thing. We went up to a place up in Wisconsin if I’m not mistaken. It was a ranch and it was a fantastic time, but the planning and the fun of getting away, because in our dorm we were eighteen girls and only about half of us were seniors and not quite all the seniors were going so we could not let it be known to anybody in our dorm that we were going. So we had to get our suitcases out, we had to pack our things without letting anybody know. Things had to be taken out in secret in the middle of the night. Oh, it really was a lot of fun [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Do you...did you have any personal contact with Dr. [V. Raymond] Edman [president of the college]?
COOK: Not at any great length, but I remember speaking to him, well, like at receptions. I was never in his office for any reason, but I remember shaking his hand and...or maybe before or after chapel if he happened to be at the door as I was going out. But Dr. Edman made you feel that he knew you even though you had never really talked to him in any great length, you just had that feeling that he...he knew who the students were.
ERICKSEN: How did he do that?
COOK: He..he had a fantastic memory. Now, he knew my father and although I had not spoken to him often he remembered that connection and I think his...his memory of names and of meeting people previously was just phenomenal. It was a real humbling privilege to sit under his ministry in chapel, it really was. And some of the phrases that he used often come to...to my mind even now.
COOK: Like “friend-wife” when he spoke of his wife, he always said “friend-wife.” I can still hear him saying that or some hymns that we sing in church now that have always been connected...have always been Wheaton hymns in my mind. Sometimes I will connect them to Dr. Edman because he was the one that was president at that time when I really learned to appreciate those hymns and...or he would...he would refer to a phrase of...of a well loved hymn. But he had a fantastic memory for remembering occasions when he had met someone even if it was brief. [pauses] Very warm personality. And when he...when he was talking to you in chapel, it wasn’t a lecture type thingl it was almost like a father talking to his family and you took what he said in that...in that vein.
ERICKSEN: Was there any political activity going on on campus?
COOK: [sighs] I don’t remember that there was at that time [pauses]. I’d have to sit and think about that a...a while. It doesn’t come to my mind right now that there...that there was.
ERICKSEN: Okay. [pauses] When did you begin thinking more specifically about South Africa and TEAM [The Evangelical Alliance Mission]?
COOK: After I met Ian. I did not know a whole lot about TEAM until we sort of started talking about it together and I had never really particularly had much connection with South Africa until I met Ian. So it was really after I met him and we started talking about what the Lord would have for us and where to serve him, and....
ERICKSEN: Can you remember what your first impressions of him were?
COOK: Yes, I remember very definitely the very first impression I had. I don’t think he told you but it was my father that actually introduced us. I had gone with my father to pick out this coat for him during a Christmas holiday and when my father saw that Ian was working in this store (this men‘s store) he said, “I’d like you to meet the son of the new professor at the Bible College.” And he introduced us and it didn’t really mean anything to me. [chuckles] And when I got back on the elevator we talked a little bit. I remember saying (Ian had a very very distinct accent then, very distinct)...and I remember saying to my father, “Who did you say that was? I didn’t understand a thing he said.” [laughs] So my first reaction was that I couldn’t understand him [laughs]. But that was...that was before I was in Wheaton. That was the Christmas before the fall that I went to Wheaton.
ERICKSEN: And then how did you meet up again?
COOK: We were in a class together at Wheaton, one of the Bible classes and then we - well neither one of us had our...had our own car, but we shared rides with other people a couple of times, like one time his folks would drive somebody back to Wheaton and I’d ride with them or vice versa, he’d ride with us. And then I guess the fact that we were both from Fort Wayne and we’d see each other on campus and he didn’t know a...a whole lot of people at Wheaton and I didn’t know a whole lot either, but the fact that we were both from Fort Wayne, sometimes if we would see each other in the cafeteria we would sit together or.... You know, “Any news from Fort Wayne?” or that kind of thing. And then it wasn’t really until the end of our senior year that we had a couple of church dates and he did ask me to the Washington Banquet and that was a big thing. And then because he had asked me to the Washington Banquet, I got the courage to ask him to Reverse Day [chuckles]. And then also he did occasionally ride in on the car that I did to the church that I was attending in Chicago. He visited there a few times.
ERICKSEN: Where was he going to church?
COOK: He went...he was going to Wheaton Bible Church, I believe.
ERICKSEN: And then he graduated and you....
COOK: We both graduated in ‘55.
COOK: And then I...that summer I was up at Honey Rock Camp [run by Wheaton College in northern Wisconsin] and he started his graduate work down in Bloomington. And then I went back to Fort Wayne [sighs] and the first year I lived at home and worked at Lutheran Hospital in Fort Wayne and then I went over to the College and taught (I was college nurse) and taught a course in health....
ERICKSEN: The Bible College?
COOK: Yes, college nursing and taught health education and was a dorm supervisor there in one of the girls dorms and that was during our engagement. And then we were married after that and moved to Indianapolis. [pauses] So we had about a year-and-a-half engagement, but we knew that when we got engaged.
ERICKSEN: What was Honey Rock like?
COOK: Oh, it was fantastic. It was...it was a neat experience. I learned a lot because I had not worked with children before, and, of course, it was my first nursing experience out of college, except for what I had done in Elgin. And I found that just a real unique experience. It was neat working with the coaches and the football guys who were up there who were counselors and all. One of the things that I...I learned very early...it took me a few days to learn, it was some of the symptoms of homesickness in children. They were coming with these sore throats and choked up feelings and pain in their chest and I thought they were all coming down with pneumonia [laughs]. And once or twice I had a couple of them come in and bring their sleeping bags (or whatever they had) and sleep in my room ‘cause I was afraid they were going to be contagious. Well, it turned out they were just homesick and feel....
ERICKSEN: How did you find that out?
COOK: I guess it took me a couple of days, realizing they didn’t have any temperatures or anything. And when I had them spend a night with me they seemed to be fine. And I guess it just took me a little while and I guess just talking to Mrs. [Dorothy] Chrouser. She kind of helped me see that too. But I certainly would [wouldn’t?] have recognized it right out for what...right after that. But that was a great summer, I really enjoyed that, taking fishing hooks out of hands and.... [chuckles]
ERICKSEN: When you and Ian were married, then you moved to Indianapolis.
ERICKSEN: What did you do while he was in school?
COOK: I was not...oh, I was working. The first year I worked at the veteran’s hospital at the medical center, and when David our first child was born, instead of going back to work at the hospital, I kept another child or two in our home. I babysat other children so that I didn’t have to leave. I guess I did...let’s see...I worked...no, that’s not right.... I did work after David was born. I continued to work in the hospital then when Stephen was born...after he was born, then I kept other children during Ian’s final year so that I didn’t have to be away from both of them.
ERICKSEN: Can you remember the process you went through of applying to TEAM?
COOK: Yes, we filled out the applications [pauses] and then I just remember that it seemed like a long wait. We had...the applications were quite long and involved and complete, and then there was quite a long wait because they had a lot of references to ask. And not only did they get references from the people we gave them, but they asked each of those to give a couple of references. So there was a lot of...there was a lot of investigation which was very good. I...I felt that TEAM was very thorough in their applying. We had...I...I felt they were very thorough in their...not only in their academics but in their checking of the emotional stability of the missionaries. I thought that the tests that we had were very good. And I don't feel that the period was too long, because it...it gave you, you know, that much longer to really evaluate what you were doing and to become acquainted with the country that you're going to. Of course, Ian was a big help in that. And then climaxing with candidate school, which was great. I feel we were very prepared. By the time we left I felt we were very prepared. I...I cannot say that I was really apprehensive about going at all. I was very confident.
ERICKSEN: Why was candidate school great?
COOK: I think the fellowship with...with all of the other candidates who were going out to various fields.... We had some good...we had good corporate sessions when everybody was together, then we broke up into smaller groups according to countries or to continents. It was not only just classroom instruction but there were fun times. There were times when we socialized and had picnics and played games, and we got to see the leaders of TEAM in...in many different capacities. And [pauses] I think it was a neat experience to have prior to...to going out to the field. And you also...we also got to see some of the needs that the other candidates were facing, and oftentimes that makes you feel that you're...realize that your needs are not nearly as big as you think they are. When we saw some of the [pauses]...the backgrounds that some of the other candidates came from, it...it gave us a greater understanding of...of where they were coming from, and some of the obst...obstacles that they had to overcome.
ERICKSEN: Did you have any cultural training (that seems to be so standard now) getting you ready to cross cultural lines?
COOK: Yes, in candidate school we had some time with a...a missionary from South Africa (they tried to have a representative, you know, from each field there), where we could do a lot of, you know, question and answer dialogue on one-to-one basis. We did not do anything like getting into a different cultural home or anything like that, that I know they do now in some of these internships. I guess I feel that my cultural shock was really not very great, going to that side of the ocean, because I had...a lot of it was not really different than what I had expected, I guess because I had heard so much of...of what missionaries do and...and...and how they live and...and seeing so many different pictures and...and films and things that.... There were a lot of things that were different, I mean, we had to get used to, but I can't say they were a lot of unexpected things. It was more just getting used to doing things different ways and....
ERICKSEN: Did you have any culture shock getting to know Ian?
COOK: Not really, no, uh-uh, I can’t say if I did. Part of that might be, my mother was born in Scotland and although she...she’s lived in this continent [North America] ever since she was a young girl, but there was that little difference in our...similarity in our background, but I.... No, I think had...he’d become pretty Americanized by the time I [laughs]...I met him. And really other than a few different things in...in language and interpretations of words and maybe a few little mannerisms, we’re really no different than the white South Africans. They...they...they, you know, think like we do and act like we do and....so there’s really not that much difference. The greatest cultural shock is coming from South Africa back to the States, that’s where the culture shock comes in.
ERICKSEN: Now you left for the field in ‘64 and came back in ‘60....
COOK: ‘9 .
ERICKSEN: ‘9  And then you went back in ‘70.
ERICKSEN: And then you came back in ‘74 again.
ERICKSEN: Did you have culture shock both times you came home?
COOK: I think so, being...being out of the country for six...six-and-a-half years, there’s a lot...there are a lot of changes that take place in America. And I think some of the things we noticed both times probably both...everything was magnified the second time. But I think the affluency [sic] that we have here in America and the wasteful society that we live in. In Zululand we had to be very careful of our water supply, even though we lived on a mountaintop, water at times was very scarce and we had to learn to conserve it. And to come home and be in someone’s kitchen where they’re just letting the water run while you wash a head of lettuce, a bunch of celery, to us was really something. Or to be able to take a bath with endless ounces of water is really different to what we were.... I think that also there are some spirit...some cultural shock spiritually when you come back to the States. I could see it especially coming back this last time, it’s...although...although we’re in a very growing church, and a very...I would say a very spiritually-minded church. In visiting.... Let me just put churches kind of in a group, in visiting different churches here in the States it seems like people like more to be entertained now than...they’re more interested in being entertained as Christians than really getting into the Word and study (in many cases, now this in not always true). But I can remember my reaction to the first series of, oh, women’s luncheons or special women’s groups that I had gone to. It hit me that it was almost like everyone was trying to outdo the one before in telling the most dramatic story and that if you didn’t have a dramatic story to tell, what you had to say was not worth listening to. Now to me that...that was a big change from when we had left the States and we could...I could sort of sense this in different groups. However, on the other side of the coin we have seen a lot of spiritual growth in our churches here too and it’s.... But I...there...there are just a lot of things that are different when you come back to the States and it’s not just the cost of living or.... But I think people and their attitude change. I feel that overseas we made...in some respects we made almost deeper friendships than we have here. It seems to be that they...the style of life over there is more conducive to making deeper friendships. Here you have lots and lots of friends, but sometimes it’s difficult to really make close...really deep, long-lasting friendships with just a few. You...you’ll more or less have lots of friends but they’re...the friendships to me are not as deep as the ones we had overseas and I think this is often times typical of the American way of life. Just getting used to a society where so many things are used once and thrown away was just really something to get used to.
ERICKSEN: What did you think of deputation?
COOK: I enjoyed deputation. At first it was a little bit hard to think of ourselves as going out and sort of asking for money. And yet that's not what we were doing. We were presenting the Lord's work and in faith we trusted that the Lord would bring in the funds that were needed. I felt that the more churches that we could get into the more advantageous it was to our ministry, because the...the wider your prayer support group, the wider...more widespread it was, the more advantageous it was to our ministry. I felt it was good to...to get into the homes, because as a young girl I remember so often we had missionaries in our home and I felt that it was not only to our advantage, that it was to the advantage of the home that we...we were into. And I feel it's important for children in our Christian homes now to be exposed to missionaries, and not just from the pulpit but to have them in their homes so that they can see they're real people. So I felt that it worked...it worked two ways. And deputation can be a bit hectic...hectic at some times, but I feel it's...I feel it was very positive and very good.
ERICKSEN: Did you notice any changes in churches in America in their attitudes towards missions over the time period when you first...?
COOK: Probably the churches...now we did not have a real wide...we did not have to travel widely for our deputation, it was mainly in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne. And I would say that in the churches that we were involved in that the missions program had increased, had grown in the length of time that we were...we were overseas, which has been a very healthy.... Although I...I see a trend now in our particular church situation: the missionary program is growing and we’re sending out missionaries all the time, but I see that it’s harder to get the newer converts in the church who have not come from any background...who have come from...from a background that has not been acquainted with missions at all. It’s hard to get them interested and involved in that...in the missions program because it’s very foreign to them. I think it’s because we seem to have so many people coming from very different backgrounds into our churches now, it’s hard to educate them in missions - it’s harder than it was some years ago I think. Although we had a larger missionary program than we had before.
ERICKSEN: Do you think people know more about missions?
COOK: I think they should because the material is available to them. I...I feel that (just using our local churches as an example)...I feel that those who do come to our missionary-emphasis weekends and missionary conferences do know more about missions than they did before and a wider variety of missions. I think there’s more dialogue between missionaries and those that are interested in knowing but my concern is that there’s a large percentage of the church that don’t feel the need to get involved in it. But I would say those that are interested certainly know more. I think it’s...they have a wider scope of missions than what they had when I was younger and I think they’re more aware of the...more aware of the problems. I...I tend to think that having missionaries spend sh...shorter terms and more frequent furloughs is better than the older concept of a long term and like five or six years. I feel that’s too long. I think you have lost contact with your...with your supporters in that length of time. I think coming home often is much better for the missionary and for the church.
ERICKSEN: How long did your...how long did it take for your support to come in so that you could leave? I mean...how does TEAM set up its...set up its...?
COOK: We had ours in quite...within a few months after candidate school, we had ours in. I’m not sure what they’re...what their current regulation is. There’s a certain percentage that you have to have before you can actually make your bookings, I don’t know whether it’s eighty percent or whatever before.... And some are taken...will need to take quite a while to do that. Some may be two or three years after candidate school trying to raise their support. I really am not sure what their stipulations are now.
ERICKSEN: But it didn’t take you very long?
COOK: No, we had...we had it raised in less than a year. It was about half a year I think.
ERICKSEN: Do you remember what your first impressions of South Africa were?
COOK: I guess was...I knew that Dur...we arrived in Durban, and I guess I knew that Durban was going to be a modern city. But I was quite surprised to find that it...in reality it really was such a modern city. Of course, it was different going up into Zululand. But I remember one of the things that really struck me. Our youngest boy, John, was just about a...a year, he wasn't walking yet. And we'd come off the ship and I had him in a little white sunsuit. And they have a type of cement on their front verandas in the cities (well, in fact in the country too) that they put either a red or a black dye right into the cement, and then they polish this with a red polish or a black polish. And unbeknownst to me, this polish comes off [laughs]. It's like...almost like shoe polish when you see it in the tin. And we had arrived there and my in-laws, of course, they were in Durban and they had us there with some friends that were there to meet us. And I put Johnny down on the front veranda so he could crawl around and I couldn't believe what I saw [laughs]. He was just black from top to bottom and this is just the way they do with their floors over there, even in the cities.
COOK: I don’t know! This is just...they...on the outside...the outside verandas. Of course, because we were coming, the girl that worked for them had newly polished it. They have a thing over there - the Africans and the coloreds have a thing which you really have not done your housework unless you have put polish on something. You haven’t really done your weekly work and they like to polish the stoop, as they call it, or the veranda. One of the things that struck me in...soon after we were there - the sky seemed so blue in South Africa, bluer than I’ve ever seen them. And I’ve seen more rainbows in South Africa than I’ve ever seen. Cape Town, I suppose, I saw a rainbow two or three times a week sometimes. To me it just seemed (maybe it’s because we knew the ocean or something but it just seemed to me) that God’s creation was just certainly more beautiful there than in some parts of Indiana let’s put it that way. [laughs]
ERICKSEN: How did you get from Durban to your station?
COOK: We went up for a visit with a...a single lady missionary in her little car. She took us up for our first visit. And I remember going about halfway up at the end of the tarred road and there was a little tea room or little store there and she said, "Now this is the last place there'll be to buy anything, or to use any restrooms." She said, "From this on...from here on it's just bundu." So she said, "If you want a drink or if you want to buy something, this is where to do it." So we all got out of the car and stretched and when we got back in the car, she said, "Now it'll be about another six or seven hours or so, and we'll...we'll get there." And it was over a bumpy, dirty road, but it was exciting because it was our first trip up. And then we visited there for about a month and then went back. Somebody took us back to Durban, and then we started buying what furniture we were going to need, and getting a vehicle, and then we went up on our own.
ERICKSEN: So you were in sort of an orientation period?
COOK: Yeah, a little bit, yeah. They just had us go up there and get to know the place. And they want...they thought it would be a good idea for the boys, especially David the eldest one, to get used to the hospital first and his new home there before we took him off to boarding school, because he was ready for school. However, we had stopped at the children's home on our way up to the hospital when we were with this lady, and...so that David could sort of see where he was going to come back to. And he...he was five-and-a-half, and he so fell in love with the children's home and all of his new friends there that he wanted to stay. So we weren't sure what to do and we thought, "Boy, if he's this eager, maybe this is the time to let him stay." So we did. We didn't even have...we only had his...what few clothes we were traveling with, because we hadn't unpacked our drums yet. But we went and bought his uniform for school and we let him stay, and he was just delighted. He fit in real well. And then we went back and spent about a month just in sort of orientation and then went back to the city and got what we were going to be needing and came back up and started language study.
ERICKSEN: How did you find that?
COOK: It was hard. But we had a very good (I thought we had a good) method of learning the language. We had a Zulu lady that worked right with us and there was another...there was my husband and myself and another single missionary, who was new. And she taught all three of us, she would...she would spend a little while with all three of us together and then she separated us and would spend about two hours a day with us individually. I had to learn early on that I couldn’t compete with Ian. This was frustrating at first ‘cause I wanted to keep up with him. But I was the mother and had the responsibility of the children and I knew that it was actually more important that he get the language the quickest. So we all went at our own speed and he was naturally more concentrating on the medical aspect of it and I was picking up on the home aspect of it. But it worked out very well, we had someone there that watched the boys while I was in language study and it worked out very well. This lady was very easy to work with and it wasn’t long before we could make ourselves at least understood. We had four exams that first year and usually we try and do something to celebrate them either you’re taking a little trip or doing something but at the end of our four years we passed the exams that they wanted us to (I mean at the end of the year we passed our four exams) and we certainly didn’t...we certainly hadn’t achieved the language but we were able to make ourselves understood and we could...we could do speaking to the pint where if we were well prepared, I got to the place where I could...I could speak a small amount extemporaneously if I went visiting with another other African lady. In the homes I could...I could speak for short...for short times, but for speaking for women’s meetings and I would have to do it very well prepared and stay pretty close to my notes. But it’s not a real easy language to learn, most languages are not. You have to learn...you don’t really know a language like that until you can learn to think the way they do and that takes a long, long, long time. It can almost take a lifetime to be able to really think in every area the way they do.
ERICKSEN: Can you think of any particular examples of how the thinking is different?
COOK: Well, [pauses] just in some of their little mannerisms. For instance (well, this isn’t so much thinking but this is something that they culturally do different), when we go and visit someone we knock on the door and they invite us in. When you go to a Zulu home, which consists of many little...several little buildings, which are like rooms but they’re...they’re like a kraal. They call it a kraal but it’s several huts in one area with a fence around it. You wait down on the path and you just wait until someone sees you. Now it’s permissible to [clears throat] clear your throat or [coughs] cough and hope that someone will see you. But it would be very rude to go through the gate and go up and knock on the door. And you just wait and if you wait a half hour or forty-five minutes, that’s too bad, but you just wait that long. And then as soon as they see you they’ll come out and greet you and you know and want you to come in.
ERICKSEN: Why would it be rude?
COOK: I don’t know except that’s just the way they...that’s just the way they.... Now there are a lot of things in...Well, this is sort of a funny little thing that happened. They look on...a married woman always has her hair...her head covered. Now we didn’t, but the African women always had their hair covered. And it’s not a sign of modesty but of respect to wear like a kerchief over their head. Now one time we had (or numerous times) we had some boxes of second-hand clothes from America for the Africans. And we’d often go through them to see if there was anything the missionaries needed or could use or anything. Well, this one day a couple of the single missionaries had gotten some boxes and this was always a fun time to go and try on all these things ‘cause sometimes there are really funny things that show up in these...these [laughs] missionary...like wedding dresses and this kind of thing [laughs more]. So we were trying these on and there was a...there was a printed house dress that came in this one box and I said, “You know, I think that’s my size, I think that will do me just fine.” So I took it down to the house and it was a little longer than what I had been wearing but up-country the length of your dress really did not make that much difference we just made sure we did not wear things that were too short. At that time the city length here in this country and overseas were quite short and I would...what I would do...I’d have a set of things that I would wear in the city then I had the things I would wear up-country. So this dress was a little longer than what I was wearing so I didn’t think too much about it, I just put it on and the next day I wore it up to the hospital to go get the mail. And what the African lady (who was the house mother for the nurses was standing, she was just a dear lady, we called Aunty Sitoli [?]) and she was standing by her window in the office and she saw me coming and she just...she waved her hands. She was just so happy and I couldn’t figure out why.