God Can Be Trusted: Elsie Toews

May 6, 2024 | 17 minute read
The Alliance Canada


Can God be trusted to take care of our lives? Yes, He can! With the hymn writer, Thomas Chisholm, we sing, “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father . . . All I have needed Thy hand hath provided…” 

I was born in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, the third of my parent’s five children. We lived on an isolated mixed farm. My two older siblings left home to follow their careers, so in our early teen years, my younger twin sisters and I became very proficient helping our parents in all areas of farm work. On long winter evenings, by the light of the kerosene lamp, our Mother, an avid reader, would read us stories. Often, they were missionary stories, so early on, we became interested in missions. During summer Bible camp, I met my first missionary, faithfully corresponding with her for many years. 

In the early years, we travelled 25 miles with a horse team so we could attend church. Summer was the only time we would make the trip, and often only for special events like Thanksgiving. On Sundays, our Dad held church at home. Crowding around our temperamental battery-operated radio, we listened to a Bible Hour. Saturday morning featured Children’s Hour, which was our highlight. Whoever was on barnyard duty that morning was filled in later by those privileged to listen. 

On our way to school, we would sing hymns and choruses at the top of our lungs. When our older sister, Anna, was home from Bible school, she would teach us new ones; we also learned more at Bible camp. Dad always held family devotions after both breakfast and supper with everyone participating. At camp, we also learned to have private devotions. 

We took grades nine and ten by correspondence for high school and went to a regular school for the rest. I thoroughly enjoyed high school and took all the subjects offered to enter any area of study God would lead me to. Dad wanted us all to have a career, and I was torn between nursing and teaching. 

When I was twelve, I was in the hospital, and nursing became very appealing. One day the primary doctor was away, and the interns found I had a ruptured appendix. They felt inexperienced in operating, and I had a 50 percent chance of survival if they did. Dad came to my bedside and explained salvation to me using John 3:16. On numerous occasions, I had asked Jesus to forgive my sins, but this time I understood; having assurance and peace in my heart. So, I told Dad the doctors could do whatever. I was ready to live or die. Dad believed that God answered prayer, and so he prayed. 

Years later, our brother told us that he remembered accompanying Dad to get the cows early in the morning. In the pasture, they both knelt down, and Dad prayed that if the Lord saw fit to restore me to health, that He would use my life for something unique. At my high school graduation, I rededicated my life for whatever the Lord had in store for me. 

In 1960, my sister Elviera was teaching, and her twin Elfrieda was finishing her training to be a nurse. Our Dad passed away the previous year, and Mom moved into Saskatoon. Now was the time for the Bible training we yearned for, and we applied at a Bible school. 

In the meantime, our older sister had been a Bible camp cook and came home raving about this Canadian Bible College (CBC) camp counsellor who was so well versed in Scripture. It was the end of summer, and all three of us were so intrigued with CBC that we immediately applied. Every day we looked for our acceptance in the mail but to no avail. Classes were about to begin, so we packed our belongings and drove to Regina. Our acceptances were still on the registrar’s desk, and we were accepted in person. We enrolled in all the Bible courses offered, in missions, and whatever electives fit in. 

At the outset of our senior year, dignitaries from The Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) headquarters in New York came to interview missionary candidates, including us. Trembling, we wondered what they would ask these prairie farm girls. First, they wanted to know where we wanted to minister. We were open to going where there was a need, but I wanted to teach if possible. When told there was no teaching vacancy at the time, I said, “Fine with me, just send me wherever you need someone.” 

During our Thanksgiving break in October, we went home and talked with our Mother. She was shocked; how could we all leave her? In the two years Mother had lived in Saskatoon, she had become part of a very close-knit ladies’ group at church. These ladies encouraged her, saying what a privilege it was to let her girls go as missionaries to tell others about God. She was unaware that she had influenced us by reading missionary stories when we were young. 

In November, Elfrieda and I received our appointments to arrive before May 1 in Dutch New Guinea (later named Irian Jaya, Indonesia, and now Papua, Indonesia). It was a surprise to be appointed to the same field, and how could we go before graduation in mid-May? Elviera stayed to pick up our diplomas. The biggest surprise was that I was asked to teach in the Missionary Kids’ (MK) school. God was good to Mother as well. She had Elviera for two more years before she came to join us. 

In December, we rearranged our study schedules to fulfill all the mission’s requirements. We had been majoring in the Bible, leaving missions courses for the last semester. In January we finished our studies. The school arranged for special classes in linguistics and Greek to complete our requirements. In February, we left Elviera at CBC, going home to prepare for the mission field. Mother did not know if she would ever see us again but was caught up in packing 55-gallon drums with us. As opportunity afforded, we spoke at various churches and especially at Mother’s ladies’ group. They became our faithful prayer warriors. 

March 30, 1963, found us at the Saskatoon airport—our first time in an airport. Most missionaries crossed the ocean by ship. Mother, Pastor Boldt, and members of the congregation circled us, sang, prayed, and sent us on our way. We were literally in a daze. 

Oswald Chambers said, “God does not ask us to do things that are naturally easy for us–He only asks us to do things that we are perfectly fit to do through His grace, and that is where the cross we must bear will always come.” Praise the Lord for His sustaining grace in time of need. 

Finally, we arrived, the Sentani airport coming into view with Cyclops, a beautiful mountain to the North, and Sentani Lake with palm trees everywhere to the South. As we came off the plane, the feeling of breathing humid air made us uncomfortable. Then we were bombarded by many strange faces greeting us. Dazed, we were taken to the school campus; a new chapter was about to begin. 

Trusting and Teaching 

Sentani International School (SIS) was a welcome adventure. I loved exploring and soon enjoyed the perpetually warm tropical weather. I prepared a garden plot next to the house for the seeds I’d brought in my suitcase. Although it was August, I remembered there would be no winter, so I could plant any time. In the early morning, I enjoyed waking up to the strange, shrill bird calls echoing through the dense rain forest. 

We did a lot of outdoor education. The younger children showed me an inconspicuous insect, a walking stick hidden among the leaves. Then we watched the cicadas rubbing their back legs against the wing to make their sound. The children picked up random stones along the path as we hiked; back in the classroom, we put them into the rock tumbler together with abrasive material. After several weeks of tumbling, beautiful gems emerged. The children made them into lovely bracelets and necklaces for their mothers. 

In 1966, Elviera arrived by floatplane on Lake Sentani. At the time, I was teaching grades six to eight and only had eight students. I obtained the principal’s permission to take my whole class in the school van to pick up Elviera. Now the three sisters were together on one field. 

Again, we were amazed at how God worked His wonders to perform. It was a great blessing for the two of us to work together at SIS, Elfrieda being in the mountains with the Nduga tribe. During our vacations, at Christmas, and during the conference in July, we could all get together. 

We praise the Lord for the years Elviera and I could work together, sharing our joys and sorrows. Lessons and field trips were planned for both classes. It was so much easier having someone to discuss plans with. 

After Elviera’s term, she returned home and attended university to upgrade. We had come to the field with only a teaching certificate, but while there, they required a Master’s Degree. Instead of returning full-time, I spent every home assignment at university until I finally got my required degree. 

At home, Elviera realized Mother needed someone to be with her. We had promised we would be there when she needed us. Elviera decided it would be a more stable situation if she remained at home and got a teaching job there. 

God’s Faithfulness in Leading the Way 

One year my eyesight started deteriorating quickly, and the mission doctor found cataracts. I could cope during the regular teaching, but I could not see the tiny print on students’ tests. The Lord supplied a teacher friend to do the checking and grading for me. They recommended that I go home for the operation. 

At the end of the school year, I was sent home. Elfrieda wanted to accompany me, and Mother sent money for the ticket. The eye specialist found the beginnings of cataracts that could be corrected with a new prescription. 

In the meantime, Elviera found she could not leave Mother alone while she was teaching. She had to begin part-time teaching, which was actually job sharing. When we discussed the situation, Elviera proposed that she get me into job sharing with her if I stayed home to help her with Mother. So, I arranged with headquarters and the field to go on a leave-of-absence. The only field stipulation was I must arrange for a substitute to teach in Sentani, which was no problem. 

Once again, I was able to teach with Elviera. We had a ball during these two years together. It was also the only time I got full pay for the Master’s Degree, which was a blessing since I was off allowance from the C&MA. Mother was blessed to have all her girls for the summer. 

The Lord worked out all the details for my stay at home; Mother was praising the Lord. People asked me why I was staying at home. My reply was the Lord had orchestrated it and given me peace of heart. I knew I was in the centre of God’s will, doing His bidding at this time. 

In February 1988, Mother peacefully passed into the arms of Jesus. Elfrieda could not come home, but when the Nduga people heard Mother had passed away, they came and mourned with her. It was God’s goodness to have us together, so Elviera did not have to care for Mother’s final days and funeral alone. 

During the next few months, I began having eye problems again. I returned to my eye specialist and found out my eyes had healed. The specialist said he must have made a mistake. In hindsight, I do not believe it was a mistake; it was God’s doing to take me home for the time I was needed there. With my eyesight restored, I knew it was time to return to the field. 

God’s Faithfulness in Answering Prayer 

By July 1988, everything had changed. Elviera was adjusting to being alone without Mother. Elfrieda was now married, and I flew back to Indonesia alone to resume SIS duties. 

I was excited to see the familiar Mount Cyclops and Sentani Lake as the plane approached the airport, but no one greeted me this time. I signed out a Missionary Aviation Fellowship (MAF) car and went to my house. My former housemate had moved, taking our reliable house help with her. 

I felt very alone, bordering on depression. However, I looked back at God’s hand upon my life and moved on. I remembered one of my eighth-grade graduates wrote me a note from Dalat school. She must have felt deserted too and wrote, “The Lord has helped me all these years, so why should He drop me now?” Scripture became more meaningful to me; I delved deeper into God’s Word. Ephesians 2:10 became especially meaningful: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Now was no time for self-pity but to trust in the Lord to lead on! 

My home in Sentani had an open-door policy. One Christmas, all the singles came to celebrate with us at the coast. Whenever Alliance dignitaries from abroad came to visit, ‘a must do’ was to stop at Elsie’s house for a tropical iced fruit slush. When new singles arrived on the field, they could stay until their visa documents were completed. When parents from isolated mountain stations came to visit their children at school, the ladies would radio ahead for an appointment to have their hair cut or permed. And so, the list goes on; even tourists who got into trouble with the police would come to see if I could accompany them to retrieve their confiscated passports or just to sightsee. 

We would take the scenic route into Jayapura, the capital, drive to the highest spot overlooking the ocean, wind around the top of the mountain, and then down along the beach under the waving palms ending up at the fish market. This is where the fishing boats docked, and the fishermen sold their nightly catch. 

One single missionary who needed to recuperate came to stay at my home for a while. She was also learning the language and wanted to attend the local Indonesian Alliance church instead of the English ex-pat church. I also wanted to add to my limited Indonesian, and so we went regularly. After attending a short time, someone from the congregation suggested that I teach Sunday school. “Oh no,” I objected,” I don’t know Indonesian.” A few weeks later, the Sunday school superintendent confronted me with the same proposal, “Come teach Sunday school.” My excuse, “I’m not fluent enough in Indonesian.” Then a third time, I was approached. Was the Lord trying to tell me something, I pondered? I agreed to try. 

They gave me the materials, and I memorized the lessons. And so began my weekend involvement with the Indonesian community. I had no idea where this might lead. I became more proficient in teaching, and by Christmas, some of my class were ready to accept the Lord. I asked the superintendent what to do. “Oh,” he said, “They have the opportunity for salvation in July at the youth camp.” I was very disappointed. During the Christmas break, I found and studied material I could use for soul-winning. In January, I got a new class; by Easter, they were ready to accept the Lord. 

Four of them became Christians, one from a Muslim home. Later he went to Bible school and became a pastor. The others became strong leaders in the youth group. From then on, I began to teach evangelism and creative teaching methods to the Sunday school teachers. The church would schedule trips to outlying villages on Lake Sentani or on the ocean’s shore to hold weekend evangelistic meetings. My job was to train the youth in drama, skits, and kids’ events. In the mornings, they would gather the children to play games and tell Bible stories. In the afternoon, they went house to house to visit and pray for the people, and at night they began with hearty singing to attract the people and then performed skits and mimes in preparation for the evangelistic message. 

Early Sunday morning, I would pick up a group of the youth Sunday school teachers to go to an outreach area on the lake and teach Sunday school. It had to be early so the young people could be back to sing in the choir at church. On sunny mornings, the village kids would often come to meet us and catch a ride back to their village. We parked our van on the hill and walked down to the lake. On cloudy days they would see the van arrive and quickly jump into the lake for their bath and come running to the open-air church with their hair dripping wet. 

The year I went on home assignment, I cleaned out my closet of things I did not need and took them to this village. After my leave, I returned to this lakeside village and saw the church had walls. They told me they had sold my clothes and used the money to make bricks to finish their church building. I also met a girl from this village who had been in our Sunday school and now was a Sunday school teacher. 

My Indonesian language was still not very fluent, but I could make myself understood. My main job, of course, was teaching at SIS, and I loved it. MKs are like brothers and sisters, and their teachers were aunts and uncles. In grades two and three, which I usually taught, the children needed many hugs and much attention because they lived in dorms and away from their parents for many months. 

While teaching grade two Bible, we had a series on soul-winning. Most of the children had already accepted Jesus personally by then. One little fellow went home and took his preschool brother into the bedroom. Their Mother found them kneeling at the bed, and the older was explaining salvation to his little brother. We also made prayer lists, and every morning the children came and reported answers to prayer, of which there were many. 

For Christmas, the children who lived in the mountains went home via MAF planes. Often if the fuel ship had not arrived, and MAF would send out an alert to pray. The fuel always managed to arrive just on time so everyone could get home for Christmas. When the school had a hepatitis epidemic, we fasted and prayed, and the Lord heard and answered. 

Sentani is located on the North coast of Papua, just four degrees south of the equator. To get relief from the heat, we would take the children to a swimming hole several miles off-campus. When the enrollment increased to the point they could not be easily transported, the upper-classmen decided to dig a swimming pool. What could the mission do but cement it? The pool was such a blessing, allowing us to cool off and get rid of extra energy after school or on weekends. 

We often had earthquakes and, after a very strong one, large cracks appeared in the pool. Repairs were made, but every morning four or five inches of water disappeared. At the Wednesday night prayer meeting, the upper class laid hands on the pool and prayed, marking the water level. The next morning, they rushed to the bank to find the water had not gone down; the Lord answered their prayer. 

There were also many sad events the students recorded in their prayer calendars. One Dad had not reported on the radio while he was surveying an unreached tribal area. Several days later, we found out he had been killed. There were also various MAF airplane accidents and lives lost. Much comfort and prayer were needed during these times. 

As time went on, missionaries retired, left for health reasons, or were phased out. SIS accommodated the children from all the missions serving in Papua and any other ex-pat children. Alliance children became fewer even though the enrollment was well over one hundred. As a result, SIS transitioned to become an intermission school instead of an Alliance one, and the other mission’s submitted teachers as well. Alliance teachers were relocated to Africa, South America, Manila, or elsewhere. As the teachers left one by one, I went to bid them farewell and shed bitter tears together with them. This isolated field had brought us all very close. 

When former students returned from their ministries in other parts of the world to visit their parents in Papua, they came scouting around mission hill. Often, I couldn’t recognize them as adults, but they were so happy to find someone familiar still there! 

Eventually, my time came to phase out of SIS. There were four Alliance children left with two Alliance teachers, one being the principal. My heart was with Indonesia and the Indonesian people. I asked our mission chairman if, rather than be appointed to another part of the world, I could transfer to the Indonesian Seminary (STT-WP). 

God’s Faithfulness in Changing Times 

When I attended the first staff meeting at STT, I was reminded how limited my understanding of the Indonesian language was. Since I had a Master’s degree, they asked me to set up the Christian Education major. They did not have enough qualified staff to do this. Until now, the school had only taught theology as a major. 

August 1992 was the beginning of another whole new chapter in my life. For my 27 years of teaching elementary grades at SIS and six years in Canada, I had used a set curriculum, in the English language, with manuals to guide and textbooks for each student. Now, I created the Christian Ed major, wrote up the curriculum, looked for textbooks, and did the whole procedure in the Indonesian language. I called daily, hourly, “Lord help,” and He always supplied. Jeremiah 33:3 was such an encouragement. “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.’” 

I discovered an Indonesian bookstore in the next town. It had a wealth of valuable materials. I found basic Teaching Education by Extension (TEE) courses in simple Indonesian for the women’s classes. These were perfect for the women from Papua’s many tribal groups and for me. They had limited education and could not enroll in regular classes with their husbands. 

Ladies from the church had adopted me as their missionary, making up a prayer calendar where someone was assigned to pray for me every day. My oldest sister, Anna, took the requests we sent and phoned them to interested churches. 

My first semester was very intense, even traumatic at times. I asked an STT teacher’s wife to sit in on some of my classes to help me out. For one of these classes, the students wrote a report and gave it orally in class. I wrote out key phrases and words I was looking for because I could only understand half of what was said. As they reported, I checked off the points each student touched on and thus was able to grade their work. 

Soon after, I realized the tribal students were lacking in Indonesian while fluent in their tribal language. At the next staff meeting, I requested to address the need to upgrade Indonesian comprehension skills for tribal students. I was asked to set up the course and given a senior student to teach it. 

Semester one ended successfully with me giving the finals. I gathered up the papers, Indonesian dictionary, Bible, and texts to do grading while vacationing with Elfrieda at her station in the mountains. For many days I prayed and worked to decipher the test papers but to no avail. I could not understand what they had written. 

The second semester was around the corner, with the Indonesian upgrade program to be created. As I returned to the coast, the first remark at the staff meeting was, “I’m just collecting the student’s grades.” My reply, “I’ve been working on them.” In my heart, I prayed again, “Lord, help me!” Then the head of STT mentioned, “Last semester, two students helped you, and they want to help again.” I answered, “Good, they can come today.” 

Both students came to my house, reading the exams from the last semester while I prepared my current lessons. They wrote remarks for each student’s paper, and when I had a minute, we discussed each report and assigned the grade. In two or three days, we got through all 75 documents, and I could happily hand in the grades. The Lord had intervened again, and we all praised His Name. 

The second year required my students to do practical work. In Christian Ed of Children, they had to teach a Sunday school class; for Christian Ed of Youth, they had to do youth work and the same with adults. They discovered that children and youth were much more receptive to the Gospel; easier to reach and lead to the Lord than adults. In their Visual Aids class, a lot of visuals were created because they could not be purchased. They made flannelgraph boards and objects, puppets, the Wordless Book, 1 and much more. Teachers could hold a class’s attention much better with visuals instead of just reading the story to them. 

In my third year, the class did fundraising to take the Gospel to the children in the mountains. Teams of four students were formed, with one person acting as the head to handle the schedule and money. They prepared their lessons, visuals and purchased MAF tickets. 

Everyone should have at least one chance to hear the Gospel before the Lord returns. So, some students went on evangelistic trips to tree-dwelling tribes who had never heard the Good News of Jesus. Students returned with many stories of success and hardship. Life in the jungles of Papua is not easy. 

Ibu Derry came to STT-WP with her husband Yahya Tabuni during my first year there. Yahya was a successful businessman, born and raised in the mountains of Papua. At a youth retreat, Yahya realized the Lord was calling him into full-time ministry. He had already built a lovely house and started his family. Together, they were active in the local church, but Yahya felt the tug in his heart to follow God’s call. When he discussed this idea with Derry, she was not impressed. Yahya was making a good salary; for the first time in their lives, they could live comfortably. Derry remembered her deprived lifestyle as a pastor’s child, not wanting to put her own children through the same hardships. Yahya had firm convictions of his calling but, acting with understanding and patience, decided to fast and pray. It was two years before Derry realized God’s call came above her personal comforts. 

Derry always accompanied Yahya to his practical work at the transmigrant camps. Muslims observe Friday as their holy day of prayer, with Sunday being a regular workday, so Derry and Yahya could not have weekend services. What they could do was friendship evangelism. This meant working in the palm oil groves or the rice paddies with the farmers. When someone became sick with malaria, Yahya offered to pray for them. After miraculous healing, these Muslims began asking questions, becoming interested in and accepting the Gospel message. 

After graduation, the Tabunis decided to move, living and ministering among the Muslim population. Derry was asked to teach religion to the few Christian children while other children learned Islam. But the Muslim children loved to look into Derry’s class and see the colourful visuals she used. After school, they would run to Derry’s house for Bible stories every chance they got. 

One Christmas, while a large group of believers and interested seekers were gathered in the local church building for their celebrations, someone called out, “there’s a house on fire!” The smoke was coming from the direction of Tabuni’s house. Immediately they ran, but it was too late. The house was destroyed; only their motorbike was pulled from the back porch. Every earthly belonging was gone. 

The Tabunis were in total shock for several days. The International English church started collecting clothes and household supplies. Money donations came in quickly, and soon they had a house bigger and better than before. 

In 2001, when the tsunami hit South East Asia, the Tabunis lived with the Muslims in Ache. They encouraged the people, helping them rebuild. Now they are back in Papua, serving as dorm parents for youth from the interior tribes. God is continuing to use them despite the hardships they face. 

Can God be trusted? Yes. Great is His faithfulness as the song continues: “. . . a peace that endureth, Thy own dear presence to cheer and to guide; Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!” 

This is an excerpt from the book, On Mission Volume 1. Download your free copy today.

  1. The Wordless Book is a Christian evangelistic book. It is called a “book”, as it is usually represented with pages, although it can be shown on a single page or banner. 

    The book consists of several blocks of pure color that, in sequence, represent a nonverbal catechism about basic Christian teachings for the instruction of children, the illiterate, or people of different cultures. The presentation of the book is meant to be a verbal experience, however, providing the “reader” a visual cue to expound Christian doctrine extemporaneously or in impromptu situations. (Wikipedia)



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