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Melvina

Bible lady, Missionary, Big-game Hunter.

by Everett Wilson
February 25, 2006

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Melvina
 
There are probably many women in the world named "Melvina" (pronounced with a long "I"), but for those of us who knew Melvina Benson there is only one.      
 
When we were in Canada, it was after her retirement and I was her pastor, but we had met her before that. Melvina was a missionary, a farm girl from Saskatchewan, who qualified and was sent by our denomination to what was then Belgian Congo, in the closing years of World War II. She was in her early thirties. When we met her in the early 1970's, she was very strong, very determined, of great humor and great humility. She visited our church with the inevitable slide show that was standard fare for a missionary presentation then. 
 
She was a spiritual leader of integrity, as most missionaries are; people who don't know them have no concept of their sophistication, intelligence, and maturity as human beings and of their role as world citizens. The movie caricatures of missionaries as small-minded bigots bear even less resemblance to reality than most caricatures. 
 
Melvina was such a world citizen, but that's not the focus of this reminiscence. She was also a big game hunter. 
 
In those days, the African villagers depended on the missionaries for meat, because their big rifles could bring down big game. She went to Africa as an evangelist and Bible teacher, but became in addition a hunter who could put meat on the table.  
 
One story she told captured the experience. She showed us pictures of villagers carrying enormous pieces of an elephant that had been shot and butchered, a great gift to a population starved for protein. She clarified that she had not killed the elephant. "Dan Ericson killed the elephant. He had an elephant gun, and all I had was a 30-ought-six." - big enough for ordinary big game, but not for an elephant.
 
Another story she did not tell on herself, but it was told me by a younger missionary a generation later. One night her native worker awakened her with the news that a leopard was in the chicken house. Melvina got her rifle and went to the chicken house, then a few minutes later showed up at the door of a couple of bachelor missionaries, gun in hand. She said, "A leopard is in the chicken house, and my helper is too nervous to hold the light. Will one of you come out and hold the light so I can get a clear shot?" Instead of doing what she asked, they went for their own rifles, and one of them killed the cat. 
 
Years later still, I told the story to a couple of sisters in Michigan who I thought might know Melvina. They listened patiently, then said, "That leopard skin is on the floor of our living room. Our brother was the one who killed it."
 
If you don't have missionaries among your acquaintances, you are deprived!
           

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