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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, T5 Interview of Ruth Eileen (Witmer) Cook by Paul Ericksen, October 1, 1985.
COOK: Another funny experience that I remember very well took place in July in Zululand, which is in the middle of winter there. And it gets rather chilly...chilly enough that we wear a winter coat part of the time and...and winter clothes. Now, at Ingwavuma, where the hospital was, there was al...there were also in the village of Ingwamvuma a few white families. There was like the magistrate, the policeman and the postman and the store manager. And on a few occasions, they would invite us to something or, vice versa, we would invite them over to the hospital for some event. On this one occasion, one of the African clarks up at the hospital – that word “clark” is the same way we use “clerk”...
COOK: ...he was the office boy. He answered the phone, and the magistrate’s wife was inviting all of the missionaries to come over to what they call a braai. That’s the same as our cookout or barbeque outside. And it was going to be on such and such an afternoon; it was a Saturday afternoon. And, so he said he would convey the message. So we all got the message and we thought, “That’s fine, it would be nice to do something different.” So, we bundled up because it was rather cold and we were going to be sitting outside. And we had our...our felt schooner shoes or our felt oxfords on and...and winter skirts and our warm coats. And we all piled in one of the vans and drove over. There was about ten...about eight or ten of us. We had no sooner arrived and we realized that we were walking into a wedding reception. And here comes these missionaries really looking like, quote, “missionaries” with their...with their low-heeled shoes and their heavy coats on. And we walk into this back yard, and here it’s all decorated up for a wedding reception. Now, somehow or other, whether they didn’t say it or the clark didn’t get the message right, we don’t know. But we are just so embarrassed, we didn’t know whether to leave or whether to continue. Well, we couldn’t very well escape. So, we go in. They have chairs for us to sit down there. And they start passing the reception...the...the refreshments. And the South Africans are great for lots of little goodies to serve with a cup of tea. They have all sorts of fancy little sandwiches and baby sausage rolls and just everything. Well, they started passing all these little refreshments before they started passing the plates. And we’re sitting in kind of a semi-circle here.
ERICKSEN: [laughs, wheezes, phonates in some way]
COOK: We had napkin, and we had a cup of tea. You always had to have a cup of tea. And they started passing all these little goodies. Well, we were all sort of in a giggly mood because we were feeling so out of place. I mean, we looked so awful compared to everybody dressed in their lovely Sunday clothes. So, somehow or other, my husband and I had gotten separated in the line...in the line, and I had helped myself to one or two of the things that went by, but I just let them go by because I thought, you know, there’s no place to put them. So, when I looked down the row, here was my husband with something in every single finger, waiting for something to put these things on. Well, the reception went on and, lo and behold, our senior doctor, Dr. Taylor and his wife, they come over late, and they likewise thought that they were coming to an outdoor cookout. And they came and they...they had...they went up to the reception line of which we had already been through, and they looked so funny because they had just come out of the hospital, not our hospital but a hospital in Swaziland. They had both had surgery. One of them had their legs bound from a vein ligation, and they were both holding on to each other, limping...[laughs]. And they walk in the reception line next. Well, if ever we felt like the, quote,” traditional missionary image,” that was the day. So, we soon piled in the wagon and laughed ourselves back home. But it was quite a hilarious occasion.
ERICKSEN: You had said at the beginning of the...the interview that...you had felt called to the field and you wanted to marry someone who was going to be working as a missionary. How did you feel when you decided....I guess to move to Cape Town and then to come back to this country [the United States].
COOK: I guess I sort of had mixed feelings because it was really hard to leave Zululand and not go back to it.
ERICKSEN: This was when you went to Cape Town?
COOK: Yeah, this was when we went...went back to Cape Town. I knew that we would have a ministry in Cape Town through the local church there, which we definitely did. However, there was another factor that...that was very important to us, and I guess it...it was part of the Lord's showing us what he wanted us to do at that point in time. Our second son Steven was having a very difficult time in boarding school. We had sent David at five-and-a-half and David had had a half year of kindergarten here in the States before, and Steven did not have that. And we just kind of assumed that what the first one did, the second one automatically did because other missionary kids at five-and-a-half went off to school, that's what Steven should do. And although he knew the children at the home (our children were in...living in a...in a...TEAM's missionary home but they attended public schools), David had done fine and Steven knew who he was living with, he knew the other missionary children. But he emotionally was not ready for that break into the public school away from home, and we did not recognize this. And he struggled for his first few years of school very, very badly. And it's always easier to have hindsight. If we were to do it over again, I would have kept Steven home and tried to teach him myself. I always thought I could have taught somebody else's child but never my own, but I don't feel that way now. And Steven did finally come out of it, but it took him years. When we had him tested psychologically here in the States in '69 before he...we were here for this year of furlough, they said that given time he will eventually catch up with his age group, but it will take a long time. And it took him until he was in high school until he...he caught up, and he had to repeat a year when we were in...in Cape Town. So from that standpoint, we had arrived at the point where we felt that Steven needed to be home for that security and for the extra help that...we just...we felt that we could not ask the matrons at the...or the missionaries in charge of the children's home to spend that much extra time with one child. It's not that they were not willing, but we felt it wasn't right. They just didn't have the time to do that. We felt that was our responsibility. And there were no English-speaking schools near, so the fact that Steven needed the help and the fact that my father-in-law was in poor health at that time...
COOK: ...seemed to be the Lord's direction at that time. Although on the other side, it was hard...a little hard for me to realize that we were not going back into the same type of missionary work, although we did have a tremendous ministry in Cape Town. I ended up having a beautiful ministry in...in women's work in Cape Town, which was not always with white people, sometimes it was with the colored women. So in a way it was an extension of our...of our missionary work.
COOK: But at that point in time we feel that...we felt that it was the right time for our family to be together and we don't have any regrets about those years that...that we did.
ERICKSEN: Anything else looking back you’d do differently?
COOK: Not really...not really. I think we were well prepared for going out to the field, and I feel that my training was adequate. I don’t think that I would change anything there. I maybe would have picked up a few more Bible courses before I went. I had a fair number but I...I maybe would have picked up a few more Bible courses before I went out to the field. But I feel that my training was...was adequate, both at the hospital and at Wheaton. And I think my experience at Wheaton was good because we got to meet so many different...we made friends with so many people of different backgrounds...
COOK: ...that it broadened our...our concepts a lot. And living in Ferris House, we were a mixed group there, we had two black girls living at Ferris House.
ERICKSEN: Which is...Ferris House?
COOK: Was the one...it was the house that’s no longer there. It was torn down...
ERICKSEN: Oh, I see.
COOK: ...for the buildings and grounds in Wheaton.
ERICKSEN: In Wheaton.
COOK: In Wheaton, yeah.
COOK: And that was a good experience. And....so there were just lots of things that were...that I feel helped train me...
COOK: ... for...for the experience overseas. And if the Lord said, “Go back,” I’d be...I’d be ready to go. I’d be packed in twenty-four hours. Or if the Lord said to go any place.... My roots are not down as deep in Fort Wayne now as they used to be. I just don’t think they ever are once you’ve crossed cultures like that. You sort of feel like your roots are on two sides of the ocean. And, in some respects, I feel like I have closer friends in South Africa than I had here. And if the Lord ever showed us that he wanted...you know, to move us to another place of service, we’d be very willing to go. I don’t get attached to homes that easy [laughs].
ERICKSEN: Looking back on...looking at your missionary career, what did you like doing the most?
COOK: I think women’s work. I think I really...women’s work and visiting in their homes, I think I...I enjoyed the most. Well, it’s kinda hard to say. I enjoyed teaching the nurses, too. It’s really hard to say [laughs]. One of the things I enjoyed about teaching the nurses... I brought them down to the house for a cooking class. And that was just lots of fun to teach them some things, like making muffins and things they didn’t do in their homes and....
COOK: Another thing we enjoyed was having the... the nursing...the nurses...the student nurses and the staff in the hospital down for a games evening in our home, and that was a completely...something completely foreign to them.
COOK: They got really good at ping-pong, although they were terribly uncoordinated at first, but they really got good at it. But some of the table games like...well, like a simple game like Sorry. You know that game?
COOK: At first it was hard for them, because in that type of game, you try to send somebody home.
COOK: It was fine if it was one of them, but if it was one of us, they just couldn’t do that.
COOK: They just couldn’t do something like that to...to the doctor’s wife. They got so later on that they.... Then my husband made a Scrabble game in Zulu, which was a big hit with the...the hospital staff. And...just a lot of different relationships like that. I don’t know. I would say it’s...probably an equal thing. My two favorite things were the...the teaching of the nurses and the women’s work...I guess I would say.
ERICKSEN: Okay, well, I don’t have any more questions. Is there anything...
ERICKSEN: ...that you’ve been dying to say...
ERICKSEN: ...that I haven’t asked the right question for?
COOK: I don’t think so. I don’t know what it would be.
ERICKSEN: Okay, well, thank you very much.
COOK: You’re welcome.