Ruth Esther (Dietz) Brown, American Baptist Foreign Mission Society (ABFMS) alumna, passed away at the age of 92 on December 30, 2020 at her pastor’s house in Upland, California. She was born January 9, 1928 in Oakland, California to Mr. and Mrs. W.K. Dietz. Born to devout Christian parents, Ruth grew up on a fruit farm in California. There she learned to thrive on hard work, ingenuity, and simple joys. Accepting Jesus as her Savior at the age of 5 or 6 turned her from a rebellious angry child to an obedient joyous one.
Their small church was Pentecostal. While in eighth grade Ruth agreed to become a missionary if the Holy Spirit so led. While in college in Sacramento, she asked for, and received the “baptism” of the Holy Spirit. This gave her an unshakable faith. She graduated from the College of the Pacific with a degree in education and music. After a year of teaching, Ruth committed her life to full time Christian service and enrolled at Berkeley Baptist Divinity School. She was working toward a M.A. in religious education when she met Arley Brown, who was finishing his B.D. degree. They were married on June 2, 1951 in Berkeley, California. Arley and Ruth both had extensive and intensive experience of all phases of Christian work. They served for a year at the First Baptist Church of Sioux City, Iowa, where Arley was in charge of youth, and was ordained.
Ruth and Arley were appointed by the ABFMS on January 22, 1952, designated to serve in the Belgian Congo. They served for over forty years in Belgian Congo/Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) with two interruptions in 1960-61 and 1991-92, because of political changes and upheaval taking place in the country.
Ruth and Arley served in a variety of ways on seven of the 10 American Baptist mission stations in Congo. Ruth is remembered for her verve and creativity. Early on, Ruth worked with the women, helped run baby clinics, and supervised primary schools for the Belgian colonial government. She always tried to share her animal husbandry and agricultural knowledge with Congolese. She would routinely bring 100 chicks back to Congo after furloughs, keeping a few and trading the others to Congolese to improve their chicken stocks. She became a master tropical gardener and loved plants, gathering an informal arboretum around their house.
Ruth was the consummate teacher. Endlessly curious, she always had fascinating things she was learning or knew, to share with others. Her skills in sewing and literacy were especially helpful to women. Given that so few women had had formal education, Ruth updated early literacy primers and held literacy institutes for them, sometimes with Arley’s participation. She wrote: “Teaching in literacy institutes has always been a joy as one sees women, who have given up all hope of ever having the opportunity of learning to read, realize for the first time that they are actually reading.” Until 1967 Ruth home-schooled their three daughters, Miriam, Evelyn and Rita, running a one-room schoolhouse that often included the children of other missionaries. When the children were older, Ruth taught sewing, English, art and music in the secondary schools wherever they lived. Two years were spent in evangelism and development work in Busala, a remote station among the Yanzi people.
In 1979, after teaching in the church’s model high school at Milundu, for a number of years, Arley and Ruth were asked to coordinate a program of Theological Education by Extension (TEE). At the time, this was a new way of training all kinds of Christian leaders where they lived, without sending them away. Ruth and Arley worked together, Ruth producing the church leadership training manuals and Arley developing teaching materials and training pastors as teachers of lay village church leaders. They blended together adult education, evangelism, literacy training, writing/translating, and Christian Nurture. Ruth also taught others production skills.
In 1992 Ruth and Arley retired and settled in Santa Cruz, California. Retirement didn’t slow Ruth down, nor did it end her evangelistic spirit. In Santa Cruz they were active in the First Baptist Church, where Ruth was chairperson for Evangelism. She was a docent at the historic Wilder Ranch State Park, a literacy tutor for the county and volunteered in horticultural programs at University of California, Santa Cruz. Ruth and Arley eventually moved to Pilgrim Place, a Christian retirement community in Claremont, CA. There they became members of a church start, LifePoint of Upland, where Ruth was a beloved church elder and counselor. At Pilgrim Place Ruth played her flute for residents in memory care and was delighted to find that she could “play” with crafts to purpose for their annual Festival, where residents raise money for the care of residents in need. Her living room became a year-round shop for the many beautiful things she, and others under her tutelage, made.
Ruth is predeceased by her husband Arley, who passed away on August 8, 2006 at the age of 80. She is survived by her three daughters: Miriam Noyes, with her husband Ed, who served with ABFMS in Democratic Republic of Congo, Evelyn Mayes, a graphic designer in Texas, and Rita Chapman, with her husband Glen, also serving with ABFMS in Democratic Republic of Congo; five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren; and her sister Eleanor Stotz of Stockton, CA. A remote memorial service is planned, date to be announced later. Contributions in Ruth’s name will be accepted by International Ministries for Congo literacy, evangelism, Lusekele Agricultural Center and the new university at Kikongo, UniBAC.