Dreams Turn to Reality in Thailand
An Interview with OMF’s “Thai Trio”
The “Thai Trio” are well-known OMF retirees. From the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, Helen Bacon (HB), Ruth (“Ruthie”) Charter (RC) and Roberta (“Bertie”) Fryers (RF) served in Thailand in medical and hospitality ministries. They now continue their ministry in Listowel, Ontario, through their churches as well as OMF. Heart for Asia recently interviewed the Thai Trio.
What was your home and family life like growing up? What inspired you to serve overseas?
HB: I was “made in China,” born a missionary kid! Our home was very mobile – China, Nova Scotia, New York City. Dad was also a Padre in the Second World War for four years. Then we went back to Boarding School in Chengdu, China, followed by living in four provinces in Canada. I knew God as Creator seeing Him in nature and, being a preacher’s kid, I knew of His care and love.
RC: I grew up in a missionary family, with my parents serving with CIM in China. I lived there as a pre-schooler before attending Christian schools at Prairie Bible Institute from first grade through high school, where my parents served on Bible School faculty and where I also took my Bible college training.
RF: I grew up in an Anglican Church whose rector had a heart for Missions. Each year, the China Inland Mission and the Red Sea Mission Team held their Prayer Conferences in our church, so missionary biographies were a big part of my childhood reading. They may also have been the source of a childhood dream that stayed with me through high school, nurses training, seven years post graduate nursing and which finally drove me to Bible School.
What influenced you to serve in Thailand and what did you do there?
HB: When I was nine, I saw leprosy folk shunned at a hospital in China. I knew I had to return as a nurse and share God’s love! In nurse’s training, Jesus became real to me! I took more training in nursing, Bible College and did Public Health work with indigenous people. I even applied to one mission but was deferred. However, after applying to OMF they sent me off to Missionary Internship first. As I was geared to medical ministry, I ended up in Saiburi Christian Hospital in South Thailand.
I learned that “it was safe to fail with Jesus” and all about the joy of teamwork. I was amazed when I saw a Malay Muslim man come to call God “Father.” The person who led him to Jesus admitted, “We all were involved in leading him to Jesus!” It felt great to be a part of this. Praise the Lord!
Surprisingly, I ended up working in the surgical unit, having had little experience in that area. I found God’s gifting in a whole new way! After the hospital closed, Ruthie Charter and I helped to “give birth” to the Mission Guest Home in Bangkok – a major challenge.
RC: I always wanted to be a missionary because of the positive influence of CIM, my parents and missions-minded schools I had attended. Though much of my education involved music I also studied to be a nurse, feeling this would be more “useful” as a missionary. I had to sort out whether my motives were due to “my dream” to be a missionary and join my parents’ mission, or if it really was God’s will. God did confirm His calling through Judges 6:14, “Go… Am I not sending you?”
Because of OMF Thailand’s strong medical ministry, I headed there in 1974 and eventually to Saiburi Christian Hospital where I met Roberta Fryers and Helen Bacon. Imagine my surprise when I found out that God could also use my music training as well as my newly discovered gifts of discipling and hospitality!
RF: Six months into Bible School, I shut myself in my bedroom and pleaded with God for clarity. I realized then that fear was holding me back from committing to missions. Confession brought deep peace and a change of direction. Though I tried to investigate other missions, I was strongly drawn to OMF, but its medical work was in Thailand, a Buddhist country. My burden was for the Muslim world! Confused, my application papers gathered dust for more than a year.
Desperate for direction, I attended an OMF Prayer Conference where I picked up a Thailand Calendar. There, I learned of OMF’s newest hospital in South Thailand, built specifically to spearhead ministry to the more than two million Malay Muslims living there. So, the year 1966 found me sailing to OMF’s Singapore headquarters to join the hospital staff in South Thailand where I worked for 20 years, latterly in administration.
What did you do when you returned to Canada?
HB: At 65 years of age, I was “re-treaded” not retired! Over several years, Ruthie and I returned to Thailand to minister, celebrate and visit. We now share a God-given home with Roberta, with all three of us being active in our churches. I have done interviews, joined a podcast, spoken at various churches and meetings and served on my church missions committee. The second of two kids’ books from my Thailand days has just been published. It’s entitled Jing Joke: The Curious Gecko (now available from OMF).
One Chinese woman taught me as a baby, about the word “love!” And another Chinese friend affirmed that, “All the way my Saviour leads me!” Yes, I have seen this!
RC: After 20 years at the Saiburi Christian Hospital and ten years in guest house management with Helen in Bangkok and the seaside OMF holiday home, I returned to Canada to share a God-given home in Listowel, Ontario, with Roberta and Helen. I served as OMF Canada’s Prayer Coordinator for the next four years until retirement in 2010. I am now prayer coordinator of the missions committee at my church.
RF: When the hospital closed in 1986, I came home to care for my elderly parents and joined the OMF National Office as Prayer Coordinator. This too was God’s place and role for me. My 20 years overseas had shown me my own brokenness and brought me to a new place in Christ. I learned more than I gave and discovered God’s purpose was to prepare me for a ministry of prayer that has given me even greater joy. All praise to our omniscient heavenly Father!
• Helen Bacon’s new book, Jing Joke, is available from OMF books for $17.00 each. Request a copy by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org or phoning 1-888-657-8010 ext. 713. Mention “HFA68” to receive a 15% discount.