February 18, 1920 – February 20, 2011
Kathryn (Kay) was born in a Free Methodist parsonage, the youngest of five children. She asked Jesus into her heart when she was five years old. From childhood through her college years, Kathryn sensed a responsibility to serve as a missionary. Following study at Roberts Wesley College, North Chili, New York, Kathryn earned a bachelor’s degree at Seattle Pacific University, Washington. Then in 1950 Kathryn received her R. N. degree from the C.S. Wilson Memorial Hospital School for Nursing, Johnson City, New York.
Kathryn arrived in South Africa in 1956. She served as the director of training for African nurses at Greenville Mission Hospital, which had opened in 1955. The hospital’s outreach covered a population of about 40,000 people. Nurses under Katheryn’s supervision studied at the Cap Province Nursing Assistant Training Course, designed to develop competent assistants in caring for the sick. Kathryn conducted a weekly class in Bible study and prayer with the trainees, equipping them to minister to the spiritual, as well as the physical, needs of their patients.
Many of her students made their first visit to a modern hospital when they arrived at Greenville. Upon completion of their studies, they qualified to serve as assistants or registered nurses. While teaching, Kathryn found communication with her students challenging. Kathryn could not always understand students’ English, nor they hers. Repetition and patience produced gradual improvement so all could make themselves understood in most instances. Kathryn also served as ward supervisor for the hospital’s pediatrics and men’s wards.
Kathryn described the two-fold responsibility of the mission hospital was to preserve physical life, where it was possible, and to bring spiritual life to those who did not know God’s love and joy of forgiveness. Kathryn wrote, “Some [patients], of course, leave us to go out into eternity. What a responsibility is ours as we labor among these who are ill in both soul and body. We are prayerfully seeking new avenues through which to reach with the gospel these who come into our midst.”
A great believer in prayer, Kathryn wrote in an August 1957 prayer letter, “I have no strength or wisdom or ability to meet the needs of each hour. Your prayers unlock the door to all of the Divine resources – resources which are beyond our comprehension. So, please continue to pray much that my life may be a clear, clean channel through which the Spirit of God can reach some of these ‘children of darkness’.”
Many changes took place in South Africa in the 1970s, including the gradual Africanization of medical institutions. By 1976 Greenville Hospital was completely nationalized, with the exception of medical doctors. This meant Kathryn was out of a job. In 1977 she went to the Dominican Republic for a year’s assignment, filling in for a missionary on furlough. Her older sister, Ruth, was a missionary to the Dominican Republic.
In 1979, after 21 years of overseas ministry, Kathryn began serving in other denominational roles. She worked several years for the Free Methodist Foundation and then later in the FMWM church relations office. Kathryn retired in 1990 in Spring Arbor, Michigan.
Kathryn’s Colleague Writes
Missionary colleague Dr. Henry Church recalls, “Kathryn Hessler was a woman who was serious about God’s call on her life. She began her tenure living in a round mud hut with a grass roof. She didn’t mind the conditions, if she could just minister to the physical needs of the people and tell them about Jesus’ love. She served effectively there until the South African government bought the mission hospitals in their area, and began to run them as government hospitals.
“When Kathryn left Africa, she didn’t stop working for missions. After a time of traveling and telling the story of her years in Africa, she began working in the head office of ‘The General Missionary Board.’ ‘Kay’ was assigned to the Church Relations Department, of which I was the leader. She handled the scheduling of all our missionaries from around the globe who returned to the U.S. She made appointments for them to speak at churches, camps, conferences, etc. She was very good at her job because she was very attentive to detail.
“Kay was a woman who knew how to pray. Her heart expanded to include Africa and anything that had to do with missions. Bonnie and I have enjoyed visiting her in her retirement at Spring Arbor. We will miss her. Another saint goes marching in!”