Robert (Bob) Lowell Pearson, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumnus, passed away at the age of 94 on July 16, 2020 in Oregon. He was born May 27, 1926 in Portland, Oregon to Earl E. and Lucy A. (Smith) Pearson. Bob’s parents were young people’s advisor at the church and took him along until he was old enough to go into a group of his own age. The family moved when Bob was about 8 or 9 years old and found a neighborhood church which was Baptist. While attending Grant Park Baptist Church Bob accepted Christ as the Lord of his life and was baptized in May of 1935.
Around the time that Bob was baptized, Dr. A.C. Osterholm, a missionary from the Belgian Congo, came to the Grant Park Baptist Church. Dr. Osterholm made such a strong impression on young Bob that he wanted to go to the Belgian Congo to help him. Each time Dr. Osterholm came back home to Oregon, Bob wanted to return to the Belgian Congo with him, however he knew that he needed more schooling. Going to school was not an enjoyable pastime for Bob, but he kept at it for this one purpose – to go to Belgian Congo to help Dr. Osterholm.
Bob wrote in his missionary application: “Just as a train is made to run on rails, so I have to go in the way that God made me, if I am to be satisfied. God’s will for me, as far as I know now, is to go to Africa and if I am to live with myself, I have to keep heading in that direction.”
Bob loved building boats from his teenage years until his latter 80s. During WW2, Bob wanted to enlist as either a PT boat driver or a paratrooper. Because he had one bad eye, he was not accepted in either position. He entered the Army at 19 in early 1946 and was assigned office work at Fort Lewis, Washington due to his orientation to detail, accuracy, and thoroughness in all of their testing and his legible printing that could be read by anybody.
Bob studied at Wheaton College and earned his B.S. degree at the University of Oregon. It was during that time, around 1947, that he met Virginia Burt at church. Virginia was studying Music Education at the University of Oregon. When Virginia had to be in isolation at the campus for two weeks with the mumps Bob took ice cream cones to her and sat outside her door peeling apples and tossing them to her.
Bob and Virginia were married at the First Baptist Church of Eugene, Oregon on June 17, 1949. Earlier, when Bob told her of his call to Africa, she didn’t hesitate, and told him that would be fine with her. Bob took a teaching position in 1949 at Oakridge High in Oakridge, Oregon teaching math and industrial arts. Virginia had joined Oakridge High in 1948 and was teaching music, typing, and drama.
Bob and Virginia were appointed missionaries by the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society on March 24, 1953 designated to serve in the Belgian Congo. Bob had finished seminary, and they both attended an intensive course in French. On September 22, 1953 Bob and Virginia, with children John and Marilee, started their journey to the Belgian Congo sailing along with the Weaver and Scott families.
While stationed at Vanga, Bob was responsible for beginning construction of numerous buildings made possible by funds contributed in the World Mission Crusade. While Bob had theological seminary training and was ordained, he was serving essentially as a much-needed contractor and builder. Virginia did the bookkeeping for his work as well as teaching French and music to teacher apprentices. During their time in Vanga two additional children were born to the family, Suzanne, and Robert (Bob A.) whose middle name was Axel after “Uncle” A. C. Osterholm.
In 1957 the family returned to Eugene, Oregon. Bob started his own construction firm and in 1958 they resigned from the ABFMS. Bob and Virginia were very involved in their church and continued expressing their love for the Lord. In 1964 a third son, Victor was born to the family.
When an opportunity opened up in 1967 to return to Congo, Bob and Virginia were reinstated to the ABFMS and returned to the mission station at Vanga along with youngest son, Victor. John, Marilee, Suzanne, and Bob stayed at the American Baptist Hostel and attended the American School of Kinshasa.
In conjunction with his building, he needed building materials. Cement, glue, nails, and screws were ordered and delivered by barges that were towed by tugs up the Kwilu River. Bob built canoes capable of transporting tons of sand and rock for the concrete block and brick that he taught the people to manufacture. He built a river wall so that the tug and barges could dock and be unloaded. He built speed boats that were used by the hospital as ambulances and as hearses and taught people to water ski. John also water-skied all the way from Vanga to Bulungu waving to people on both banks who had never seen a man chasing a boat. He purchased a retired MAF engine and propeller and made an airboat that was nicknamed “Cinq Minute”, as the locals said it could be anywhere within 5 minutes–it was loud!
He taught the people how to make a concrete roundhouse with a domed roof that caught the rain and funneled it into a cistern so that the people did not have to transport all of their water from the river.
He built a two-story church building at Kikwit that had a concrete upper floor, a concrete stairway, a second-floor baptistry that could be viewed from the main floor, and glue-laminated timber arches which made it different from all other buildings. His eldest son John helped with this construction during his high school years.
In 1971 the Pearson family returned to Eugene for furlough. After a year, the family, minus John and Marilee, returned to the Congo to continue the construction and evangelistic work.
In the summer of 1975, the Pearson family returned to Eugene again. At this time, they resigned from the ABFMS and fulfilled their dream of buying a large house near the University of Oregon so that they could open their home to others. Over the next years, their ministry continued as they took in hundreds of people, including many foster children and foreign students.
There are many whose lives have been affected in a positive way through the discipleship of Bob and Virginia in Zaire. Their work has left a permanent impression for Christ where they served through their influence upon individual lives.
Robert (Bob) is predeceased by his wife, Virginia, who passed away on January 5, 2017. He is survived by his five children: John Pearson, wife Donna, of Eugene, OR, Marilee Blomberg, husband Dan, of Eugene, OR, Suzanne Clark, husband Tim, of Allen, TX, Robert A. Pearson of Eugene, OR, and Victor Pearson, wife Angela, of Cottage Grove, OR, 16 grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.
Bob was buried in the Willamette National Cemetery in Portland with full military honors on July 22, 2020.