Beulah Buchwalter (1907-1942), an Assemblies of God missionary in Gold Coast (now Ghana), served from a place of weakness made perfect in God’s strength. Despite needing rest, she volunteered during World War II to stay an additional term without furlough since no one was able to travel to take her place in Africa. When she died at age 34, she left behind the resources needed for an entire people group to read the Bible in their own language.
Born into a minister’s home in the early days of the Pentecostal revival, Buchwalter grew to love both the work of God and the Word of God. She helped her parents in pioneering an Assembly of God church in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, through teaching Sunday School and learning new skills to meet emerging needs around her.
In April of 1931, Assemblies of God missionary Lloyd Shirer came to their church and presented the need for help in his mission. Before the services were over, 23-year-old Beulah said “yes” to the call. Because of the urgency of the need, it was only a few short months from her call to her arrival on the field. A busy summer of raising funds to pay for her trip enabled her to sail in September 1931.
The first word her family received by cablegram was that Buchwalter was critically ill in Kumasi with typhoid fever. After a period of rest, she was able to begin her first term of missionary service at Yendi, home of the Dagomba tribe. The first order of business was to learn to communicate. After learning enough of the language, an alphabet needed to be created, the language written down, a dictionary compiled for use in translation, and then the people taught to read. The Dagomba people proved very receptive to the gospel message and needed discipleship.
Growing up in a minister’s home, Buchwalter was accustomed to learning new skills to meet needs as they arose. Her diary documents the mental strain of concentrating for hours at a typewriter, translating, and proofreading papers in a language she was just learning herself. Buchwalter also felt that it was vital for the people, who loved to sing, to have joyful songs about the Christian faith in their own language. So along with language work in the Gospels, she added the translation of choruses and hymns, and began to hold literacy classes for the boys of the village.
However, the climate, change in diet, and the demanding work began to take its toll on her health. After three years, her body was so weak that she wrote in her diary, “I do not understand what is happening to me, but I am trusting in the Heavenly Father.” Doctors finally diagnosed her with pellagra, a disease caused by lack of certain vitamins that causes inflammation and temporary dementia. She was told that if she ever wanted to work in Africa, she must return to the United States for treatment. Her heart was set on finishing a Dagbane songbook and she worked feverishly to complete it before her sailing date of Feb. 16, 1935.
While in the United States, her health improved and Buchwalter finished two years of study at Central Bible Institute in Springfield, Missouri. The Feb. 26, 1938, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel carried the announcement that Beulah Buchwalter, along with Florence Blossom, was sailing again for the Gold Coast. Buchwalter’s first letter home after arriving stated, “Oh the joy of returning … my heart was thrilled when I landed at Accra on Sunday, March 27, 1938. Even with all the tropical heat … excitement reigned within me.”
After traveling over 500 miles on difficult roads, Buchwalther and Blossom arrived in Kumbungu. The two single women moved into a small hut and began to reach out to their new neighbors. Soon they were having daily prayer with their cook in the More language, the cook’s wife in the Ga dialect, their carpenter in Basari, and their errand boy in Dagbane. Within two years, these two women traveled to 50 of the outlying villages sharing the first gospel message, working with the words they knew in whatever language they encountered.
Again, Buchwalters’s passion to see the people read and sing in their own language consumed her. Although her parents asked her to consider coming home after the outbreak of World War II, Buchwalter decided to stay put. She felt the need was too great and that no one would be able to take her place, writing, “If the soldier boys can die for their country, why should we be afraid to carry on the work of the Lord?”
In February 1942, Buchwalter began work on a new primer in the Dagbani language, using Bible text to teach the people to read. Though struggling with weakness, she worked tirelessly until, finally, in September, she traveled to Tamale for printing. A few days after her return, she was confined to bed with a burning fever, drifting in and out of delirium. In her lucid moments, she sang and left messages for her newly converted friends.
On Nov. 15, 1942, Beulah Buchwalter slipped away quietly to be with her Lord. Her funeral was held in three languages with more than 300 people in attendance. She was buried at the mission station she founded, which is now the home of the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary of Ghana, where men and women are still being taught the Word of God in their own language.
Read the announcement of Buckwalter’s sailing, “Missionaries Sailing,” on page 9 of the Feb. 26, 1938, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Need of Vision” by Archibald Cooper
• “Much Blessing at Egyptian Council”
• “Separation and Revelation” by Stanley Frodsham
And many more!