Marguerite Gribble Dunning, daughter of pioneering Africa missionaries James and Dr. Florence Gribble, died on December 28, 2005. Her husband, Dr. Harold Dunning, died in 1997. Mrs. Dunning self-published a book of memoirs in 1994 entitled Live in God’s Kindness. A limited number of the books are available for $10 each plus shipping by calling BMH Books (toll-free) at 1-800-348-2756. In this excerpt from that book, Mrs. Dunning tells of their call to missionary work in Africa.
Harold and I were married June 30, 1937, and soon were enrolled at the new Grace Theological Seminary.
Here God began making me aware that He would guide me when I spoke for Him. A large Baptist church in Akron, Ohio, had called the seminary, trying to locate Mother to ask her to speak to their women’s group. Dr. McClain told them Dr. Gribble was en route to Africa and volunteered her daughter to come in her place. (He didn’t ask me!)
I was horrified. I went to the meeting and, as I had feared, it was a large group. The Lord must have directed me, because the ladies were very gracious in their appreciation.
Europe was at war. Missionaries on furlough found it difficult to get passage to return to Africa. The Foreign Mission Board had encouraged Harold and me to serve the Lord in the States; however, we kept our candidate status.
In August 1940, Harold was ordained at National Conference at Winona Lake. Next came an interim pastorate of two months in the nation’s capital and then a made-to-order pastorate in Ohio. They unanimously voted Harold to be permanent pulpit supply. We were free to pursue Africa!
On November 29, Harold heard that his mother was in the hospital in Paterson, New Jersey. Between hospital visits he went to New York City, where he visited all the agencies with ships plying between America and West Africa. Each agency had the same story. There were only a few ships available for U.S. passengers, with long waiting lists for each. Harold added his name.
When he arrived home on December 3, I handed Harold a telegram from New York. There was passage reserved in his name for four people leaving Port Tampa, Florida, on December 21!
‘Can You Get Ready to Go?’
Late that night, Dr. [L. S.] Bauman called. “Can you get ready to go? No one else can make it so quickly. Elizabeth Tyson and Grace Byron will use the other two tickets.”
Some day we will ask the Lord if it was foolhardiness or faith that enabled Harold to say, “Sure, we’ll go.”
Friends came and helped us pack. The next day Harold preached for the last time as pastor. Our boxes were already on the train to Port Tampa, but the freight agent had warned us repeatedly that our shipment could not arrive on time.
Trusting God, we said goodbye and drove to Ashland, Ohio. We stayed with the Morrills, who were hoping to return to Africa.
We had $25 and a love gift from the church. We had few supplies for four years in Africa. Each evening when we got home to pack, we found enough money in the mail from the Foreign Mission Board treasurer to cover that day’s expenditures. We sent the luggage to Port Tampa and drove to New Jersey to say goodbye to Harold’s family and friends.
We needed visas for French Equatorial Africa, but the seat of the French government had moved from Paris to Vichy. We were happy when we found the Free French Consulate in the back of a perfume shop in New York City!
In New Jersey we learned there was “no possibility” of getting train reservations to Florida. When it is God’s will, He makes the way. A woman in the Hawthorne Gospel Church had recently come to Christ and it “just happened” she was the one overseeing reservations on the Pennsylvania Railroad! She found two coach seats for us the day we had to leave.
We boarded the train at Paterson with several suitcases, a typewriter, briefcase, and last-minute gifts in boxes.
The train was very late, leaving us fewer than six hours before the Zarembo was to sail for Matadi in the Belgian Congo. It could not be done! It was impossible, and we knew it. But God knew it, too, and that made it HIM-possible!
God used a pastor from Dayton, Ohio, Pastor Russell Barnard, a member of our Foreign Mission Board. He asked for and received an early vacation from his church, drove with his wife to Florida, and met our train in Tampa on December 21, giving us welcome news.
“Your freight came from Ashland and Dayton. Your ship has delayed sailing for a few days, and we have a room waiting for you,” he reported.
Grace Byron, who would have been the fourth member of our team, had fallen ill and could not get to Tampa in time to sail with us. She would travel on the Zam Zam which would leave New York some months later.
On that same ship were other missionaries bound for our field: Curtis and Bertha Morrill with their two children, Bob and Lenora Williams, and Ruth Snyder. The Zam Zam, an Egyptian ship, was shelled at sea by a German raider but all were rescued. [For a detailed story of the Zam Zam incident, see Volume 2, Number 2, March/April, 2005 issue of FGBC World or access the archived article here.]
Leaving For Africa
On December 27, 1940, God gave Harold his long-sought opportunity to leave for Africa.
The first morning we went through a hurricane. Many became seasick as decks were awash with giant waves and we rolled from side to side.
There were ten missionaries aboard and we had fine fellowship during our 30 days at sea. We loved relaxing in the warm trade winds as we studied the Sango language, wrote letters, or hung our wash on the crew’s line.
Elizabeth Tyson was our Sango teacher. Harold and I had meals with the kind but crusty Captain. He and Harold became friends and had some good talks. How we hope that “Cap” turned in faith to Jesus before he died when his ship sank on his next crossing.
Our first glimpse of Africa was a beautiful vignette of banana trees and coconut palms, viewed through a porthole. We were entering the great Congo River near Boma, French Equatorial Africa. We landed at Matadi, more than 1,200 miles farther on.
From there we traveled on a narrow gauge railroad another 200 miles to Leopoldville because cataracts made the river unnavigable between these two points.
We reunited with my mother at Leopoldville on January 26, 1941. Mother had been required to take a medical furlough. She chose not to go to the States, instead going to the temperate climate of Cape Town, South Africa.
Mother had arrived at Leopoldville the day prior to our arrival. What a happy answer to her prayer to be able to welcome us to Africa! Now we could accompany her on the uncomfortable trip up the Congo and Oubangui-Chari Rivers. Indeed, this was immeasurably more than she had asked for or imagined (Eph. 3:20).