Billy Graham Center


Collection 363 – Ruth Margaret Mellis. T3 Transcript

Click here 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 Margaret Mellis (CN 363, 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 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 September 2009.


SHUSTER: Testing one, two, testing one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. [Tape cuts in and out]. This is a test, this is only a test. If this were a real emergency, you’d be gone by now.

[Tape turns off]

SHUSTER: This is an interview with Ms. Ruth Mellis by Robert Shuster for the Archives of the Billy Graham Center. The interview took place on June 22 at 9:20 am in the offices of the Billy Graham Center. Ms. Mellis, after you graduated from Wheaton in 1931, where did you go next?

MELLIS: I went back to St. Louis and taught in the St. Louis public schools for about fifteen years.

SHUSTER: Did you teach all grades or...?

MELLIS: In that period, I taught primarily...the first part of the time, more than half of the time I was teaching seventh and eighth grade. Then I asked to be transferred closer to home and I wanted third and fourth. And they started me in fourth but they kept moving me up every year till I was teaching sixth when I resigned. So, I have taught most grades.

SHUSTER: And when did you resign?

MELLIS: [pauses] ‘45, I guess.

SHUSTER: And why?

MELLIS: Because I had heard about.... I had been looking to go into the mission field and I thought the Lord was going to let me go. And then I discovered that I...I was...I guess I was asked to do something about Ethiopia. I discovered that there were lots of Greeks in East Africa and oh no, I forgot. The Sudan Interior Mission...our house, after we went to Hope Church, our house became a hotel for missionaries and particularly had a lot of AIM [Africa Inland Mission] and SIMers [Sudan Interior Mission]. And since I was teaching they were always talking to me about teaching because they all needed teachers. And so many missionaries who went to the field wanted to do quote missionary work quote considered teaching missionary kids as missionary work often times and they wanted to go out and teach missionary kids. But, I hadn’t felt led to it until SIM was opening their missionary children’s school in West Africa. And then I decided possibly...since I couldn’t seem to...I had tried all kinds of ways of getting to Greece. I have a list of those I’ll have to send you a count of how many doors I pushed, I think it was nine, before one finally opened. And there.... It just didn’t seem possible and I thought, “well, if I’m not to go to Greece then maybe what the Lord wants for me is to teach missionary kids, I’ve been asked to do it often times.” So, I got in touch with Mr...Dr. Playfair [Guy Playfair, General Director of SIM] who was going to be in Chicago and said if I came up....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] And he was?

MELLIS: He was, at that time, I forget, one of the heads of SIM. And I asked whether I could meet him in Chicago. So I went up to talk to him and when I got up there, he said, “I don’t know what you want to see me about but I’ve got something to propose to you.” And he asked me to go out to teach in Ethiopia and he offered to me to teach. He said, Haile Selassie [Emperor of Ethiopia] has come back and he’s making English the second language”. He had come back from England after the second occupation and was making English the second language and was teach...and was looking for teachers of good moral character and asked SIM to help them find them and they were busy finding Christian teachers. They thought it was a wonderful opportunity and he had heard from other missionaries about...about me who had been at our house and he wanted to know whether I was willing to do it. And I said, “Well, I came up to volunteer to teach your missionary kids over in West Africa.” He said, “Well, we certainly need teachers over there but this is such a wonderful opportunity in Ethiopia that we...we don’t want to lose the opportunity.” So I said, “I’ll pray about it.” And I did pray about it for a length of time. And studied the Lord’s word and recorded pro and con for each one and finally decided what the Lord.... And I found out that there were plenty of Greeks in East Africa, too and....

SHUSTER: How’d you find out?

MELLIS: In fact from him I found out partially and then I...I don’t know, I made inquiries. And so I decided that that was what the Lord wanted me to do. So I signed up in forty...I signed up in ‘45 I guess but it took me till ‘46 to get out there.

SHUSTER: You would be teaching public schools? Where exactly were you going to be teaching?

MELLIS: The Queen’s School for Girls, they assigned me next to the palace.

SHUSTER: Now, what was that?

MELLIS: It was primarily a boarding school for...for girls from all over the country and it was quite the...quite a...what should I say? They were from...poor girls from the mountains some of them and a couple of the kids were form the palace, that lived there. And...they...they were getting all their teach...practically all of their teaching in English. No....

SHUSTER: How were they selected? How were they selected to go to the school? [?]

MELLIS: I’m not sure what the selection was. I didn’t have anything to do with that, I was not in the office. Well, I was in the office, sometimes we had to substitute for the directress. In fact, that’s when I met his majesty. When I was substituting for her one time. But I don’t know how they decided who would go to that particular. But they...there certainly were girls who were from high class families and girls who were from up in the mountain areas, they took in a little bit of everything. And some of them came in as day pupils too, that lived in the area. And I was teaching English, I forget which classes even. Third, fourth, fifth.

SHUSTER: So you were in Addis Abba?

MELLIS: Addis Abba, and the school was right next to the palace.

SHUSTER: When did you travel to Ethiopia?

MELLIS: By boat. And when I went out of course, that was just after the war. It was still under warship in the administration and you could not just go and book a passage. You went when the government put you on a boat and took your chance. So, I went to New York, stayed at Sudan Interior Mission headquarters in New York to wait for notification that we were to sail. And, I was...I had made arrangements in advance. I got the first typewriter that was...that was allowed for civilian purposes because you couldn’t get them for civilian purposes at that time. This was the first one after the war, I went to get it that Thursday morning I think it was. When I....

SHUSTER: At where?

MELLIS: At the headquarters, I forget which kind of a typewriter I bought even but I had to go to headquarters.

SHUSTER: [interrupts] You mean the company?

MELLIS: In New...In New York City. And they were just beginning to release them and I got this and discovered that I was selling the next morning, the next noon I guess it was. Well...but we had to go to the headquarters of the shipping company next morning because I got home too late. They couldn’t get ahold of me; I was shopping. I would have to go the next morning to the shipping company and sign my life away because we were sailing on I don’t know how many kinds of dynamite. And we had to sign that you knew you were. Well, there was a doctor who was going to some place in West Africa, a missionary doctor, who had done that the day before and he was staying at SIM. He said, “I...I know the ropes having been through all of this and I took my luggage down. I’ll be willing to take yours down.” So, he took my luggage for me while I raced, the next morning, to this place and just got there in time to sail at 12 o’clock.

SHUSTER: You were sailing on a freighter or a steamer?

MELLIS: A freighter, yeah. And so I got myself signed on. But the captain assured me that they’d stored the...the fuses separate from the...from the...from the dynamite. But I...I learned this when we went through the Strait of Gibraltar. He was worried, I used to talk with him a lot. He was a little German guy, he had sailed for the American...for the Americans through World War I and World War II. And when we got in...we were getting near Malta, one night we were talking, I could tell he was very worried because there were still mines. If we had struck a mine, everybody...that thing would have been blown to smithereens [chuckles], of course because even though their fuses were stored separate, it wouldn’t make any difference with all the dynamite we had on. It was going to go through the Red Sea and take it around to the...the...Gulf of Hormuz, I think, over in that area anyway. And we were going to have to get off the ship at Port Said. They wouldn’t let us go through...through the Suez.

SHUSTER: Who wouldn’t? The...?

MELLIS: I don’t whether it was the government or the shipping company. But I know we had to trans...ship there or we had to get off and take the train down to the other end of the...and then get another ship down there. I took another ship then on to Ethiopia from there. But that was a...that was a wonderful exp...that was great because for one thing, I had all these let’s see, yeah a lot of the ex-orphans were in Egypt. And so I went up to Cairo and visited some of these ex-orphans that had been in Greece...from Greece.

SHUSTER: [interrupts] These ex-orphans were from Greece?

MELLIS: Yeah, I went up and visited them first.

SHUSTER: Did they remember you?

MELLIS: Oh yes, I was in correspondence with them and well, in fact that was, that was the time, yeah. That was when I was warned against going to Russia because the boat had come from Russia to take these...the Armenians were going to be taken back to Armenia if they wanted to free, Russia had sent boats down. One was sailing from Alexandria, they were having a reunion in Cairo, the night I was in Cairo. And so, of course, they took me out to the reunion. They were going the next morning down to Alexandria to sail for Russia back to Armenia. And I was talking to some of them and I said, “But why are you go...?” And they’d say, “Well, we’re not Communist.” But one of them said, “We’ve never see any good days. Maybe our kids will see something better, we’ll take a chance.” It’s Armenia.

SHUSTER: These were the orphans, you said?

MELLIS: [interrupts] These were the Greek...the Armenian orphans that were down there, yeah. The Armenian orphans who were grown up now, and who had come out in the ‘20s, you see. Well, the Armenians had come out in the 1915 a lot of them came pilgrims in 1914. And so they were going back to...they were going to go back there. “We just hope our kids will have a better life...a better life than we will.” And so, some of them were going. Well, I talked with Kohari [?] that I had known very well and had a correspondence with. And she said, “We’re going on the next ship.” They were sending another ship a little later. When I came back through there, I don’t remember when that was. Next time I came on a ship that was stopping in Alexandria, a few.... Oh, when I went out in ‘51, when I went to Greece. I...yes...we called it Alexandria and so I went up to Cairo and I asked how Kohari [?] was doing.

SHUSTER: You asked who?

MELLIS: The other Armenian girls that I visited. How Kohari [?] was doing in Russia. “Oh, she’s here.” “She’s here, she didn’t go? She told me she was going.” The first crowd that went, we arranged with them that if things were fine, they’d...all the pictures they’d send they’d be standing up and if things weren’t very nice, they’d be standing. She said, “We haven’t had a picture where they weren’t lying down.” So, Kohari [?] didn’t go and a lot of the others that were going to go on the second ship didn’t go. As...yes? [in response to what sounded like Shuster interjecting]

SHUSTER: When you arrived in Ethiopia, what were you first impressions?

MELLIS: My first impression was on the train going up from the fort the little train that takes you up from the...what’s the...Djibouti to Addis. I met some Ethiopians and they had their...these baskets they which they carried the tortilla-like bread, injera; they carried along with them for their lunch on the train. And then they had the wat [also spelled wot] which was the other kind of whatever food they were going to eat with it because they don’t use a knife and a fork, they just break off a piece like Judas was to break off a morsel [John 13:26-27] and then envelop the food with it. Red hot, red, red with red pepper. It might be meat, it might be potatoes, beans or it might be a combination of various things, any kind but it was hot. And of course, for traveling it was not very juicy and just broke it off. They were telling me about the bread, the injera and so they gave me a piece of injera to eat. It was horrible, I thought. Then they gave it to me though, with the...with the wat...with the other food and it was delicious.

SHUSTER: Hmmm....

MELLIS: It’’s made out of barley and it’s kind of a sour-ish barley tortilla or not a tortilla. It was by itself, I thought it was horrible but with the combination of the food, it was delicious. And I loved Ethiopian food, I’d like to have some right now. [chuckles]

SHUSTER: How is would you describe it?

MELLIS: Very hot and well, everything. Well, no, no, they had another kind of idgy [?] too that was served yellow and I didn’t find it as delicious. I liked it with the red pepper.

SHUSTER: [unclear]

MELLIS: No, I mean with their food, they put this flavoring which had the color and it was not curry. If it had been curry, I would have been crazy about it. But it was okay, but I mean I didn’t...I preferred the red. You were likely...could be served one or the other or maybe a course of one and the other and then a lot of fruit of course. Italian apples, they had. I don’t know what they’re called really, they called them “Italian apples”, I’ve never seen them any place else.
SHUSTER: What were some of your other impressions of the country?

MELLIS: It was beautiful mountains, of course, in Ethiopia. I very soon learned the words eshi nada [?]...”okay, tomorrow”. Everything will be...[unclear] One of the things that drove...drove us bats, even as foreign teachers there, you could not if you wanted to leave Addis Abba, you had to sign out, get a permit to sign out and when you went for a permit, you never got it when you went for it. There just wasn’t such a thing as getting it that day, “Okay, come back tomorrow.” annoyed me very much but later I thought I should not have been annoyed. When you realize it, the Italians had killed most of the educated people. His Majesty, [Haile Selassie] went back there and fortunately, he had been wise enough to take some people with him. So, he went back with a few people who were educated and capable to begin with. But, when you have to build up...send people to all the embassies and all the consulates all over the world, have your ministers of education and your minister of everything, where was his supply of educated people so that the fellow that was writing out your...wordicut [?]...your paper, didn’t know very well even how to write and didn’t want to do it in front of us probably. That’s one of the reasons we waited till “tomorrow” sometimes, I think. They would have been embarrassed to have us see how hard it was for them to do it, just the ordinary worker in place. They really were functioning at a a was a great disability in those first years because they definitely had.... They had done horrible things.

SHUSTER: The Ethiopians had?

MELLIS: No, the Italians had done horrible things to the Ethiopians. I guess I can be this specific even on this tape.


MELLIS: Two of the Christian fellows we knew had had their penises cut off so that they could.... They were educated, so that these people who had some background and who might produce somebody else who might help the country were being incapacitated for...for doing it and so many of them had been killed. Ado Gotriod [?] who lived in the same apartment building I did is one who had been educated by the Swedish missions people. He had hidden out in the hills all during the Italian occupation. That’s the only reason he was there to work in the ministry of education. It was a terrible time, that Italian occupation.

SHUSTER: They castrated them...why did they castrate them? Because they were Christians or...?

MELLIS: I think. No, I don’t think so. As I said, no procreation of the leaders so they would not be able to take back the place from Italy. At least that seemed to be the thing they were doing. Because they were getting rid of the other people who were capable of being leaders...of leadership.

SHUSTER: Did you see any other signs of the war in Ethiopia [unclear]?

MELLIS: Probably there were plenty, I don’t.... Those were the things I remember because I knew these people and knew what they had been through. I mean the ones who were trying to hide from them.

SHUSTER: Had there been much destruction that you were aware of [?]?

MELLIS: Destruction of...?

SHUSTER: Property.

MELLIS: No, the Italians...I was living in an apartment building that had been built by the Italians, for instance. They had...because they came in force and built things for them to use and so forth. So, they...there were things that they had built up actually to make it more livable for themselves. No, I think from that standpoint I don’t think that they had tried to destroy because their idea was to come in to take over. They didn’t expect to be...that they would throw them out.

SHUSTER: [interrupts] I meant that there was combat or [unclear]?

MELLIS: Oh, that...that I don’t remember fact, I don’t know how much resistance there had been Ethiopia on that score.

SHUSTER: Did you spend most of your time in Addis Abba?

MELLIS: Yes, what I was going to tell you about the minister of education. He was a man who had been trained in the silk industry in France and we had to work under him. That was one of the hardest things to do when you knew something about education, you have some training and some experience, and to have orders sent out to you by someone who didn’t know beans about education was was really difficult. But, they...I’ve understood that this is the problem of missionaries...young missionaries on the field sometimes. Somebody who...a specialist who has good training is under somebody who has had much more experience in the country but hasn’t had training in that and I thought, “That’s good experience” and that sort of thing. I didn’t have to do that; it didn’t happen for me, but it would’ve been a good experience for a missionary.
SHUSTER: Can you think of some examples of a difficult issue you had? What were some of the order...?

MELLIS: [interrupts] I’m trying to remember what it was. I remember saying “I’m not going to do that, it’s crazy, it’s just there’s no sense in it. I’m not going to do it.” And at this point, the Ethiopian, I mean we had had a wonderful head mistress from Sweden. She was not there and had brought in a man who had been a missionary in China, an American, but he really was not up to this particular job. He had been a missionary and he had China...experience in China but he had a hard time. In fact, I even took over for him one night because he couldn’t arrange the programs and so forth and I didn’t want to see him fail and I had been there longer and knew something about them. But he was in charge at that point and I said, “I’m not going to do it.” He said, “You always say that but you’ll do it”. And you did, you knew you had to. The order had come out and you did it but I can’t remember what it was. I just know that it was crazy, that’s just wasn’t a sensible thing to do.

SHUSTER: What...was there a Christian community in Addis Abba?

MELLIS: Oh yes.

SHUSTER: What was that like?

MELLIS: SIM’s headquarters. It was wonderful. And then there was a BCM...BCF?

SHUSTER: What would BCS be?

MELLIS: British...Oh, tralalalala...BCS...British Christian., there were two of them in the, the very good one was there. They were wonderful, from the Low Church...the evangelicals from the Low Church of England. They were a wonderful organization. And then the Americans which was a very good one too. And we had combined services.

SHUSTER: Do you remember the name of the American mission?

MELLIS: Yeah, I think the...what was the name...? It was called the American Mission and the three had good fellowship and every Sunday evening we had...they rotated different ones leading and we used the Swedish Mission Church. And then there were a lot of Swe...the Swedes who were there, a good many of them teaching in the Ethiopian schools. They had also been recruited by the Swedish mission, you see, and a lot of them were wonderful Christians, too. So, we had good fellowship, good Christian fellowship.

SHUSTER: And this was mainly of Westerners?

MELLIS: Well, English-speaking. Not always...not only Westerners if there were other English-speaking people, too. I used this group very much to reach the Greeks who were there in East Africa. I would invite some of the Christians along with the Greeks to my home to bring them in contact with one another. And some of the Americans who were not Christians who were out there...because there were some. I would have them also with my American missionary friends.

SHUSTER: What kinds of response did you get from this group [?]?

MELLIS: This one one Greek daughter in the Lord, Marika started reading Bible with me....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] You met her in Ethiopia?

MELLIS: Yes and....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] Was she also a teacher?

MELLIS: No, her...her husband was a builder for the Ethiopian government. A real...a materialist of a materialist. One time later, back in Athens, I said, “Costa [?], do you ever think about the future?” “No, when I’m dead I’ll be four feet under and that’s it.” One time in Addis Abba, (I was in their home very much) he...he was always kidding me, “What’s the greatest job in life?” I said, “Know God’s will and do it.” “Oh no, you’re wrong. To lie with a beautiful woman.” And this...this was his philosophy, this sort of thing. But I believed Costa’s [?] secure with the Lord. Finally, the end, here in Texas, came to the Lord. His wife, twenty years after we started reading the Bible together, came to the Lord Canada. I visited her up in Canada....when, in the period I was working overseas, I would get these...the Greyhound buses, you know, the pass where you could go every place. Then I could visit any of them when I needed to and I could...I sometimes even took trips down...I remember I went down to the East Coast one time, got off in different towns, asked where there was a Greek restaurant, I’d go to the Greek restaurant and ask would they have any lost persons. Because I...what I was doing was searching...the way I was working was to search for lost persons from the...from the time when they came out of Greece. That gave me the reason to go in and talk to them and I could give them tracts and witness to them, get to make contacts.

SHUSTER: What were your students like at the Ethiopian school?

MELLIS: They were good students in general. And they were...most of them were eager to learn English, they wanted to learn English. My most precious one was Gunneth [?], who came to the Lord after we had a...we had an accident when we were taking somebody...the teachers were taking someone out to the airport. We had this accident, my leg was injured slightly but....

SHUSTER: A car accident?

MELLIS: It was a car accident, yeah. And, when I was to...talking with her one Sunday after that, it was when I was on duty and parents were visiting. And she...later she said that this is when she came to the Lord. She said she came up and asked me. She was in the study hall, of course. And she came up and asked me a question. She said, “I didn’t need to know that, I came up because I wanted to talk to you.” And she...afterwards I found this out, and I said...she asked about the injury. And I said, “Well, it was a miracle that we weren’t killed but if we had been, we’d be with the Lord rejoicing.” She said she’d never heard (she’s a Coptic Christian) she’d never heard of anybody having assurance of salvation, being with the Lord. And this was when, of course, she’d been in my Bible Study, read along, but this...the assurance of being with the Lord was the thing that made her finally decide to accept Him. And she has been wonderful, she’s working in Sweden. Her husband became the head of the Swedish Mission Church and he went to get his doctorate in Sweden and then the Communists took over so they haven’t been able to go back so they work in Sweden. But there are lots of good work in Sweden but there are lots of Ethiopians in Sweden. But she not only works there, she’s been down South and I’ve gone over here and she came over here to school, too.

SHUSTER: What was the government policy towards Christianity?

MELLIS: Haile Selassie [Ethiopian emperor] was wonderful. When Dr. Barnhouse [Dr. Donald G. Barnhouse] came over, he had a conference with him.

SHUSTER: When was that, when he came over?

MELLIS: During that period? Well, I went in ‘46 and I came home in ‘49. I would say Barnhouse was there either...I think he was there in ‘47 probably and Dr. Edman ‘48. Because both of them had conferences with them and they, one was the other one and one the other. And, I remember what came out of these two conferences was that he read God’s Word everyday.

SHUSTER: Haile Selassie?

MELLIS: Haile Selassie. He was trusting the blood of Christ alone for his salvation. Though he was a Coptic Christian. And he had brought, of course.... The Egyptians are Coptics and their headquarters for teaching the Coptics was down there. But, Ethiopia had a Coptics school and he brought up from...from Egypt an evangelical Copt...a Coptic who was a born again man. Kaleel [?] was his name. And we had real...real Christian teachers fellowship. I started having them come...coming to my house in the beginning. Then we began going other places and...and...and Marguerite Kaleel [?], the daughter of this man was in our fellowship, a real wonderful fellowship we had. There were some Indians, Christian Indians that were teaching there. And this...Marguerite...well, there were a couple Egyptian Christians, there were some Mennonite Christians from the States and of course, some...well...the SIMers had taught in the government schools. But when they brought all these others in, SIMers were able to go back to their other work. So, they weren’t usually in our Christian teachers fellowship. Canadians, too.

SHUSTER: Were there any limits placed on your ability to witness to Ethiopians?

MELLIS: Not outside the school. In the school, you didn’t do it in class period. But I was allowed to have a...I had a Bible class for the girls after school hours. It was a voluntary class and all...there were so many, many live-ins and Gunneth [?] was one of those. And that’s why she was in my...she had been in my class, my Bible class for quite some time. This was just before I came home that we had the accident. And she had been there. But before that, one of the SIMers who had been teaching there had a Bible study also, in the school. And Haile Selassie gave permission for the folks to give...they gave Gospels or New Testaments to all of the....

SHUSTER: You say “the folks”, do you mean the SIM people?

MELLIS: And I.... I would think it’s the SIMers who did it. To all of the fellows out at the secondary school, which was the highest school of that time they didn’t yet have the university. They were heading toward the university. But the sad thing was that they didn’t have a university so they had to send their kids to university. And they unfortunately had to send a bunch of them to the Soviet Union, any place that took them. Some went to England, some to America, some...a lot of them to Beirut University and a quite a few of them to the Soviet Union. And they surely messed the thing up afterwards [laughs], when they came back to.... These very kids who would have been herding sheep out on the hillsides and had got an education because Haile Selassie was determined his people were going to get an education. I remember when I went there they would be sitting outside the ministry of education shouting, “We want school! We want school!” And he was opening schools as fast as he could get teachers for them.

SHUSTER: Who would be shouting?

MELLIS: These kids that came in from the mountains. “We want school! We want school!” Well, they were opening school as fast as they could open ones...get the...after all, the Italians had killed most of their educated people. They needed a good many of them for government positions and so forth and they were bringing in these outside people and as fast as they could get us, they were opening school after school. And taking in as many kids as they could. He was trying his dead level best to get an educated society there. But, they didn’t have college yet and so their kids had to go someplace else to school and they’d send them wherever they could. And, later, you remember maybe when Haile Selassie was visiting Latin America or someplace when they got his son on...on...on the radio denouncing him and saying he didn’t need to come back and that they were taking over. Who was it but these kids that had got their education because he sent them off to universities to get it. And then they criticized him for having money in Switzerland. Well, of course he needed money in Switzerland. Did any of these colleges, was Beirut University going to accept Ethiopian dollars? If he didn’t have some, have usable international cash in the Swiss banks, how could he have paid for them? Their own...their own education was paid for by that. Haile Selassie wasn’t...he was a real worker, he wasn’t just sitting around and ...”He just wasn’t doing more.” He just wasn’t wasting the money. He really worked.

SHUSTER: When you were in Ethiopia, were you aware of any opposition to the government?

MELLIS: I....We knew there...there was something underfoot. There was this man who was dashing all over the place, claiming to be an American. But the American embassy... we found out from the American embassy, didn’t have an American passport. He was claiming to have an American passport. He also had a Russian one.

SHUSTER: [interrupts] Do you recall who that was?


SHUSTER: Do you recall who that was?

MELLIS: Pardon?

SHUSTER: Do you recall who that was?

MELLIS: No, I don’t know what his name was. But he was supposedly there to set up a...a dry cleaning business. And the story was that the dry cleaning equipment was coming from America and the ship had gone down; he was waiting for the other one to come. He was really busy sowing the seeds of discord. And in the center of town, I was very much aware of this and very uneasy about it...they had a wonderful Russian exhibit, right in the very center of town. How wonderful Russia was. And the other thing was that the hospital that had been started by His Majesty’s daughter, who died after she came back from England, was taken over by a whole batch of Russians, supposedly doctors and nurses. But somebody who went there to be treated said they were doubtful whether they were really genuine doctors and nurses or not. They...they came with their kids who were high school age who had learned the Ethiopian language, they knew Amharic. And they were out there at the secondary school with these future leaders of Ethiopia helping to sow the seeds of Communism, right then. And we were all conscious that this was dangerous.

SHUSTER: You say “we”, who do you mean?

MELLIS: The...the Christian community, we’d talk about it sometimes. I...I was as close to a member of the Sudan Interior Mission as one can be without being with the mission. I was there almost all the time. Stayed with them...well, in the very beginning I was sent to the hotel until they could find an apartment for me. But, and then...I think I didn’t have to stay at the hotel the whole time. I went over to SIM, stayed there for awhile. A Mr. Beacham and Mrs. Beacham were like brother and sister to me, he was in charge there. In fact, he made me at home as soon as he arrived. And when they were leaving from that field, I was the only outsider who was invited to the farewell party. I was very much...very very close to the SIMs.

SHUSTER: Did you go to any Coptic services or have involvement with the Coptic church in Ethiopia?

MELLIS: I don’t remember having gone to a Coptic service, no. I don’t think I did. Went to plenty of Greek Orthodox ones and Armenian ones in my lifetime. But I don’t ever remember that I went to a Coptic church. In fact, I don’t think I had much time to because well, it was a very busy life. We had to...we had to take the place of the housemother, the teachers, every so often. We’d have to stay the night at the orphanage...not the orphanage, at the school. We’d have to stay at the school sometimes. And then I was trying to work amongst the Greeks of East Africa as much as I could. What else? And then there was Christian Teachers Fellowship that I was interested in. And...and SIM...a lot of things involved with SIM too. So I was very much occupied and I don’t think I ever went to a Coptic church. Once we went to the Swedish Mission Church, where we had our evening services.

SHUSTER: Were you aware of any [unclear]?

MELLIS: I don’t think there was, no. They had....

SHUSTER: Did you ever travel around the rest of the country?

MELLIS: Yes, I did. My very good friends were down in the southern part of the country.

SHUSTER: Who were they?

MELLIS: Agricultural section. Dr. and Mrs. Homer Wilson, Homer and Miriam Wilson were there. And I’ve forgotten the name of the other gal that was with them. And I took an unsaved American friend of mine. She was out there to organize the libraries of Ethiopia. I took her down with me, I was working hard for her salvation, bring her in contact with the right people and so forth. We started out on salt trucks as far as we could go. They took salt trucks. Then when we got down to this little town, we were going to have to go in the rest of the way on mules. We took two...two servants with us, one to take care of the stuff and another one to the cook the fix the meals on route. And, the one who was taking care of the stuff was supposed to be our guide too and he got off the track and we did not get to Sodo where we were headed, it was Sodo we were headed for. We didn’t get there that night. We landed in a little town and it was going to take us another half day almost to get there because we were in the wrong place. We went into this little church that was around this grass hut thing. These people...these elders who were entertaining us, a couple years before would have eaten us. They were actually cannibals before, but they had been saved and they had this little church.

SHUSTER: How had they been saved?

MELLIS: Through Sudan Interior Missions. One...the two boys who were with us were not Christians, they were Coptics. One of them was Coptic, the other might have been Muslim, I don’t remember. But, at any rate, in this church, the elders were...there was in the center, there was a little fire where they could roast the wheat and so forth. And they were sitting around this, we had gone down at Christmas time, for the holidays. And one of them came to me and I had learned a little bit of Amharic and I was using some broken Italian. They used broken Italian. And so we communicated and he was letting me know where they were going to read...where they were going to read from Bible, they were going to have their devotions and we should open our Bibles. Well, Virginia didn’t have a Bible of course so she had to look on mine since they were directing us to. So she had to join in devotions, we had our devotions. And I wondered if they were ever going to leave and they were wondering if we were ever going to bed. They had laid out a couple of grass mats. Finally, they said something about going to bed and then we realized they weren’t going to leave. We thought our servants were going to be our protection but they didn’t think that was sufficient, they were staying. So, instead of getting ready for bed, we just laid down on those mats. Poor Virginia, the mats were occupied before we got on them. [laughs]

SHUSTER: You mean by bed bugs.

MELLIS: And she was just scratching, scratching, scratching. Oh, it was...they weren’t interested in me as much as in her, she was the one that suffered terribly. But we had a little bit of...I don’t remember. Oh, they gave us cracked wheat and their coffee with salt in it. They put salt in it instead of sugar. Well, Virginia couldn’t take it. I...I downed it because I knew I had to. She managed to get toward the door and dumped her coffee out, she wouldn’t drink it. She wasn’t a Christian.

SHUSTER: Were you saying you drank it because you had to?

MELLIS: Well, just [chuckles], when you’re out in the mission field, you do a lot of things because it’s expected of you. For your testimony’s sake, you’ve got to do a lot of things. I’ve done things that I...I wouldn’t done at home because there’s no need to. But I felt I must or I would’ve insulted them. She didn’t want to insult them either but she poured it out. But believe me, they knew it I’m sure. You know, their way was very much.... The Easterners are usually good psychologists, better than Americans are. In fact, the word had gone ahead to the Wilsons that a Christian was coming to visit them with a non-Christian. They had got word through the grapevine. So, they had already...they had...they had sized us up. But, the next morning when we got up, I think I pulled out, I think there were some I don’t know, figs or something like this that we had or raisins or something. I said, “Wasn’t it good of the Lord to let us have something left?” She wished he had arranged for some decent coffee, was Virginia’s remark. But it was interesting really. These guys’ feeling that they had to protect us all night.

SHUSTER: Protect you from...?

MELLIS: I suppose from wild animals. I don’t know. Or if it was from people, whatever. But they felt that we needed protection...we needed protection. Could have been protection from...from other Ethiopians, I don’t know.

SHUSTER: How did you come to leave Ethiopia?

MELLIS: To leave? Well, I went out there with a contract for only...I was only supposed to be there three years I think it was, yeah. But I landed...I got involved for almost four because they took from....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] Who took?

MELLIS: The Ethiopian government took from the fall of ‘45 until early in ‘46 to get me out there. And then after I got there, as they did with so many people, you sat around waiting to get assigned. They were figuring out this and figuring out that and where you were going to go and so forth. And so I started teaching...I guess I may have taught part of that ‘46, the first part of ‘46, ‘47, ‘48 and I went home in ‘49. But I....

SHUSTER: You left because your contract was over?

MELLIS: My contract was over at the end of ‘48 actually. But I couldn’t get out of the country. No, wait a minute. ‘47, ‘48 would have been over in June of ‘49 but I didn’t get home until late ‘49 because there was a strike. And I was taking some...a big basket and a lot of stuff that I didn’t want to take out by air. And I wanted to get it down Aden so I could get it on the boat down there. And they had this strike on the railroad. And I kept waiting and waiting. I finally had to fly down to Aden anyway. Because the strike....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] The strike was in Ethiopia or...?

MELLIS: Yeah, the strike was...well, the whole...the railroad went through Ethiopia and Djibouti and that...Djibouti was that time it was French Somalia. Went through there too and it was a French railroad actually. So, I stayed around several months, quite a few months on account of the strike. But, I was.... One fellow was out there for months before he ever got assigned. It was eshi nada [?], “okay, tomorrow” for so many things, even when they were paying somebody to be serving and you were stuck there and you had to stay in Addis. But you couldn’ didn’t get your job...weren’t told what to do or where to go.

SHUSTER: Now, you returned to the United States in 1949, how did you come to go to Houston? [?]

MELLIS: When I went home, I actually wasn’t...wasn’t too well. It was partly nerves really but it wasn’t from Ethiopia really. Because I was not right with the Lord for a bit of the time there and I was condoning something that I shouldn’t have been condoning. And I think this was effecting my nerves so I was not feeling too well. But I was okay and straightened out pretty quickly. And I...I had seen. Oh, while I was in Ethiopia I went down to Greece twice, in the summers, I went down in summer of ‘47 and summer of ‘48 and re-established contact with the ex-orphans that I had lost contact with during the German occupation of Greece. And...and for instance, this one girl Sophia, that my...that Dave Hoagland had sent to the American College, and when he couldn’t keep her there and Dad had taken her over and was keeping...had kept her at the college. And I had lost track of her completely because the Germans had sent the...a letter saying “not at this address”. The only reason she wasn’t at that address was because they changed the name of the street. She was in the very same place but they had changed the name of the street and sent the letter back. So, I’d lost contact with her. I found her as soon as I got back down there, got back to Greece. And I found quite a few of them. I saw the terrible need about need there. There was where the destruction was during that period. And I....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] Where?

MELLIS: In Greece. And that they really...they were in desperate need of clothing from Americans and so forth. And I said, “The Lord willing, as soon as I am able, I’ll go down to Greece and do what I can for these orphans and do whatever I can in the social service way, to win them to the Lord, too.” So, in ‘50.... I taught in St. Louis for...I started teaching, I guess, well, I suppose in the spring of ‘50. And got some money together so I I could go back to Greece. I just had enough to stay for one month though, when I left. But, I decided.... Oh, and Sophia had invited me to come stay at her house until I could get established.

SHUSTER: Established in what?

MELLIS: Well, I mean find a place to stay and so forth. I didn’t know how long because I had enough to live for one month only. When I thought...I saw that everybody wanted to learn English and I thought, well I can teach English and keep body and soul together and the Lord can keep me there as long as He wants to. I put aside three hundred dollars which was then the fare to get home on the...on the ship because a fellow had gone out from our church to North Africa and supposedly on faith but sometimes faith can become presumption, too. And I...he got there and then he was sick and he had to go to the embassy and they had to make arrangements for him to be sent home. They sent a letter of complaint to our pastor for letting him do this. And I thought, “I’m not going to get into this kind of...” It’s no testimony to the Lord, it seems to me, to get in to that sort of mess. So, I decided I will leave enough money for the ticket home. I won’t touch that. I’ll take it when I have to go home when I haven’t any more.

SHUSTER: So, you were going out not...?

MELLIS: [interrupts] On faith.

SHUSTER: Not...on faith...not associated with any mission board?

MELLIS: No, no. I had not wanted to do this earlier, our pastor had encouraged me to go out on faith earlier. He had been a faith missionary in India and in Japan and the Lord had wonderfully taken care of him and his family.

SHUSTER: His name was?

MELLIS: J.B. Thornton. [?] And he had...he had encouraged me when he knew I wanted it so badly and felt that I should get to Greece before I went to Ethiopia. He had encouraged it. But I...I felt I wanted to go under a mission. I really thought one needed the guidance of a mission and so forth.

SHUSTER: Why did you think that?

MELLIS: I have always felt.... This other guy didn’t go out under a mission, for instance, and he did an unwise thing and I...I was kind of critical of people who went out independently. It seemed to me that they didn’t want to accept authority, that they were too independent and I didn’t want to do it. But the Lord made me do it, finally because the way [sic] to get to Greece apparently. And when I saw the need and realized that English might be the way, giving English lessons to stay there and do what I could at the same time, I decided this is what I should do. And so I went out, I had all kinds of offers for English, I could’ve...I could’ve got jobs galore. Everybody, every institute was wanting teachers. I could’ these evening institutes. But I could not make the contacts with the people that I needed to make if I tied myself up in the evenings, that was the time when people were free. So I didn’t think that’s what the Lord wanted. I did a little bit of private tutoring during the day of kids. But I think that that first year, I probably made a sum total of about ten, fifteen dollars, something like that. I went to this one kid who could pay me. His mother...they had been in Ethiopia and she wanted her son to have have English but he didn’t follow through. That was trouble anyway when you had...when you had students they just...they were all enthusiastic about studying but they never kept going. But...but what did develop was several people who wanted English. I made arrangements with them to eat my noon day meal...the noon day meal’s the big meal...and I’d eat my noonday meal with them and give a lesson. So that way my food was taken care of...and the main part of the food. I found a lot of little cans of pineapple and rice and that kind of stuff that our...our army supplies had left behind that the Greeks didn’t like and I could buy them for a drachma or so or a few cents. the little markets in the the small sections and so those were my breakfast and supper a lot of times. I got by that way. And I was staying in this room at Amachris’s [?] mother-in-law, she’s now his mother-in-law, she had been at the orphanage where I was and I stayed with their, with her uncle. I had a room and I used their laundry for my kitchen. And I paid very little for the room. And so I was.... And the Lord started sending me...sending me money. I got money from somebody that I had known in Ethiopia, was with airlines. The only time she ever sent me anything she sent fifteen dollars. I got a fifteen dollar gift.... Oh, when I thought I was going to have to go home, I’d get down to my last...almost my last money and I thought, “I’m going to have to buy the ticket . Going to have to get word to my Dad to send money for the ticket. That’s at home”. Go home. I think that was a fifteen dollar one too. Of course, fifteen dollars went further then. [chuckles] I think that was fifteen dollars from a woman. I had gone to Brookes Bible Institute a bit in St. Louis and I’d been at a prayer meeting before I left and this woman was there. And somebody took us in her car to the bus and she was asking what I was going to do and I told her and asked her to pray for me. I had not had any contact with her from then. She said, “Perhaps you have forgotten who I am but so and so, we were riding in the car and you asked me to pray for you. And the Lord led me to send you this.” And so I got this money from her. It was just like a guarantee from the Lord that He was going to keep on, that He wanted me there still. And He...and then, my Dad had sent money from time to time but let’s see. This was back...this was in ‘53, I guess and he had not sent anything from Christmas time I hadn’t had a cent and it was April. Nothing had come through. I by this time was up in Macedonia. I had been down in Athens in the beginning, but after the first year. The first year I had the religious direction of the...all of the Greek evangelical church camps. They asked me to take the religious direction on that.

SHUSTER: Who asked you?

MELLIS: The...the council of the church, the church council. Oh, the reason I was in contact with them. I felt when I went there I was not only work with the ex-orphans, I was to do anything I could for the evangelical church of where I could but that I also needed guidance from somebody. And Nick Samponas [?] who was a Greek-American, who was a missionary in Ethiopia that I knew. I said to him when I was going to Greece, “To whom will I go for advice, someone who will give me guidance to do the right things and so forth? I don’t have a mission, I need somebody who knows...who knows what a mission head would know.” He said, “Go to Dr. Hadjo. [?] [unclear], the Second Evangelical Church” and so I did. And, Dr. Hadjo [?] asked me to take to this board with all the three others and they asked me to come to their meeting and they gave me the religious direction of the camp. And the one who had the direction of the camp, officially the director had to be a man and he’d never even been in a camp. He said, “I’ve never even been to camp, how am I going to...?” They said, “We’re giving you Ruth Mellis and she’s....” All the time I was teaching in St. Louis, the Lord was giving me all kinds of background things. I organized and directed children’s camps about a hundred miles out of St. Louis, on a farm, both boys and girls. I was organizing them and getting the leaders for them and working in the girls camp my self. And so I’d had a good bit of experience in that. And the Lord used it right away. I was asked to take a...a Bible study...a children’s Bible lesson. I didn’t realize at the time, this fellow who was with Child Evangelism, was asking me to take it, I thought just for that Friday and he was wanting me to take it regularly. It was the first Child Evangelism class in St. Louis and I hadn’t been even ever near their institute. But, of course, I’d been doing that sort of thing on my own anyway.

SHUSTER: Who was this guy who asked you to take...?

MELLIS: [interrupts] He was a young man from our church that had been...had been asked do the work for church evangelism that summer while he was home from Bible school. And I don’t remember his name. And he asked if I would take this...he didn’t tell me it at all but when I saw that he meant for me to keep it, I thought, “Great! That’s what I’ve been doing at the other school where I’d been teaching seventh and eighth grade.” I’d been running many camps all the time, I’d been having Bible studies for children in homes after school hours. And...and out of that was what started the camp work, I started camp work with those kids first. And then, and then when I moved out to the school where I was teaching the class, I moved and taught third and fourth grade closer to my home, that was when he asked me to take this class. And so I took it in the home of one of the Christians in the neighborhood. And out of that developed another kind of Bible...camps. And so I was doing Child Evangelism and camp work and organizing the library at Hope church and I’d been organizing libraries ever since. I’ve been in libraries ever since, libraries and camps and kids’ Bible...Bible studies. The Lord gave me all that training while I was home.

SHUSTER: In Greece, did you ever...your original mission was to teach missionary kids, did you ever teach missionary kids in Greece?

MELLIS: No. In fact,... Well I was in touch with a few missionary kids but I didn’t teach them, no. No, I didn’t because well, there wasn’t any...I didn’t have any time for it even if they had needed. And there were not too many of them. I don’t remember what they did with their kids, where they sent them. There weren’t too many of them. We had a...a...a Christian fellowship, because we’d had this wonderful fellowship.... Oh, in Ethiopia you were asking about the Christian Fellowship. There was also a tea once a month to which all of these missions went. And you had some real fellowship at that. And I organized the same kind of thing down in Greece amongst the few workers that we were. There was a couple from England, a couple [name unclear] from America, a Swiss fellow and a...and the Middlemouses [?] from America, I guess, at least in the beginning that was the fellowship. And we had a monthly fellowship, a time which was very good and there weren’t...amongst those there weren’t too many kids at the meeting.

SHUSTER: You mentioned about your work with orphans, with the original people, what exactly does that involve?

MELLIS: You mean way back when I went there in ‘26? I was...

SHUSTER: Well, no but you mentioned that all along you continued working with them....

MELLIS: [interrupts] Yes, I went went back to try to win them to the Lord because when I was teaching I didn’t know the Lord myself.

SHUSTER: Uh huh.

MELLIS: And I felt the Lord had put me in touch with them for the purpose of.... And that’s what I went back for last year and the year before in ‘83 He let me go back again.

SHUSTER: Uh huh.

MELLIS: The first thing I felt I should do is take used clothing to them because they were in such desperate need then and that this would open the door to witnessing to them. But when I got over there I found it was the wrong approach because the Greeks are...their constitution says you are liable to imprisonment and or fine for proselyting. And they looked on that as buying...buying them for Evangelicalism. So, I...I did take the clothing and I gave much out. But the places where I gave most of it out...I had to be most careful about whether I talked to them about the Lord at the time. Later on I was able...I mean I had established contact with them so I had opportunities. But I didn’t know any better. It was dangerous....

SHUSTER: [interrupts] I need to change the tape now.



Send us a message.
Return to BGC Archives Home Page

Last Revised: 9/28/09
Expiration: indefinite

© Wheaton College 2009