Billy Graham Center


Collection 363 – Ruth Margaret Mellis. T1 Transcript

Click here to listen to an audio file of this interview (60 minutes)

This is a complete and accurate transcript of the tape of the oral history interview of Ruth Margaret Mellis (CN 363, T1) 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 understood 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 was made by Noel Collins Pfeifer and was completed in July 2009.



SHUSTER: This is an interview with Miss Ruth Margaret Mellis by Bob Shuster for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. This interview took place at the Graham Center Archive offices on June 20th, 1987 at 1:30 p.m. Miss Mellis, why don’t we start with your family background...where were you born?

MELLIS: St. Louis, Missouri.

SHUSTER: And....

MELLIS (interrupts): In 1907.

SHUSTER: Was your family an old established St. Louis family or...?

MELLIS: My father’s father came from Scotland and started a used furniture place in St. Louis. He married my grandmother who was a French-Icarian, she had come over with the Icarian colony to Nauvoo, Illinois. But then...the Nauvoo Illinois colony broke up and a lot of them came to St. Louis so he found my grandmother in St. Louis. Mother’s grandparents were all from Germany so, as I tell the Greeks, we’ America, we’re [speaks in Greek], “Russian salad [?]”. [laughs]

SHUSTER: What...was yours a large family?

MELLIS: I was the oldest of four...Sierra and Ethel, both of whom came to Wheaton and Charles also came to Wheaton, Charles Mellis, of Mission Aviation Fellowship and Missionary Internship, my younger brother.

SHUSTER: What was the religious background of your family?

MELLIS: Mother and...I was christened in a Presbyterian church in the city, but when I was five weeks old, we moved into...into what is now a suburb of St. Louis and Dad and Mother’s father were the first elders of a Presbyterian church out there. The Presbyterian church would... sometimes have real Bible teaching and sometimes we had people who didn’t know the score.
[unclear] of Moody Bible Institute was our pastor at one time. Dr. Norman B. Harrison held evangelistic services at our church, at one time. But the man who was pastoring when I became a member of the church, twelve years old, didn’t even ask whether I knew the Lord just because we signed a paper that said, we, at Christmas time, the [unclear], you would give yourself, your service, your substances to the Lord. And, like any twelve year old who had been raised in the church, a number of us wanted to give our selves, our services, our substance. And the pastor said, “So, you want to give yourself to the Lord? How about joining the church then?” Then I joined. That...that was...all really.... I was serious...I mean it was something important to join the church but I wasn’t part of THE church at that time.

SHUSTER: In your family, you had a Bible study or a....a family altar?

MELLIS: That was a battle. I tried to get it going. And Mother wanted to, when I came home from Wheaton, tried hard, but Dad did not want to, so it just didn’t happen.

SHUSTER: [interrupts] So, when you were growing up there wasn’t....

MELLIS: ...there and no, we didn’t have Bible studies, but everybody was very faithful at church all the time. Mother had, I believe, come to the Lord through dear Doctor Bass[?] who had a Bible study in St. Louis when she was a little girl. And, my father knew...probably knew about Jesus but was just...there wasn’t a family altar. And the church was sometimes good and sometimes not so good. But one of the men in our church got [unlcear] and I became a librarian and I read those books and I remember when I was in teacher’s college saying to my cousin, “Something happened when I read those books that I don’t know anything about.” She laughed it off. But I think from then I was concerned. I knew there was something missing but I didn’t know.

SHUSTER: When you were growing up, had you had any interest in missions, in missionaries?

MELLIS: Very much. Because I was raised in the church and we heard about missions all the time. And, yes, I thought I should be a missionary, I...I thought I should be a missionary from the time I was a little girl.

SHUSTER: Why did you think that?

MELLIS: Just because it sounded like what I should do, I guess. [chuckles] Or maybe it just sounded...maybe it sounded sort of exotic, I don’t know if it was that or not. But I remember when I was in...must have been in high school or college, when I went to Christian Daily Union and I remember the name of the missionary, it was Lottie Mae Bush [?] and she was from India, I think, yeah, she was. And her subject was, “What if I don’t care?” But the only other thing I remember besides the title and where she was from was that, “Girls, when you go on the mission field, don’t leave your formals behind, you’ll need them.” And I liked the idea of the formals. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: Meaning...?

MELLIS: Take your formal along because it sounded like a good social life, I think is what... I think is what I was hearing probably. I still didn’t belong...I didn’t belong to the Lord but I had a deep spiritual interest. I did read the Bible. I read the Bible through a number of times before I was saved, or at least before I had the assurance of salvation. If that’s the difference, I don’t know if that’s what it really was but I don’t think...I don’t think I was saved because I was still...that’s why I stayed in Greece all that year. Somebody said to me, if you...I was asked to stay over there at nineteen years of age. This woman he was traveling with said, “Oh, back in the United States, you just serve the Lord sometimes, if you stay over here, you’d be serving Him all the time.” And I thought [tape interrupts].... I thought afterwards, after I really came to know the Lord, I thought, “How dumb! As if geography has anything to do with whether you’re serving the Lord or not.” I...I couldn’t have served Him either there or here if I didn’t belong to Him. And no matter where I was I would have been serving him if...if I was really His. But I stayed there.

SHUSTER: Do you recall hearing any other missionaries speak or…?

MELLIS: Besides, besides Lottie May Bush [?]? Oh yes.

SHUSTER: Did any of them make a particular impression on you?

MELLIS: Um...we heard but...very...not too many in our church. It was a small church for one thing and besides the Presbyterian Church didn’t have too many missionaries coming into it. They actually had different contact with them. But, Dr. Torrey’s son came one time, I remember him. [R. A. Torrey Jr.] And then, well...these aren’t missionaries, I was taken to hear Dr. Torrey himself [R. A. Torrey Sr.] when he was in St. Louis and after, I heard him again. But I’m trying to think whether I just learned of missions through missionary liturgy. [Unclear] I guess, I doubt it’s as a child. But, later, our home was a hotel for missionaries, my father took my brother on this missionary trip to Africa when Charles was in high school and they visited the missionaries who had stayed in our home and the missionaries came from Africa and stayed in our home afterwards. I...we both feel, both Charles and I, I think felt that it had a lot to do with the fact that we both went into missionary service, it was during that period. But that was after we left that church, it was just when I came to Wheaton in 1929, that’s when my family went to Hope Church in St. Louis, Hope Congregational which is really interdenominational. They was previously Congregational.

SHUSTER: Let me...let me ask you, you mentioned you heard R.A. Torrey speak, what do you recall of that, what kind of impressions did he make on you?

MELLIS: It seems to me that he spoke about the love of God. But I was young when I heard him, that’s all I remember.

SHUSTER: You don’t remember what kind of speaker he was?

MELLIS: [interrupts] No, no I don’t.

SHUSTER: ...or anything?

MELLIS: No, I just remember that, he talked about the love of God. But I don’t know that it made any impression on...changed me in any way. It was just...he was a great speaker that I was going to hear and I remembered it when I came here because I had his daughter as a teacher.

SHUSTER: Oh yeah.

MELLIS: His daughter was a teacher [Edith Torrey] and she was the one who helped me very much.

SHUSTER: When you said you were nineteen when your family went to Greece?

MELLIS: The first time when we went to Europe, I was nineteen.

SHUSTER: How did that turn out?

MELLIS: My father was always interested in traveling. The family traveled together quite a bit in all the states. And, of course, since his background was from Scotland and as a child, his father had taken his children back to Scotland and Dad very much wanted to go. Oh, he did. And, but we really went because the exchange of population between Greece and Turkey had taken place by the United the League of Nations, was to have taken place in ‘23, I think. But it actually, most of it took place in disorder between ‘22 and ‘23. And the Turks took the older brothers and the men into the interior and exterminated them and the women and children wandered on to the coast. And the Americans in Turkey, missionaries and people with the embassies and Red Cross, all got together and formed what was called Near East Relief, a philanthropic organization. And they saved 17,000 orphans from Turkey. Some of them, unfortunately, went to the Caucausas, went behind the Iron Curtain but a lot them were brought down to Greece and Greece accepted them along with the Armenians from the Armenian pograms too. And my father had of the representatives from Near East Relief had come to our church, [unclear] church to speak about the need for sponsoring these orphans, sending a certain amount. And mother and dad were supporting some of the orphans. So, when...and then it happened that Mr. Conway [?], the speaker was also a Scot...Scotsman so when Conway [?] and dad got together, they were buddies and he got invited out to our house for dinner with his wife. And they were going to...they were going over to the orphanage so it was decided that we go with this other family that wanted to go over and we'd visit the relatives in the British Isles and go on to Greece and see their work. So, what we did was go to the British Isles. I had just finished teacher's college and my...and Lucille had just finished eighth grade. So, it was our graduation trip really. But we saw very little of Europe except England and Holland and went right there to Trieste and sailed from Trieste to Greece. And while there, they...I was asked what I was going to do and I said “Look for a job, but there are too many teachers in St. Louis.” They said, "Stay here, we need new English teachers at the orphanage in Syros." Ninety miles from Athens was the biggest orphanage of Near East Relief. There were sixteen hundred youngsters there at the time we went. And as we were having dinner and they were talking about the situation and asked me what I was going to do, I said, "How about…how about staying?" And that...when I went home for siesta, that's when this woman said to me, "Oh, in the States you might serve the Lord sometimes, here you’d be serving him all the time." And it really made an impression on me because I was still trying to be saved by what I did, I was trying to be saved by works. And this was going to please the Lord and I knew this was but that was only half the reason...because I liked the kind of the set-up that I saw there, the lovely baby grand piano in the personnel house where I was going to be living and about three hundred wonderful Victrola records. We did not have music in our home because dad did not care for having the piano around and so forth and mom didn't like it.

SHUSTER: You could play piano then?

MELLIS: I could not but I would love to have and I did start to learn over there. And I...and they had these lovely oriental rugs that these people…these personnel had brought from Turkey and they had a fireplace and servants, that was the main thing. And I would have liked to have servants, I had said to my mother sometimes, "Why couldn't we have some help?" She said, "We will do our own work." She could have afforded to do it but she didn' have them, but she didn't want to and I praise the Lord she had us learn how to work instead of having servants. But they were having servants there because the girls needed to be trained as servants. If they went into Greek homes, they became practical slaves. But if they went into British and American and even the French homes, most of these people treated them like servants instead of slaves and so they were trying to prepare the girls.

SHUSTER: The servants were orphans?

MELLIS: They were orphans, yes, who were being trained that when they went out if they didn't find their relatives and if they were not particular...if they weren't the caliber to go on for higher learning, they'd have something that they could do. A lot of the people who...who sponsored orphans wanted to educate them, too. I shouldn't say a lot, but some did, some girls were even sent to the States by their sponsors but the Near East Relief did not send them. It was only if they were sponsor wanted to do it, took on...took on themselves that responsibility. And Dad and Mother had not do that, they had supported a number of them and they were not sending them on for further education until Mr. Hoagland [?] died and he had sent one of the girls to the American College for Girls in Athens and when he died, his sisters took it on and when they could no longer do it, a number of years later, Dad and Mother took over Sophia's education there. But a lot of the kids had no chance for going on for further education so they needed to know...know how to do certain jobs. And I liked that set-up. So it was partly to please the Lord, but largely to please Ruth Mellis.

SHUSTER: How did your family react when you told them you wanted to stay in Athens?

MELLIS: It was was okay for dad and he was willing to foot the bill, I mean, I could stay as a volunteer. But, mother had a hard time deciding to let me there. In those days, nineteen year olds didn't go running around Europe by themselves. However, I don't think she ever could have done it if she had not met the people and she saw the director and his wife and she had confidence in them; they were nice people and she saw all these folks and she particularly liked Mr. Hoagland, he was almost her age, the one that I said had taken on the...this girl. He was training the boys in woodworking and other trades. He was from Rockford [Illinois], the Free Church of Rockford, wonderful Christian. He had gone out as a missionary to Turkey but when all of this took place, and some of the missionaries who came...he was the only one as far as I know, of all the personnel there who really was born again. And it was through his influence that I finally ended up at Wheaton. But, Mother almost had a nervous breakdown on the way home, having left me behind. It was a difficult for her to decide to. And she said, "Just the one year, that's all." But, of course, after the one year, I had to tell her that I had been asked to stay and she said, "Well I wouldn't trust that ocean for anybody but her daughter." But in the meantime, Dad's sister had been wanting to come and so they decide...and they wanted to bring pastor...a pastor that we'd had who really was a man of God, Reverend Hoover. He sent his two kids, Leslie Hoover and Tom Hoover, and he had always.... His lifelong dream had always been to see the Holy Land. And, of course, what we did after Greece was to go to the Holy Land. I had already been there before, ended up in Greece and went through Europe. But, mother said, “I knew you'd never be willing to come home without having been." I'd never seen Paris nor Venice or any of the things that a college student would want to see, Florence, all of these things I thought I was going to see on the way home because they did, I had missed it by staying in Greece. So, she said, "We will come over, we'll take you with us through Europe and then we'll send you back and then you come straight home at the end of two years." Which was what we did.

SHUSTER: What was the orphanage itself like? What are your strongest memories of...?

MELLIS: It was a very wonderful place. It was not under a Christian organization, it was definitely a philanthropic organization. But there were many Christians amongst the nationals. And we...we had the chapel every morning and the man who had charge of the chapel was a Christian man who, actually he worked in Mr. Hoagland's department too and he...I don't know what it was...anyway, one of the trades...but he knew his Bible. He was wonderful and he really really taught those kids and all of us. And then Dave Hoagland saw to it that every child that left the orphanage left with a New Testament in his own language, he gave it to every one. And everybody who was in hospital got New Testaments in his own language. And then he would have his sisters send the papers from the Evangelical Free Church of Rockford...Sunday School papers, and a lot of the kids were learning English you see and he'd give those out. They called him "Papa.” He was everything to them, He fixed...he did everything for them. He fixed their dolls, he made them little places to keep their things in, and he...but spiritually, he ministered to them. And when I went back later to contact these people, I remember up in Macedonia, when I said something.... I...I used...I used Dave as an entrance to give the Gospel so many times. Because I could say to them, "You know why....” They'd say, “Papa was so wonderful” ?" And I’d say, “You know why? Because he was the only one who really knew the Lord because he was saved at that time and that's why there was such a difference between him and the rest of us.” And there was a difference. However, in general, the personnel were fine. They loved the kids, they really did. But when I got to this place in Macedonia and we talked about Papa, she went over to the bureau drawer and pulled out the New Testament. She said, "Here's the one who gave me when I left and my husband’s been reading it." And her husband was very ill at that time. So, the Word was still going on.

SHUSTER: What about the kids? How had their experiences affected them?

MELLIS: Well, they'd been through terrible experiences. I remember some of of the Armenian girls was telling me that she saw her grandfather crucified upside down. Another one whose brother and father, I think, were thrown into a trench and buried alive. Horrible things especially during the Armenian pograms. They...but, the thing that impressed Mother, I think all of us so much, was to hear them sing, [quoting from the hymn, Faith of Our Fathers] "Faith of our fathers living still, in spite of fire, dungeon and sword." Every...I don't remember their being bitter too often, not too many of them seemed to be bitter. Of course, kids are forgiving anyway, the adults could be bitter but not the kids so much. But, they in general loved the orphanage. And I was just re-reading something that one of them wrote and said that the saddest day of her life was the day she left the orphanage, she wept. And they often did. They didn't want to go, it was a real.... They didn't talk about it as the orphanage, they'd talk about this as school, it's like a...a great private school, they way they felt of it. The people who ran it ran that way so that they felt they belonged and they had lovely programs. They had a wonderful choir and the woman who led the choir was a real Christian, dear Kitty [last name unclear] and her grandson is now the pastor of the Third Evangelical church of Greece and I used him as a speaker in one of the unions when I went back. Her grandson, they would listen to him because they loved her so much and they loved. And she taught them all beautiful Christian hymns so that when I take them to visit Protestant churches, though they...there most of them were Greek Orthodox, but I was able to take them to visit Protestant churches and they were able to feel at home because they knew the music.

SHUSTER: What was the range in age of these kids?

MELLIS: From ones they call "babies" and the youngest baby, well at one point, they actually had a baby but that one was not from Turkey, that one came from Athens. The youngest of the ones that actually came from Turkey at the time I went there was probably about five years old. Five years old and the oldest one of the girls was Nanina [?] who was older than I was; she was twenty-one.

SHUSTER: And what was…what group were you teaching?

MELLIS: I think I taught probably about every grade. [Chuckles] Let’s see…the babies…yeah, I think I even…not the real babies…the second babies group, I guess, the preschoolers, five years and six years old, maybe. I think I taught them a few songs in English, things like that. But, [pauses] I know I had third, fourth, fifth, sixth.... I guess I didn’t have seventh and eighth because I think they went downtown. That’s right.

SHUSTER: In Athens?

MELLIS: No, downtown. This was on the island of Siros [also spelled Syros]. We were…we were out from the center of town. Siros was built on two hills, the top of the one hill was the Greek Orthodox church, the top of the other was the Catholic church because the southern islands of Greece, the Catholics have infiltrated quite a bit. So, there was usually a Catholic church as well as Greek Orthodox Church but no Protestant churches at that time. But the orphanage was as much a Protestant church as it could be and yet they had their Greek Orthodox priest and their regular services and they had their Gregorian Armenian services, too. But a lot of the Armenians were Armenian Christians, Protestants and...and born again Christians, many of them. So that from the personnel, the kids were getting some context. This is the thing that has been…I had been able for years as I worked back there, I would invite them to come into the church especially the Second Evangelical church in Athens. And there, they’d find Mrs. Komporpoulou [?] who was their choir leader, they found Ms…(Layton was her name? I forget.) who was one of their house mothers. And they would go to see these people. In fact, just this last time when I…the last…not the last time I was there…in ‘85 (I was back in ’86 also.) In ’85, this one girl wanted to go to Second Church with me, I’m sure she never…she doesn’t darken the doors of a church usually, because she knows a couple people there and she wanted to see them again. But, they go and they hear and the Lord’s word is strong, [chuckles] He’s going to get through to them.

SHUSTER: How many teachers were there at the school?

MELLIS: How many teachers?

SHUSTER: Uh-huh.

MELLIS: I don’t even know how many there were. There was one thousand six hundred kids of course, some of them were preschoolers. But, then there were not only the…not only the…the academic teachers, there were all of the ones that were teaching them the handworks and everything. I mean of nationals, we had a terrific number of nationals there. But American personnel: the director and his wife, the director of the boys’ orphanage, the director of the girls’ orphanage and they had a nurse and myself at that time. They had had before I came, they had somebody who was there for gymnastics. But when I got there they had nationals doing gymnastics, taking care of the gymnastics. Oh, and Mr. Meyer…Mr. Meyer and Mr. Hoagland…Dave Hoagland and Lee Meyer. Lee had charge of the metal work, that sort of thing. Dave had charge of the woodwork and then the shoes and other things like that. And then later, a couple came out, a farmer from Massachusetts who had charge of teaching boys some things about farming.

SHUSTER: What would you say your single strongest memory is?

MELLIS: In the orphanage? Well, the thing that has impressed me most is how the Lord put me there to prepare me with language and culture of the Greeks in order to work with them, build a context with them and then to bring me to Himself. Because I don’t hesitate to say this, I fell head over heels in love with Dave Hoagland who was my mother’s age. He was nineteen years older than I. There was nothing between us, we were good friends, did a lot of walking together, a lot of visiting together in front of the fireplace and that sort of thing. I…I saw to it that we did. But, you know, he was such a wonderful child of God that no many how many wiles I used…to keep him up there longer, by the fireplace longer and I knew which records he liked best and so forth. But, down he went to his room and I didn’t know until later when I came to know the Lord that he was keeping his trust…his trust…his…what should I say? His time with the Lord and he wasn’t going to let somebody steal it from him. And he…he had been told…he had talked a lot apparently to the folks about the Lord. At one time…at one time he was told he was going to have to stop or he couldn’t come back. But…when he went to the States one time….

SHUSTER: Who told him that?

MELLIS: I’m not sure. I just heard that this had happened, he didn’t tell me this. I…I don’t remember who told me but I heard this. And…. But…he lived for the Lord so much and he gave out God’s word and I’m sure that he witnessed when he got opportunities but he had to be careful, how much he could do. Because the man who was in charge of the orphanage was the son of a missionary but he did not know the Lord, I don’t think. And he was…well, I don’t know, the Lord knows whether he ever came to him or not. I prayed for him, I trust the Lord answered prayer. They’re both...they’re all in eternity now I guess unless the nurse might be living. Because I was the youngest one, of course, they were all much older than…considerably older than I.


MELLIS: And I’m now eighty. [laughs]

SHUSTER: Was Dave Hoagland one of the reasons you originally decided to come to the orphanage?

MELLIS: Oh no…no, we just went there to visit and….

SHUSTER: I mean a reason you decided to stay and teach at the orphanage?

MELLIS: Not at all, no, I didn’t even like him when I first met him. Didn’t like him. I changed my mind after…afterwards. No, that had nothing to do with my staying there. It had less to do with my wanting to stay the second year, though. But the way the Lord worked that around…about was this Reverend Hoover, who had longed to visit the Holy Land and could not afford to, Dad brought him along on the trip the second time. And, as usual for visitors when they came in the summer, we went out to the beach at Bari [?] and had a…had a picnic. And normally when we went out there for our evening picnics, Dave and I would walk back together to the orphanage which was I don’t know, two or three miles, something like that. It was always a nice walk and another good chance to visit with him. That night, he walked back with Reverend Hoover and I didn’t like that so well. But I saw that they hit it off, during that time definitely hit it off. Then after the Hoover…after the folks had left and I had gone with them and come back. Dave had a letter from Hoover that he shared with me one time and I mean it, Reverend Hoover said, “I’m so glad that you are living true to the Lord. I think Ruth will be too.” And I didn’t like that. “I think Ruth will too.” That didn’t sit very well with me. Now, since I’ve been saved I think I know why Dave showed me that letter [laughs]. But, I wondered after I had accepted the Lord, why he had never talked to me about the Lord but as I’ve gone on further in the Christian life, I think it was very wise because no doubt, he saw that…that I was head over heels and that it was not the..the best thing in the world, that I would have been all mixed up if I thought I was accepting the Lord when I was accepting what he wanted me to accept. But at any rate, it was because that I saw how he and Hoover hit it off, that when I was back in the States and Reverend Hoover sent his two kids toWheaton and they had died [?] I was decided that’s where he would have wanted me to go because I had…my teacher’s college was only two years at Harris and I wanted to get my degree. And so I didn’t know about Wheaton before when I was at…at Hope Church. By this time…well no, we still hadn’t gone to Hope either, we were just getting a acquainted with Hope at that time because Reverend Hoover couldn’t take the Modernism of the St. Louis Seminary any longer. He was…the Presbyterian church really had become so Modernistic at that point that he gave up his pension and everything to go to the Southern Presbyterian down in Suxton. But, Tom hadn’t finished high school yet, he had a couple months in high school. So Tom stayed with us and he was dating a girl from Hope Church who invited him to go to church with her. He went to Hope Church and he came back and said, “You people have to go….” Here’s this high schooler coming to the family and saying, “You’ve got to go down and hear that man, he’s wonderful”.

SHUSTER: Before we go on to Hope Church, may I ask you something else from your days in Greece? What do you remember about your first contact with Greek culture and Greek life? What kind of initial impression did it make on you?

MELLIS: Of course, the truth of the matter is that I wasn’t being really hit with Greek culture the way people do when they go into Greece because I was in an American orphanage where the Greeks had been somewhat Americanized. These kids were being handled under the supervision of Americans. I remember one thing that everybody used to laugh about though. The boats came down at night…by night, from Athens too…. And you arrived down there in the morning but you left in the evening our island…yeah…to go back in the morning, I think that was true. Anyway, the native personnel, they used to say, would not take a bath before they were leaving, they were afraid of the breezes [laughs], going up. This kind of thing, some…some things like that used to….

SHUSTER: [interrupts] You mean they were afraid of catching pneumonia or…?

MELLIS: Catch…yeah, they didn’t want to catch cold if they took a bath. [chuckles] Which might have been true because they maybe didn’t know how to protect themselves, I don’t know. That was one thing.

SHUSTER: Did you pick up the Greek language while you were there?

MELLIS: I began to pick it up very quickly because I was young and I was with the kids and I spent a lot of time with them. Besides teaching, I’d take them out for hikes and they were teaching me the Greek circle dances. We were…I’d go down and eat with them…that was…visit them at lunch…at their mealtime, not necessarily sit down and eat but.... They’re…they’re very…the Greeks are very generous. They…you come to the door…. They have a wonderful expression, oriste [?]. It…it means…it…if we’re both talking and one cuts in, one will stop and say oriste [?], “you go on” or you come to the door, oriste [?], “come in” or you come to the table, they hold out their plate to you, oriste, “help yourself”. It means just most everything, I…when I first came back, I didn’t know how to get along without oriste [?]. [laughs] But I would go down there and I was supposed to eat…eat some of what they were…something to share with them so that I was very, very close…very close to the kids. I was even closer to them than most of the other ones were because I was closer to their age. In fact, some of them were my age. And I picked up a lot of Greek so that when I was leaving at the end of the two years, I was…I was to speak to them and I said, “Well I’d try it in Greek.” I went over it with the headmistress of the school what I was going to say and she sat in the front row to coach me and I managed to talk to them in Greek that…. But of course, I didn’t have anything very good to tell them because I still didn’t know the Lord. I could have had a lot different…a wonderful opportunity if only I’d had something more to tell them right then. But then I would…when I felt the Lord wanted me to go back…then I…in St. Louis, during the war [World War I], I wrapped bandages with the Greek unit of Red Cross so that I could practice Greek with them and so forth and get in contact with them, too and…. And then, I went to International Institute to see if they could tell me about any Greek that I might get in contact with and there was a blind woman…a woman who was losing her sight who needed someone who could write letters for her and so forth. So they got me in touch with Mrs. Strausner [?]. I wrote her letter and she helped me with Greek and she got me in touch with a Greek Orthodox priest in St. Louis who had come from Istanbul and needed English lessons. So, I gave a Greek Orthodox priest English lessons and I went with the Greek kids after school hours to fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes for a few months four days a week, Monday through Thursday they had classes so that I learned how to read and to…to make the letters at least. I read it and write it but I don’t…I mean I read it and speak it but I don’t write it, I can make notes but I don’t really. You have to know the grammar very well to be able to write it to begin with and I don’t know the grammar well. I just was learning to read and I’ve picked up the speaking. I speak it fluently but not grammatically sometimes because the articles are terrific and I…I mean how are you supposed to know if a chair is masculine or feminine or neuter? It’s not a natural gender, it’s a grammatical gender and so what you pick up, you pick up and [chuckles] sometimes it’s wrong, sometimes it’s right. But they understand me and I understand them.

SHUSTER: When you returned in 1928 to the United States, what were your plans at that time?

MELLIS: I don’t know that I’d already decided I was going to go back to school or not. Dave had just died. We were to come back together; Mother didn’t want me to travel alone. And when she heard that Dave was coming for his sister’s wedding in Rockford, she said, “Why don’t you travel home with Dave?” And that’s just exactly what I wanted. Of course, she didn’t know that I was interested in him or she wouldn’t have suggested it. [laughs] But, I...I let him know that she didn’t want me traveling alone and he said, “Oh, that’d be great.” We were planning…we were going to have to stop out [?] in Northern Europe and so forth, we were going to Venice on my birthday, full moon…I had it all planned beautifully. I was going make him before we got to the States [chuckles], I thought. The Lord had other plans, just before we were to have left, he developed some infection in his back and he was gone in a week’s time. And, this of course, it wasn’t just before we left. We were there a little longer. So.... Other people understood more than I thought they understood, they turned all of his literature over to me and I started taking it to the hospital and staying and so forth, gave him something to do anyway. And...but, I felt everything was over as far as I was concerned, felt that way, and then I was heading...I was heading back to the States and wondering what I was going to do but I wasn’t in any rush to go as long as…. Then I got a telegram from my folks. They had already arranged for a trip to Alaska and they had expected me to be there and here I was not going to be coming now and they said to find somebody else and come on. So, I did find a way of getting there and getting on to Alaska. They had been living in California the last year before I went back. Then we went back to St. Louis and as soon as I got back there, I applied for a job in the district where I had graduated and I got the job so I taught for a year. And in that year I decided….

SHUSTER: [interrupts] In the public schools?

MELLIS: In the public school again . Again? No, beginning, that’s right. [laughs] That was the first time. That was…. And then I decided that I should go back to…back to school and that’s when Tom came…Hoover came and stayed in our house, had us go down and listen to…to Pastor Thornton. And then he graduated and his father sent him to Wheaton and I thought “Well, if I’m going to get my degree, I should go where Reverend Hoover is sending his kids” so I decided on Wheaton. And so when I wrote that letter, I...all I knew is that I joined the church back then in 1919 so I suppose that’s all I knew about being saved still. What it can be I don’t know. I could have been under the influence of Reverend Hoover, Reverend Heineke [?] to have heard Norman B. Harrison, Torrey…not Torrey Johnson….

SHUSTER: R.A. Torrey?

MELLIS: R.A. Torrey, yeah. To hear all these, I even went forward when (what’s his name?) Norman B. Harrison was speaking. I went forward for a re-dedication. Now, whether the Lord was really dealing with me there and maybe I was accepting him. But I had no assurance of salvation. I still was working to be saved, trying to be good enough to be saved. It still was salvation by works as far as I was concerned, just didn’t get through to me until I got here to Wheaton.

SHUSTER: And how did the Lord get through to you at Wheaton?

MELLIS: I was in Mrs. Torrey’s…I was assigned to Mrs. Torrey’s…Miss [Edith]Torrey’s class “Life of Christ”. And I remember so clearly she said this that first day. She said, “If any of you are having difficulty….” Oh, in the meantime, I had thrown overboard a lot of what I believed. I had an uncle who had gone to Y [YMCA] college in Chicago that had done him no good at all. He didn’t believe in…he didn’t believe in Jonah….

SHUSTER: What college did he go to?

MELLIS: Y College.


MELLIS: YMCA College in Chicago. He didn’t believe in Jonah, he didn’t believe in the virgin birth, so forth and so forth. And I had begun cutting everything out of the Bible, too. I didn’t know whether I believed…whether I believed anything you couldn’t prove to me. That’s why I came to Wheaton. And Miss Torrey said, “If any of you are having difficulty with the Bible, intellectual doubts, maybe I can be a help to you because I went through a finishing school where I went through some problems of this sort and possibly I can help you if you…if you have….” She said, “I am convinced that”, I think she said, “ninety nine times out of one hundred, the trouble is not with the head, it’s with the heart. There’s something going on there [?]” And just like that, the Lord laid his finger on one of the things that was wrong. I was jealous of the woman who was at the head of the girls’ orphanage because she was from this area, I forget where.

SHUSTER: Illinois?

MELLIS: Yes, from near Chicago. And Dave Hoagland was from Rockford and he had been at school in Chicago, too, he’d gone to Garrett Institute and still he was a believer. [laughs] And Margaret Konine [?] had been…she’d been around Chicago a lot. She had taught in Chicago area, so they had a lot of things in common that I didn’t have and I really was jealous of all of his time. And I let my jealousy spill over into a number of things and then, besides this I was very fond of the director’s wife and him. I thought they were wonderful and they had built a separate house for themselves. The rest of us personnel lived in the other house and the rest of the personnel were critical of the fact that they would put money into it…into the building of it and a lot of talk went on around our table about them. The agriculture couple lived in another house. I carried tales from our house to the other houses. In other words, I poured…I poured oil on the fire that was already there. And just like that, as Miss Torrey spoke, that’s what the Lord laid his finger on, this…this tongue of mine had been causing more trouble over there than needed to be. And, I…I was not back in her class, I think, at all. My schedule changed and I went to Miss Spaulding’s “Life of Christ”. Later when I had some problems, R.B. Newell, [unclear] came, and was having weekly meetings and I was really having some problems with “the blood, the blood, the blood” that he was talking about. I’d already…I had accepted the Lord, this was some time later because I accepted the Lord under…I can’t even remember what his name was now…. Isn’t that terrible? Our yearbook that year was dedicated to him, too, some people didn’t….

SHUSTER: A faculty member at Wheaton?


SHUSTER: A faculty member at Wheaton?

MELLIS: No, no, he was from outside. And some people felt that he was connected with this other movement. [pauses] I’m not so sure about him. But anyway, the Lord used him to get me…to get me rid of all my theological difficulties. But after that when Newell came and he was stressing “the blood” so much, it was getting on my nerves and I didn’t like it and I went to talk to Miss Torrey. I chose to go to her since she had been the one that had…had…even though she was not my teacher and had only been those few days. And when I went to her, she said, “You know, I saw your face that day and when you didn’t come back, I decided you didn’t like my class, that’s what I said when you went to the other class.” But it wasn’t, it was just that my schedule had to be changed. But at any rate, she was a blessing and so was Miss Spaulding and so was that evangelist that we had that year. He made a point once with everybody to talk for a half an hour but he saw after a half an hour that he wasn’t…he told me later, he said “I wasn’t getting any place, I was too hung up on so many things I didn’t believe that I had to have….”

SHUSTER: Such as?

MELLIS: Jonah, the virgin birth, that sort of thing. And…so, he made an appointment to walk with me after the meeting that night and we walked and walked all over Wheaton. I didn’t actually come to acceptance there but I think after I got back to my room, the Lord really…I saw and I was realizing what he had laid his finger on in Miss Torrey’s class...that I needed…I needed to be saved from sin, not just from hell. Somehow or other, that’s all that had ever got through to me before. Salvation from the penalty of sin, not from the power of it. I needed salvation from the power of sin and, boy, he did because Ruth Mellis never would have written these letters of apology...confession and apology that I did. But I just felt I had to sit down and write to each one of those persons…and they weren’t still all in Greece, they were all scattered around by that time.

SHUSTER: What did you say?

MELLIS: I told them what I had done and that I had been causing further trouble by carrying tales and so forth. The Lord had saved me and showed me that this was not his way for me and he wanted me to live a different kind of a life. So, I just gave them as much testimony as I knew at the time.

SHUSTER: Did you hear back from any of them?

MELLIS: Yes, I did. And they were forgiving, all of them that I heard from were forgiving I think. I’m trying to think if I heard from everybody. But I could tell from their letters that they didn’t believe the same thing I was talking about. That’s why I feel that Dave was the only one who was really born again, possibly Lee Meyer. He…he was from a Mennonite background. I’ve never known whether Lee was, I didn’t know Lee too well, he was very quiet and we did not get so well acquainted and I’ve never been quite sure if he belonged to the Lord. I don’t think he was living for the Lord part of the time he was out there. He was involved in an affair that was not pleasing to the Lord probably but that doesn’t mean he didn’t belong to him. I’ve sometimes felt that maybe he…maybe he was. But Dave was the only who was an out and out Evangelical Christian of those who were there. And the Lord certainly made him a blessing to me because through him and through Reverend Hoover, I landed here where the Lord brought me to Himself and then of course, the first thing I thought of was missionary service. I had thought of it before being saved even and I still had India in my mind from way back. And so I wrote to one of the missions that worked in India....

SHUSTER: Which one?

MELLIS: I’m trying to remember which one. I have that material too by the way all my trials to get to the mission field. I never thought about that being of interest, maybe I should make copies of those because that…there’s some things in that that would a help to someone who’s thinking of going out to field. They didn’t have any need for any single women missionaries at that time. So, since they didn’t, well, then I thought, “Well, this experience in Greece is probably what the Lord wanted then.” It gave me this background of the culture and the language and a lot of context, perhaps He wanted me in Greece. And so the only mission that…the only thing that I knew to do was to write to the American Board which had the mission…that worked in Greece and they had a school up in…they had a school in Athens and they had one in Thessalonica.

SHUSTER: That’s the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions?

MELLIS: Yeah. And of course I didn’t know yet to realize what they were either. I wrote to them and I found out they didn’t…they didn’t even do evangelistic work and so that was out. And, what was the next one? European Christians, I saw they worked in Europe and our pastor, at that time, Pastor Thornton was my pastor…no, I don’t know, I wrote them from Wheat…from here. But my folks had already started to…to Hope Church and Thornton was the pastor and he was on the board. Men and women need to really watch where they let their ministry put on boards [sic] because people do look for that and get involved because their names are there. And because his name was there, I applied. And I went to their…to New York…I never asked [unclear].

[Tape recorder turned off and on]

SHUSTER: What? [static] You were saying about your trip to New York….

MELLIS: To New York, yes. I…I was applying to one mission that I heard worked in Europe. I didn’t know how many worked there. But while I was there at headquarters getting, their getting to know me and I getting to know them…. When I began to hear about the dispute that was going on between a couple of missions, I as a young Christian was sort of floored and wanted to know more and asked to be able to find out the other side of the story and I was taken there and really, it’s a miracle that I wanted to go on in to missions because I just did not know at that point that there could be so much controversy going on. And there were good men and Bible teachers on both sides of the question, people I had heard at Wheaton and they each were on a different side of it. I wondered sometimes that I ever went on and yet I think it’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me because Christians aren’t perfect and missions aren’t perfect and it was just as well to find it out on this side of the water perhaps and also, it helped me to do some further looking into situations. And well, anyway, I discovered that that particular mission wasn’t ready to send somebody to Greece at that point anyway. They would have sent me some place else and I was applying to them only because I thought the Lord wanted me to go to Greece. However, I could have been wrong there because sometimes missionaries are so sure this is the place they’re going and the mission board may know better. But at any rate, I felt the Lord kept me in the States, He knew what He was doing. I wasn’t ready for the mission field, by any means.

SHUSTER: You mentioned about President Buswell too?

MELLIS: Yes, on the way home from New York because I had some contacts through which President Buswell had heard about the situation, he was counseling about it and I learned something, not that I…. I had heard it at Wheaton College before but I think I was more impressed even after I talked with him that our most important decision is accepting the Lord.

SHUSTER: This is what he said?

MELLIS: Right. He didn’t say this but I learned this through him and through Wheaton College. The most important decision is…is accepting the Lord but the next most important is a life mate and if you’re going to be a missionary, the third important thing is which mission you’re going to work under. You have to be very sure that the Lord wants you under that mission and then put yourself under their authority. And if they’re going to send you someplace different than you thought, okay, if the Lord wants you under them. And so, it was a good experience for me, but it was a pretty difficult experience for one so new in the Lord, I was only a couple years old in the Lord.

SHUSTER: Difficult because…?

MELLIS: To find this battling going on between Christian missions. But I should...I should have been a little aware of this because when I was at Wheaton, I was in Mrs. Shapleigh’s Sunday School class. She was our dean of women and nearly everybody in our class was a missionary was a women’s class and we were missionary volunteers. And I can remember she…her saying in her New England broque, [imitates her voice] “Well, dear girls, when you get to the mission field you’ll find the greatest problem will be your dear fellow missionaries.” I’ve often thought, “Well, Mrs. Shapleigh, you’re right, they are one of the biggest....” But the biggest problem is one’s self, whether on the mission field or over here. But they certainly can be, I didn’t have fellow missionaries until I got down to CAM [Central American Mission] International with…Mexico in the last four years of my service. But because I was not in a mission…a regular mission till then…. But I had a lot of contact with real…other missionaries on the field and know what some of the problems were and…and I had plenty of problems when I got to Mexico too. So much so that I didn’t even want to go on a trip when one of the missionaries was going and yet she was a dear and she just broke her neck to help me later on. But I got the wrong attitude toward her. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: You say the greatest problem was missionaries were…is yourself….

MELLIS: Yourself.

SHUSTER: What do you mean by that?

MELLIS: Because you take yourself and all of your…and all of your sinful nature with you and they’ve got to battle that. That’s the important thing, you’ve got to get yourself straightened out with the Lord and if then the straighter you are with the Lord, the less problems you’re going to have with your fellow missionaries, too. Because when you’re having troubles with them, as is, I said when I got to Mexico and the one time, I was so much annoyed because I took a trip with a group then I was so much annoyed with this one missionary I just didn’t have any impatience the way...with what she had done. I just thought, “I’m not going on another trip when she goes along.” After all this was just because I didn’t have patience with the things she wanted to do. And later on, she turned around and she has done so many things for me that the Lord made me ashamed of the way I felt. Fortunately, I didn’t say to her the things I thought. If I had, it would have been still worse. And another time, I thought a missionary was making fun of me on one of these take-offs that they do on teachers and I thought she was making fun of me. Afterwards…so much so that I didn’t even want to see her. And then later on, she nearly floored me when I went back there to visit, and said if I didn’t have a place to stay, their home was always my home. I realized her attitude was not at all what I thought it was. I had a chip on my shoulder and I thought she had it. And so, it certainly can be your “dear fellow missionaries” but it’s yourself that…that can start the problems with the “dear fellow missionaries” and I was...I’ve been very conscious of it.

SHUSTER: Let me ask you a little about your time at Wheaton. Do you have any strong memories of your time here at Wheaton? Something that particularly stands out?

MELLIS: All of it, I just loved it. [chuckles] It was wonderful, just to come to the Lord as a babe in Christ, to have philosophy with Dr. Dow [Dr. Elsie Dow]…Introduction to Philosophy with Dr. Dow, Ethics and Theism with Buswell [J. Oliver Buswell], New and Old Testament Introduction with Buswell. What else did I have? Oh, with Miss…Miss Spaulding [Miss Alice K. Spaulding], I had Life of Christ and Hebrews. Hebrews was Tuesday afternoon and Thursday afternoon, that was my last class and I can remember walking home as on air on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. The…the tying together of the Old and the New Testament, the way…the way she did it, it was…it was just terrific, really. It was just wonderful to have all of that food crammed down you in those first two years of your spiritual life. I loved it and I’ve always recommended Wheaton highly.

SHUSTER: What was Dr. Buswell like as a teacher?

MELLIS: Wonderful, just…. I remember, you know, for somebody who’s just come to the Lord, I thought I was getting and Introduction to New and Old Testament Introduction…New and Old…New Testament and Old Testament. Introduced to them. I didn’t know that Introduction…what it really meant. I didn’t read the catalog apparently. It presupposes that you know what’s there and it’s critical of course. But I didn’t even know the contents of so much of this stuff and here I was with all these fellas who were pre-ministerial students. I really had to do some studying and some growing but it was fascinating and I loved it. But I can remember one of the fellas said, “Scofield says ‘So and so’” and Prexy [President Buswell] said, “But what does the Bible say?” [laughs] And I thought….

SHUSTER: [unclear] doesn’t have any tape on it, we’ll take that one out and then….



Send us a message.
Return to BGC Archives Home Page

Last Revised: 7/27/09
Expiration: indefinite

© 2016 Wheaton College. All rights reserved. This transcript may be reused with the following publication credit: Used by permission of the Billy Graham Center Archives, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.2009