As the war rages on between Russia and Ukraine, Ellamae Elder finds herself, like so many others, praying daily for the millions impacted by the conflict.
The former International Mission Board missionary refuses to give up hope that God can do great things amid suffering and violence.
Elder remains thankful God spared South Africa from civil war during the Apartheid years when the country was ensnared in a system of racial segregation and protests. She remembers time and time again how God protected her and her husband, Martin, from violent uprisings, a potential carjacking and various ministry challenges as they helped with church planting efforts and theological education. Through these ministries they saw many lives impacted for Christ.
Elder’s husband Martin passed away in November 2021. She recently reflected on some of the lessons she learned on the missions field and later as a pastor’s wife.
Expect great things from God
Sometimes, Elder admitted, she underestimated what God could do during turbulent times of unrest in South Africa. The couple served there from 1988-1999.
“I really thought the country would go to war, and it didn’t,” she recalled. “The churches really banded together and prayed.
“And I had never heard people pray like I’d heard these people of South Africa pray. And that was to just expect great miracles from God.”
Elder lamented that more churches need to pray that way.
“I don’t think there is the prayer life … like we need in the U.S.,” she said.
“I think it would be wonderful if the churches in the U.S. would band together and really pray for Ukraine and what God would do in that situation.”
God can deliver Ukraine from further violence, Elder noted.
“If it can happen in South Africa, it can happen again,” she noted. “It was a miracle of the Lord. It was just amazing to be there in those days and see what God did.”
Be calm in danger
Elder recalled that during their time in a South African city called East London, and later when they lived in Cape Town, she often was warned about the dangers of crime lurking outside the missionary gate. Among them was the continuous threat of being carjacked, she said.
“There was so much danger,” she said. “I was advised that once I left outside my door, left the security of my door of that iron gate, I was to look out for three men together because they usually worked in threes to hijack a car.”
Elder vividly remembers a potential carjacker approaching her one day.
“The man said he wanted [my] car and I got to witnessing to him, and it got him sidetracked away from what I believe he was trying to do,” she said. “I was at the grocery store in the parking lot. I can remember I was calm. I know it was the peace of the Lord that was on me at that time.”
“I just began witnessing to him. I saw an opportunity to witness. I don’t think I realized until later the danger I was in.”
Elder recalled the couple retiring from their missions work in 1999 “battered, bruised and broken” from years of ministry. But they continued to find ways to serve the Lord after relocating to Greenville, Alabama, in 2001.
Martin Elder served as a Sunday School teacher and eventually as pastor of Sardis Baptist Church in Greenville, Alabama, even after having a stroke that impacted the volume of his voice. He gave his farewell sermon in 2019 when he was 83.
Regardless of where she is serving, Elder said she still looks for opportunities to share her faith.
“Every time I’m around a person, I want to know where he [or she] stands with the Lord,” said Elder, who recalled recently having a conversation with someone at a store about how her husband “is with the Lord.”
“I speak openly about the Lord,” she said. “I just make it into my daily conversation.”
Elder reflected, “To this day I miss South Africa. … Missions was always at the heart of our lives. We really loved being in the ministry. We loved being missionaries.”