'I can still picture her face as she prayed for me'
Leonie’s story | From Sunday school to overseas mission
“I grew up in Lithgow. My mother was a Christian and she sent me to Sunday school. In 1948, when I was nine years old, I was sitting in Sunday school and our teacher was praying for us. She was planning to go to Tanzania at the end of that year as a missionary nurse. As she prayed for us, she asked the Lord, earnestly, that we would all come to know the Lord Jesus and love him.”
“She said, ‘Oh Lord God, take these children to be yours!’ While she was praying, I actually opened one eye to look at her. When I saw her face, I realised that she meant it. Her prayer was so heartfelt. I immediately thought, I want to be loved like that! I wanted to know God like that!
“I grew in my faith from that moment. I believed in Jesus. But I never told her. At the end of that year, she went off to Tanzania to be a missionary nurse, and eight years later, I finished school and I got a scholarship to Sydney University. I studied geography.
“In 1959, I was at a CMS rally in Sydney. The speaker was urging us to be ready to serve God, anywhere. I said to the Lord, ‘I’ll serve you anywhere in Africa.’
“The Lord said to me, ‘Sarawak.’ I actually heard his voice.
“I said to the Lord, ‘I don’t think that’s in Africa.’
“Later, I graduated as a teacher and I taught for some years. I did a final subject in Indonesian and Malay languages. Then, in 1967, I got a letter from a friend of mine who was working in Malaysia. She said that the principal in Miri, Sarawak, needed a trained geography teacher!
“I wrote to the principal and he offered me a job. I left for Sarawak in January, 1968. I’ve got so many stories! We landed in Brunei instead of Sarawak because the weather was bad and the airstrip was grass. We caught a bus to Miri over flooded dirt roads. I remember the lizards on the ceiling. Someone said be careful or they drop in your coffee.
“I stayed in Sarawak for 18 years. After two years of teaching, I was offered the principal role and I did that for 11 years. It was hard at times. I’d be at school teaching from 7am to 9pm. One time, I was doing batik painting, and I accidentally burned down my whole house. Amazingly, there were Bible translators staying with me at the time, and when we looked at the house afterwards, the only thing that survived was the box of Bible translations. They weren’t damaged at all. Back then, we had quite a few Muslims in the school – staff and students. But we would have Christian devotions every morning and they would listen. Every day, they heard something of the gospel. Over the years, some of them became Christians.
“The one truth that helped me through all those years is Philippians 4:13. ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’
“I believe, more than anything, that when the Lord calls, he also enables. He goes ahead of us. If he wants you to do something, he’ll give you the strength, or the resources, or the people you need. Often, I’ve said to the Lord, ‘I don’t know how to do this.’ And he’s helped me. He’s always shown me what to do … even now when I’m nearly 82, and I’m still making regular trips back to Sarawak.
“And back in 1988, I visited my old church in Lithgow. My old Sunday school teacher was there, so I told her that she converted me in 1948 by the way she prayed. She was absolutely thrilled. And to this day, I can still picture her face as she prayed.”