Don and Virginia Corbin, Assemblies of God missionaries to Africa, both received a heritage of service to God from their parents and, through God’s faithfulness, raised their own children to serve the Lord while experiencing the joys and challenges of missionary living.
The Corbin family came into the Pentecostal movement though the ministry of two evangelist sisters, Zella and Lillian Green, when Don’s great-grandfather, Daniel Boone Corbin, received the infilling of the Holy Spirit, as did his son, John, in Couch, Missouri. John’s son, Cecil, was saved and filled with the Spirit in 1919. Cecil’s son, Don Corbin, was born in 1937 and committed his life to Christ at a youth camp service in the Southern Missouri District of the Assemblies of God during his high school years.
Meanwhile, Virginia Jones was experiencing the adventurous life of a pioneer missionary kid in Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), West Africa. Her parents, Harold and Margaret Jones, met at Southern California Bible Institute (now Vanguard University) and sailed for West Africa in January of 1932. The third child in the family, Virginia, was born in 1936 and grew up speaking English and French on the savanna of Mossiland, where she developed a love for African culture and people.
Corbin later attended Central Bible Institute (CBI, later Central Bible College) in Springfield, Missouri, in the 1950s where he was admitted to Burge Hospital for an appendectomy. There he was cared for by a student nurse named Virginia, who was preparing to return to her homeland of Upper Volta. They struck up a friendship, but the relationship was stalled because Corbin showed no interest in serving in Africa.
While traveling with a CBI musical group, The Crusaders Trio, Don spent some time in the apartment of Talmage Butler, a missionary to Senegal. Butler kept the young singer up until 3 a.m. with stories of the need and open opportunities in West Africa. Before turning in for the night, the elder missionary looked at young Corbin and said, “I feel compelled of the Holy Spirit to ask you what you will do with your life, considering the great need in the world.”
Through a gradual but persistent calling, Corbin surrendered his life to gospel work in Africa. He later was able to rekindle his friendship with Virginia, who had returned to Springfield for more education after using her nursing skills in Upper Volta. This time Corbin was ready to commit his life, not only to Virginia, but also to the land that she loved.
After graduating from CBI, the Corbins took a pastorate in Covelo, California, and received ministerial credentials with the Northern California-Nevada District of the Assemblies of God. In 1964, they sailed for Senegal, a country that was particularly resistant to the Christian faith and dominated by Islam for nine centuries. They were asked to take leadership of a small church, Evangel Temple, in the capital of Dakar. It was the only evangelical church in the city of one million people. During their time there, they were able to establish the first Christian secondary school in the land and make friends with people in the Islamic government.
In 1969, they moved to Kaolack, an important market town on the bank of the Saloum River. There they started a weekly radio broadcast giving greater credibility to the Christian message. When the government wanted to establish a radio station in the interior of the country, they asked Corbin to provide programming to fill in the time gaps. Soon they were broadcasting 50 Christian radio programs a week, using African voices, African music, and African proverbs to show people that Christianity was a faith for the African people. Many tribal chieftains heard the programming and invited them to come to their village to teach more.
In the May 5, 1974, issue of the Pentecostal Evangel, Africa Field Secretary Morris Williams highlighted the Corbin family in an article titled, “The Mission House.” He told of the “huge barn of a place” that had a second floor that served as a home for Don and Virginia and their four children, Cherisse, Christine, Donald (Craig), and Cathy while the first floor was a bustling headquarters of missionary activity. Williams describes their home as “a refuge for birds, monkeys, dogs, games, toys … and a place to bring your school friends on a holiday; a place warm with love and understanding where you can roam at will and let your imagination run wild. This home is a beehive of activity, and no one has time to dwell on the shortcomings of the shell.”
In 1975, Corbin became the area director for West and Central Africa with oversight of 11 countries: Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Zaire. Virginia helped to organize ministry to the multitudes of Africa women, taught in the Bible schools, and personally led all four of their children to faith in Christ.
After Morris Williams retired, Corbin was the logical choice to serve as the next field director (now regional director) for Africa. The Corbins faithfully served in this position for the next 17 years, seeing the Assemblies of God churches in Africa grow exponentially. Upon retiring in 2002, they continued to teach in the African context and travel the United States raising awareness of the need for new missionaries to carry on the work of God on the African continent. All four of their children continue to serve the Lord in education, African mission work, and in caring for their parents, now in their 80s.
When Daniel Boone Corbin came into the Pentecostal movement in the early 1900s and when Harold and Margaret Jones set foot on the shores of Africa in 1932, they could not have imagined that their grandchildren and great-grandchildren would carry on the Kingdom work that God had only begun in their lives. Continue to pray for the Corbin family, that God would raise up even yet another generation of workers in the whitened harvest fields of the world.
Read the article “The Mission House,” on page 8 of the May 5, 1974 of the Pentecostal Evangel.
Also featured in this issue:
• “The Ruined Place that Became A Garden” by Ron Snider
• “Our Night of Miracles” by Medora Harvell
Pentecostal Evangel archived editions courtesy of the Flower Pentecostal Heritage Center.