Passage to India


Missionary family has brief stay, eternal impact

I didn’t live on a mission compound in a foreign country or go to boarding school 800 miles away from my parents like my sister did. However, I’m still a missionary’s kid. I was born a year after my parents, Dilwyn and Mildred Studebaker, returned from India. But I have experienced the legacy that my parents, especially my dad, have left.

Dad wrote his memoirs on an electric typewriter, and I transcribed them into the computer—all 125 pages, 50 of which were about their experiences in India. I was privileged to learn about the impact they made during their tenure in India.

Mom and Dad met at Westmont College in 1943 and were married a year later. They felt God calling them to serve in South America and attended seminary to prepare for this. They were planning to go to Colombia with the Mennonite Brethren mission board and their departure was close at hand; they had even shipped a refrigerator and wood stove to Colombia. Then they received a telegram that their visas were denied.

The mission board asked if they would be willing to go to India. They replied that “the field was the world” and if God wanted them to go to India, they would go. While it usually took two months to receive a visa, they received theirs in two weeks. This was a definite sign that God wanted them in India.

March 15, 1949, Dad, Mom and my four-year-old sister, Judy, left Fresno, Calif., by train bound for New Orleans to board the ship that would take them to their mission field, Wanaparty in Andhra Pradesh, South India. They arrived May 1.

With language school and settling into the bungalow, there was much to be done. Dad put screens on the windows to keep out the mosquitoes. He discovered a cistern on the roof of the bungalow so they could have running water. He built a travel trailer to take into the villages.

Dad was unconventional for the time in how he worked with the Indian pastors. He did not preach one sermon, baptize any new converts, perform a marriage ceremony or give a eulogy at a funeral. He believed the Indian pastors should do these things, and he taught them how. Dad felt they were the ones who should work with their congregations. He was very progressive, and needless to say, those in authority at the time did not accept his approach.

My brother, Keith, was born in India and when family needs brought them home a year early, they were told that they would not be returning to India. Another change of course in life, but Dad and Mom went on to public school teaching careers and raising three children. They had no contact with the mission board after that, but they still got together with fellow missionaries. As a little girl I was greatly impressed with being around missionaries like the J.H. Lorenzes and the P.V. Balzers.

Retired from teaching in 1978, Dad became a travel agent and was privileged to go back to India in 1985. He visited Wanaparty and stayed in the bungalow that they called home. During these years Mom’s and Dad’s giving put roofs on two churches and built a baptistery in another.

In 1998, my parents were reunited with their language teacher, Murthy. He told them that the people with whom they worked remembered them because they had treated them as equals. They were also privileged to help Wilson and Mary Koppula in their ministry as missionaries to the Sikhs and Hindus in the Turlock, Calif., area. Dad and Mom sent Mary’s parents to Bible school in Shamshabad in 1953. So their influence has come full circle and the impact of their ministry continues.

Dad went to be with the Lord in January 2006 knowing that the work he started in India was not in vain. And I know that the legacy he left will not be forgotten.

“Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (I Cor. 15:58). This is the life verse that I would have chosen for my dad.


Sheryl Fogal, a Fresno Pacific University graduate, is an elementary school teacher with 30 years of experience who is currently teaching fourth grade. She and her husband, Mike, have two children and one granddaughter. They live in Fresno, Calif., and are members of North Fresno Church.


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