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At 94 with Alzheimer’s, she remained a missionary

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (BP) — Evelyn Harthcock never met a stranger. She was “mama” to many; her Southern drawl, hospitality and deep love for people transcended language and culture.

The 94-year-old emeritus IMB missionary died today (Sept. 18) after a battle with Alzheimer’s.

Although she officially retired from the IMB, she never “retired” as a missionary. Evelyn lived out her years ministering in Thailand until the day she died. Even in her illness, she sang hymn after hymn, causing doctors and nurses to ask her husband Gary for the meaning behind such peaceful songs.

Evelyn and Gary Harthcock began their overseas adventures in 1985 after retiring from their jobs in North Carolina. They spent the next 30 years in six different countries — Antigua, Liberia, Mongolia, Guyana, Cambodia and Thailand — as Gospel bearers, teachers, agriculture experts and authors.

“They were instrumental in leading many to a saving faith in Jesus Christ,” colleague Phil Wardell* fondly remembered.

“They were literally Jesus to so many of these families with whom they reached out in love, sharing of their personal resources to assist with their needs,” Wardell said.

The Harthcocks had no children of their own but they unofficially “adopted” sons and daughters hailing from several countries, including Guatemala, Germany, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Liberia and the U.S. When a young adult chose to follow Christ and faced abandonment or persecution from their families, Evelyn not only discipled these young believers but loved them with a mother’s love.

When Liu Yang Lhamo went through a trying time in her life, Evelyn was there for her “adoptive daughter.” The Harthcocks exchanged daily emails with the young Tibetan to relay encouragement.

“I love Gary and Evelyn, not only because they are my spiritual guide but also because [of] the spirit in their heart, in their behavior,” Liu Yang said. “They would overcome every difficult[y] to serve God, no matter the bad weather, the misunderstanding [of] people, the disease they have at their old age.

Prayer was a constant in Evelyn’s life. She and Pam Rusher, a former IMB worker in Mongolia and the Harthcocks’ friend of 22 years, formed the “spoon-licking club” encompassing the two women and their husbands. They met over breakfast to pray and ready themselves for the day’s divine adventures.

“Countless ones around the world are so blessed because you have remained faithful to the calling He placed upon you both and never considered retirement an option,” Rusher wrote in a memorial note for Evelyn and her husband. “Heaven will account for the lives that will offer a deeply grateful, ‘thanks for giving to the Lord — I am a life that was, is, will be changed.'”

During her years of service in Cambodia, Evelyn invested time and energy into Buddhist monks. She became a mother figure to them as well. They loved her so much that they allowed her to touch them, despite the fact that culture dictated women could do no such thing.

“Evelyn’s hugs and birthday cakes revealed His limitless love to some Buddhist monks that chose to de-robe and surrender their lives to Jesus as Savior and Lord,” Rusher said.

The Harthcocks moved to Thailand in 1999 in their late 70s and continued ministering and writing books – as well as and Bible lessons and tracts that have been translated into seven languages. Evelyn never missed an opportunity to give the “Easy English” language booklets they wrote that not only taught English but did so through the lens of the Gospel.

A Southern Baptist dormitory for high school students in Chiang Mai, Thailand, is named after the Harthcocks.

Evelyn was born in Colerain, N.C., on Oct. 18, 1920. She studied early childhood education at Meredith College in Raleigh and married Gary in 1946.

She taught in public schools in North Carolina, Virginia and Ohio. She learned Braille and taught at the North Carolina School for the Blind in Raleigh. She also coordinated evening classes for pastors at Fruitland Baptist Bible Institute in Flat Rock, N.C.

Evelyn’s memorial service will be at Chiang Mai Ram hospital. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the International Mission Board and/or the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering in her honor. Those wishing to post condolences can do so at her memorial website, http://www.forevermissed.com/evelyn-white-harthcock/#about.

In addition to her husband who lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand, she is survived by a sister, Jean Finch of Raleigh, N.C.; three nieces and one nephew; one great-nephew; a sister-in-law and two brothers-in-law; one foster daughter, two foster granddaughters; and two foster great-grandchildren.

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  • IMB Staff