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Model of Good Works – Althea Brown Edmiston, 1874–1937

Diana Lynn Severance

Althea’s parents, Robert and Mary Brown, were born in slavery, though she was born in freedom in 1874 in Alabama. The Browns were industrious and enterprising, raising ten children on a family farm they purchased in Mississippi. Though not having any formal schooling himself, Robert taught his children to read and encouraged their education. Seven of the children, including Althea, went to college. Althea learned many agricultural techniques working on the family farm. When she was ten she began caring for the sick in neighboring families.

When Althea began attending Fisk University in 1892, she feared her rural, unsophisticated ways would not be at home in the university. Yet she graduated with highest honors in 1901, and delivered the valedictory address. During her time at the university Althea earned money by selling home–made fudge, running a beauty shop in her dorm room, and working as a domestic for various faculty members. A few months after entering Fisk, Althea was brought to faith in Christ, and she determined to use her education to help others. Shortly after graduation she was commissioned by the Foreign Missions of the Presbyterian Church to be a missionary in Africa’s Congo Free State. Althea left for the Congo on 20 August, 1902, expecting never to see her family again.

Althea began work in Ibanche, deep in the African continent, where Dr William Sheppard, another African–American, had co–founded a mission. Althea worked as a mistress in the day school, a Sunday school teacher, and a matron of the Maria Carey Home for Girls. She also organized the women’s work. During an uprising against the Congo government in November 1904, the rebels ordered all white inhabitants to be burned, and their leader demanded the heads of missionaries be delivered to him. A runner brought a blood–covered branch to Ibanche saying that it was the blood of a murdered Christian. Fighting could be heard around the village. Althea thought she would be killed that night. After another fearful night, Congolese soldiers came to march the women and children to Luebo to safety. Althea survived the gruesome march.

On 8 July, 1905 Althea married Alonzo Edmiston, a fellow American who had come to support the missionaries in scientific farming. The couple had two sons and continued to work in the Congo missions. The Bakuba people had no written language, so Althea developed a written language for the Bakuba and wrote a grammar and dictionary. In addition, she translated school books and hymns for the Bakuba. When Althea died in 1937 there was an outpouring of respect and love for her, and over two thousand attended her funeral in Mutoto.

Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned … .

~Titus 2:7–8~





This extract was taken from Her–Story: 366 Devotions from 21 Centuries of the Christian Church.

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