December 20, 1922 – July 5, 2015
Evelyn Rupert’s interest in missions began as a child in the Oil City (PA) First Free Methodist Church. After receiving teacher training at Clarion University of Pennsylvania, she applied to the Free Methodist Missionary Board. Following a period of teaching experience in U.S. public schools, Evelyn’s call to missions became clear. She was assigned as a single missionary to what was then a comparatively new mission field – Burundi in central Africa.
Evelyn felt schools presented the greatest evangelistic opportunity in Burundi. Her first assignment in 1951 was principal of a district comprised of several primary schools. She went on to serve at Kibimba Normal School, the only Protestant teacher training school in Burundi. Evelyn supervised student teachers, and taught teaching methods and other subjects such as, Bible, psychology, biology, French grammar, literature, music and art. She also served for two years as principal and teacher at a home economics school for girls. There she taught sewing, cooking, child care skills and nutrition – an important subject in an area where many children were dying of malnutrition.
In addition to her teaching responsibilities, Evelyn served in various other roles: mission secretary, mission and conference auditor, treasurer for the Burundi Literature Council, and member of several mission committees. She was frequently called upon to interpret for visitors or to preach in the Burundi churches.
Evelyn’s proficient language skills in the national language – Kirundi – enabled her to translate books, edit a teachers’ manual, and contribute features to the Protestant monthly newspaper. She had the honor of presenting Burundi’s queen with the first copy of a new Kirundi grammar written by her students. Evelyn prepared the first cookbook in Kirundi. The book featured a variety of recipes using local staples: beans, sweet potatoes, corn and pumpkins. Evelyn’s other talents – cooking, art and photography – opened additional opportunities for ministry.
In 1979 Evelyn went to Rwanda to serve as principal of Kibogora Secondary School during the director’s furlough. She returned to Rwanda once more to serve as interim director of the Medical Assistants’ School at Kibogora. She witnessed the first graduating class of the school – 26 young men who went on to serve in clinics and hospitals throughout Rwanda.
Upon her return to the U.S. in 1980, Evelyn served in various capacities: executive secretary for the Centennial Missions Celebration, deputation speaker, and in Church Relations for the Department of World Missions.
In 1985, Evelyn married Dr. Dale Heath, professor of Bible languages, church history and ancient and modern Middle East history at Taylor University, Upland, IN. Evelyn officially retired in 1986 from her appointment with Free Methodist World Missions, however, following Dale’s retirement, the Heaths represented missions in churches across the U.S. and traveled to Kenya and Malawi to teach ministerial students. With Evelyn’s assistance, Dale authored five books, and together they conducted study tours in several countries. Dale passed away in 2001.
Evelyn’s Colleagues Write
Missionary colleague Clara Sparks Rice writes that she lived with Evelyn upon first arriving in Burundi. “We became very dear friends and have remained so down through the years. I learned much from Evelyn – she was so faithful in her work. She also knew how to have fun. We spent many holidays together and were supposed to room together when I was due to return to Burundi in 1966. I got married instead. I introduced Evelyn (by mail) to Dale Heath (who was one of my husband’s best friends), and then was hostess at their wedding in 1985. My heart is saddened by the loss of Evelyn, but I rejoice that she is safely home and is now without pain and tears.”
“When Evelyn came to Malawi to teach in our training school, she was always looking for little ways she could make the lessons more meaningful,” recalls Henry Church. “She was a good teacher and very culturally sensitive.”
Jim and Martha Kirkpatrick, who also served in Africa with Evelyn, reflect, “Evelyn was a hard worker and intense in whatever she did. She excelled! She was a good friend, kind and understanding to whoever needed comfort. We have good memories of working with her in Burundi.”