When Adeline Wichman (1914-2004) and Pauline Smith (1916-2003) sat down in the dining room of Central Bible Institute (CBI, later Central Bible College, Springfield, Missouri) to talk about what they would do after graduation, they had no idea the conversation would lead to a 47-year partnership that would span two continents, expose them to dangers from which most others would flee, and impact thousands of believers across the Gold Coast of Africa.
Wichman grew up in Wisconsin and Smith in Delaware, and they met in Missouri at CBI. They had not been close friends during their college years, but as their 1943 graduation loomed upon them, they concluded it would be better to go together into the ministry than try to go it alone. CBI principal W.I. Evans and dean of women Eleanor Bowie both recommended them to a ministry in Washington, D.C., where they could assist in ministering to the young men serving in World War II. Together, the two women went willingly and served faithfully.
In a prayer meeting on New Year’s Eve, both women sensed separately a call to pursue ministry in Africa. International missions work was not something they had previously discussed. However, they talked after the service and discovered that the other had sensed the same call. They applied for missionary appointment with the Assemblies of God and were approved as “workers together.” In April 1946, they arrived in the Gold Coast, now known as Ghana, West Africa.
The weather was hot and humid and the women found insects, lizards, and snakes to be their constant roommates. They set about learning a new language in the evenings after working through the day to establish themselves with the Dagomba people of Yendi.
They discovered that portions of the Bible had already been translated into the language of the Dagomba but were no longer being printed. Smith and Wichman procured a Multigraph printer and painstakingly set out the type, letter by letter, to provide the Scriptures for their new friends.
After their first term, Smith and Wichman moved together to Wale Wale, also in northern Ghana. Believing that their priority was to make biblically literate disciples of Jesus Christ, they set up reading schools so that the villagers could read the Bible in their own language. Through these outreaches, entire villages turned to Christ, destroyed their fetishes, and supported a local pastor rather than a village witch doctor.
In 1959, a new opportunity opened itself up as the government schools presented the idea of conducting a daily “religion class” for students. Wichman and Smith had been in the country for more than a decade and were well respected. Soon requests came from 13 schools in their area for lessons that could be taught to the children. “A Door of Opportunity,” a report of this new ministry, was published in the May 31, 1959, Pentecostal Evangel. The women wrote, “the opportunity also presented a problem. It is one thing to tell a Bible story from time to time, but to prepare daily material is something else … the teachers are not schooled in the Word, and the pupils know very little about the Scriptures and nothing about God.” Smith and Wichman had occasionally received Sunday School papers in English through BGMC (Boys and Girls Missionary Challenge) but they now needed more than 1300 papers and needed them immediately.
With the need so pressing, the women decided to write a basic catechism of Christian doctrine that would take the children through a month of lessons. They began with an understanding of God, including simple questions, “Who is God?,” “Where is God?,” and simple answers, along with a Scripture verse. They also included prayers for the children to learn, such as The Lord’s Prayer, mealtime prayers, and bedtime prayers. They then prepared 25 lessons on Jesus, salvation, the Bible, and other doctrines until they had lessons to cover 250 school days. At the time of publication, 1300 Ghanaian boys and girls, ages 5 to 13 were learning the answers to questions such as, “Who is Jesus?,” “Why did He come?,” “How many gods are there?,” from a biblical perspective.
After three terms in Wale Wale, Smith and Wichman moved to Bawku and continued the same kinds of ministry with the Kusasi people. Over their near 50 years serving together in Ghana, these partners experienced malaria, snake bites, and various other threats while being involved in literacy campaigns, prison ministry, church planting, Bible school teaching, medical work, and even organizing the first Assemblies of God men’s ministry in the nation.
During their last terms in Ghana, they were considered “semi-retired” but still taught in the Bible schools and ministered wherever the doors were opened. They were especially loved by the missionary children as they became fun-loving “aunties” filling in for extended families who were far away in the United States.
Upon retirement in 1993, Ghanaian church leaders thanked Wichman and Smith for their example of faith-filled Christianity – “simple, uncluttered, hardworking, sincere, dedicated, and selfless.” The two women found themselves coming full circle, as they moved to Maranatha Village in Springfield, Missouri, within sight of where they first met more than 50 years earlier. Their commitment that they would be “better together” held steadfast, with the roommates passing away within a year of each other, Smith at age 87, and Wichman at age 90.
Read Adeline Wichman and Pauline Smith’s article, “A Door of Opportunity,” on page 5 of the May 31, 1959, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “Revival Continues in South Africa” by Vernon Pettenger
• “An Idol Worshipper’s Dream” by John Stetz
And many more!
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.