Billy Graham Center

Interviews with Jeannette Louise Martig Thiessen - Collection 260

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Table of Contents

Brief Description of This Collection

Title Page and Restrictions

Biography of Jeannette Louise Martig Thiessen

An Essay on the Contents of the Collection (Scope and Content)

List of Audio Tapes in This Collection


Audio file and written transcript for T1

Audio file and written transcript for T2

Audio file and written transcript for T3

Brief Description.
Two taped interviews with Thiessen in which she discusses her family life in Illinois, favorite professors and her education at Wheaton College, nurses' training, and years in India, 1952-1974, working with her husband under the sponsorship of the Mennonite Mission to the Lepers and American Leprosy Mission. Topics include the Indian caste system, Indian politics, economics, literacy, hospital work with lepers, the Indian church, education of American children in India, culture shock on furloughs, and death from Sjorgen-Larsson Syndrome of their daughter. Interviews were recorded on 11/9/83 and 11/15/83. This is part of the Missionary Sources Collection.
Vol: 3 Reels of Audio Tape

Collection 260
[Febuary 1, 2017]
Thiessen, Jeannette Louise Martig; 1927-2014
Interviews; 1983

Audio tapes


There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.


Jeannette Louise Martig was born to Karl and Camilla Martig on November 1, 1927, in Peoria, Illinois, the fifth of six daughters. The Martig family was involved first with the Christian Apostolic Church because of the German background of both parents, and later became members of the Missionary Church Association in the Mt. Olive Missionary Church in Peoria.

From a very early age, Jeannette had determined to become a missionary, and decided to apply for a scholarship to Wheaton College offered by the company owned by Robert LeTourneau in the Peoria vicinity. The decision to become a missionary had been shaped by attendance at a camp at Winona Lake, Indiana, also owned by LeTourneau. Visits by V. Raymond Edman and Wheaton College counselors, and a book written by Hudson Taylor, Spiritual Secrets, were other influences in her decision to devote her life to mission work.

Her reading about the mission field had generated a realization that medical knowledge would be beneficial. Because of this she enrolled in 1945 in the pre-medical course at Wheaton College, and remained in that training until 1947. The difficulty of this convinced her that it would be better to enter the newly-instituted affiliation with a nurses training program at West Suburban Hospital, Oak Park, Illinois. She completed this program after three years, and then returned to finish her studies at Wheaton. In May 1950 she graduated from West Suburban Hospital as a Registered Nurse, and from Wheaton with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in January 1951.

While at West Suburban Hospital she became acquainted with a medical student, Arthur David Thiessen, who had grown up in India in a mission family. They were married on October 7, 1951, and spent the period of internship required to complete Dr. Thiessen's medical training in Lafayette, Indiana. When Dr. Thiessen received his degree, they both applied to serve in India under the General Conference of the Mennonite Church to work with lepers, and departed by freighter from New York City on December 5, 1952.

After arrival in Bombay, India, they journeyed to Champa to begin language training for work in the hospital for lepers under the Mennonite Mission to the Lepers and the American Leprosy Mission. On completion of the examinations required, Jeannette began to assume nursing duties in the hospital where her husband was responsible for the medical program and surgery. Together they worked in these capacities from 1952 to l974, both in Champa and at the Ellingowan House in Landour, India. The health of Dr. Thiessen was primarily responsible for their decision to return to the United States.

The Thiessens had four girls, three of whom were born in India: Karen Joy, Camilla Ruth, and Velma Jean. Sheila Ann was born in Wheaton while the Thiessens were on furlough. Sheila was later diagnosed in 1965 as having Sjorgren-Larsson Syndrome, a rare genetic disease which caused her death in 1979.

After their return to the United States, the Thiessens moved to Wheaton, Illinois. In 1983 Jeannette was employed by Medical Assistance Program International (M.A.P. International), and was responsible for the Resource Center. She also worked with the Wheaton College HNGR program to prepare students for internships overseas. In addition she assisted with "Health in Community Development," a workshop given in Wheaton and in other countries. Mrs. Thiessen passed away in Olalla, Washington on September 16, 2016. Arthur Thiessen had died the year before.

Scope and Content

Mrs. Thiessen was interviewed by Daniel Hamman on November 9 and 15, 1983, at her home in Wheaton. The events described in the interview occurred between 1927 and 1983. Time elapsed in minutes and seconds is recorded to the left of the topics discussed in the interview. The index is keyed to the cassette copy and not to the reel-to-reel original.

Family background; parents' homes in Alsace-Lorraine and Switzerland; episode of their capture by a German boat in World War I; Jeannette's childhood as one of six daughters; Sisters' names; Harmony of extended family relationships; struggles during the Great Depression but with sense of security; change of church membership from Christian Apostolic Church to Missionary Church Association in Peoria; three-mile walks to church services; husband's childhood in India as a child of missionaries; Wood-burning stove to save coal expense; mother's frugality and skill as a seamstress; Effects of World War II in her family; Reasons for selecting Wheaton College; team visits to her church; Winona Lake camp and R.G. LeTourneau; Wheaton College counselors Dotty Rankin and Donna Rundlett ; Edman family vacation visits at Winona and Edman's devotionals; Pilgrim's Progress and Spiritual Secrets (Hudson Taylor) as important influences in her spiritual life and future career plans; day in 1944 when her commitment was made; Her scholarship to Wheaton because of work for LeTourneau; confrontation with India as possible mission field after her first year at Wheaton; decision to drop pre-medical courses and apply for nurses' training at the Wheaton College training affiliate, West Suburban Hospital; guidance for this decision, and acceptance in August; Lack of former chronic illnesses during training; Meeting medical student, Arthur David Thiessen, raised in India; mutual desire to work with lepers; marriage; Wheaton College attendance between 1945-1947; West Suburban Hospital and completion of affiliated program at Wheaton in 1951; Impressions of Wheaton College before and after coming; working with a student group in black Chicago neighborhood with Bible studies and closeness of friendships which resulted; Lorrie and Al Lutz and son Mark; Bob and Nona Frederich; Dr. Marvin Mayers, Norma (Fijan) and Ed Pruett; reunions during furloughs and other contacts; Work with Foreign Missionary Fellowship at Wheaton; prayer circles; Jim Elliot, Dave Howard; attendance at first Urbana Conference, 1948; Activities and leadership in Christian Nurses Fellowship; Prayer circles and meetings before duty; Presidency of the Fellowship; Contrasts of programs and focus of Foreign Missionary Fellowship and Christian Nurses Fellowship; Edman's speeches and connection with Inter-Varsity; Her knowledge of Edman's involvement with the program at West Suburban; Her participation in Christian Nurses' Fellowship at West Suburban; attempts to return to campus when possible; Evaluation of strengths of the program for her future; her function on campus as a "date bureau"; Favorite professors; Dr. Russell Mixter, Dr. Boget, Dr. Green, Dr. Urquhart, Dr. Luckman; contacts with some of these through her work with Medical Assistance Program (MAP) in Wheaton; Later contacts with Wheaton College classmates, Lorrie and Al Lutz, the Frederichs, Dr. Martin Ayers; Impact of Stephen Olford and Alan Redpath, chapel speakers; Break in tape; High level of spirituality on campus; recollections of the revival on campus during her training at West Suburban; effects on Foreign Missionary Fellowship; major decline of response to missions during the 1960s; Evidence of the Holy Spirit during the revival; Excellence of academic standards and support of teachers to achieve this; Response to international needs on campus during World War II; Freshman initiation and its details; watching meteors in 1946; Differences between programs and emphasis at Wheaton College and West Suburban; coordinator Dr. Jean Kline; learning to live in non-Christian surroundings; regrets over discontinuation of the program; Many positive contributions from her training; Work in Peoria after graduation; marriage in October 1951; husband's internship in Indiana; departure December 23, 1952; Summer courses at Wheaton when on furlough; Living in Lafayette, Indiana, for internship of her husband, Arthur Thiessen; Shared goals and dreams and their role in courtship and marriage; Preparation to go as single missionary; satisfaction with role as companion and with husband's mission selection; Her contacts with missions as a child; encouragement of her Aunt Margaret; value of Hudson Taylor's insights; Influential books; Edman's reference to Hudson Taylor's two volume series and her use of these; Reasons for choosing the mission field; desire to serve the lepers; Willingness to accept the most miserable patients in nursing school as training; effects of films shown in church; Africa as her first choice for a mission field; speaker from India at Winona and description of needs, caste system; resultant refocusing on India; Her initial hesitancy to inform family; no opposition but some reluctance; Strategy of the Mennonite board for India; church planting and healing as major focus points; beginning of mission to the lepers and expansion to a total program; Preparation for the field; Behind Mud Walls and other books; value of insights gained here in work at Medical Assistance Program; need to be dependent on Arthur Thiessen's childhood experiences and language facility; Two-year period of language study; examinations and assignment to a mission station; Learning how to operate a home in India; initiation of reconstructive surgery and her work in the operating room after language study completedHimalayan location of language school; tropical climate of Champa house; Joy of raising children, their work; household help and their contribution; teaching children at home and Calvert System; handicapped daughter and difficulty of traveling with her; decision to keep her the family; Mechanics of teaching at home; different clothes for different roles; Children's ages and grade levels before leaving for boarding school; necessity and hurt of having to leave Sheila (handicapped daughter) in the United States for care; many responsibilities at the hospital after children away at school; Strengths of children's childhood in India and schooling; excellence of studies and maturing experience of boarding school; letter writing; children's extended time with Thiessen family and its value for development of Indian friendships; details of Indian culture

Ease of sustaining interest in missions because of intense desire to become a missionary; Wheaton College as a contributing support; personal bible study over the years; Early confidence in her preparation for the mission field; reliance on husband's knowledge of India; professional qualifications as a nurse; knowledge from studies, books, missionary biographies; assessment of lack of realism in presenting the mission field with only its positive aspects instead of all the realities; fantasy of working side-by-side with doctor-husband; realities of dealing with servants; God's leading her to understand that every daily incident was a witness; Other preparations that experience showed would have been helpful- anthropology, linguistics, Indian history and study of Hinduism, culture; Reasons for delay of visas and hostility toward Christian missions; concern that their stay would be short and its value for assessing types of activities, teaching; some uncertainty during border war with China during the 21 year term in India; her gratitude for being there and love for the country and people; Freighter trip from New York; holidays on board; illness after Sudan; Impressions of Bombay; night in Salvation Army hospital and cockroach in her shoe; sounds, beggar children, husband's use of Hindi language, red spots on sidewalk from betel nut chewing and spitting, shopping; Bargaining (sound interference on tape); Train trip to Champa; typical village settings in the middle of rice fields; impressions oflarge numbers of people; Water and food sanitation; Arrival at Champa; bungalow and fan; birthday celebration; welcome at the compound where they remained for their complete term of service in India; History of Mennonite involvement in India; help for India during a famine by the Mennonites; beginning of leprosy mission; husband's parents' arrival in 1921; hospitals and schools and their geographical location; Program to turn over churches to the Indian Christians; Original misgivings over Indianization of the churches and growing acknowledgment of need to develop native leadership; Training programs--Bible schools and extension programs (TEE); Lessened culture shock because of joy in fulfilled plans; language study and pregnancy; Early experiences in operating; Activities in 1954-1955 with husband as medical administrator, her role as nursing superintendent; housekeeping routines and working with counseling and craft programs; National schools and the school for lepers; cured graduate who became a nurse; Descriptions of "typical" days; reminder of idol worship from sounds of the bell; Evening hours; many guests and appointment of hostess; Vacations and school in Landour; climate contrasts; Activities of other mission groups; Improvements in the hospital facility and home from installation of electricity, 1968; Changing government attitudes toward the U.S.; Descriptions of types of government opposition to Christian missions; Expressions of hostility from Indian nationals; Discussion of the meaning of Shudie practices and its possible reference to a purification ceremony after conversion back to Hinduism from Christianity; Reflections of nationalism from Indian Christian leaders; limitations on visas issued; Involvement with Indian caste system; episode of trying to locate Indians in villages without knowledge of their caste; effects of caste systems on church splits; Airport encounter with Donald McGavran; discussion of caste system in relationship to Christian mission; Inclusion of all castes in group of lepers; difficulties of Brahmin lepers and ultimate change of attitude; receptivity to the gospel by earlier patients who stayed for life; falling off of conversions with introduction of drugs which cure; decisions about baptisms and cultural constraints; Valuable insights of Indian pastors to communicate the gospel

Changes in Mennonite administration before and after 1958 (Indian independence); interaction of missionaries on the field with stateside board members, their visits; Description of Indian church services; customs of bringing special offerings for particular blessings; Contrasts of Christmas celebrations; Indian respect of Gandhi; spinning wheels; Investigation of Dr. B.R. Abdikar's conversion; Hindu conversions within the culture and to Christianity; Lack of impact of the Viet Nam war in their area; Reactions to Nehru's death; election times and avoidance of cities by mission personnel during those periods; Lack of political knowledge of the Hindu "war," 1965; Uncertainties about return to India during furlough and the India-Pakistan war of 1971; excellence of India's coping with the flood of refugees at this time; resentment of local poor because of help to refugees; Space between furloughs; husband's visits to Carville Leprosarium in New Orleans for seminars and professional rejuvenation; contacts with supporting churches and summer courses at Wheaton; children's problems with culture shock in U. S.; usual pattern of five years on the field, one at home; Last term and return in 1974; Reasons for return and difficulty of the decision; Description of problems with Sheila and Sjorgren-Larsson Syndrome; Sheila's acceptance of her illness; family's support and attitudes; bereavement at her death; journals and Velma's poetry; Advice to current generation and those who choose the mission field; the mandate from Christ need of continual prayer contact to remain a clear channel for God's love each day; Concluding remarks

The audio tapes of these interviews were given to the Billy Graham Center in November 1983.

Accession: 83-130, 83-139
September 11, 1985
Frances L. Brocker
D. Hamman
J. Nasgowitz

Accession 83-130, 83-139
Type of Material: Audio Tapes

The following items are located in the AUDIO TAPE FILE:

T1 - Reel-to-reel audio tape, 3-3/4 speed, 87 minutes. One side only. Interview of Jeannette Thiessen by Daniel Hamman on November 9, 1983.

T2 - Reel-to-reel audio tape, 3-3/4 speed, 77 minutes. One side only. Interview of Jeannette Thiessen by Daniel Hamman on November 15, 1983.

T3 - Reel-to-reel audio tape, 3-3/4 speed, 25 minutes. One side only. Continuation of interview on T2.

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