Westmont Magazine Training Teachers in Ethiopia
“My great-grandfather was a Baptist preacher in the Shetland Islands of Scotland, so my faith and my family go way back,” says HARRY ATKINS ’47. As early as his teenage years, he sensed the Lord calling him to missionary work. For three decades, he served the people of Ethiopia and Eritrea, most of that time with fellow missionary Blanche, his wife of 70 years.
Harry started college early at the University of Chicago after reading 100 books chosen by his secondary school teachers and testing out of certain subjects. Then he transferred to Westmont for a “more dynamic curriculum” and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. “But since Westmont wasn’t yet accredited, Cal wouldn’t accept me for graduate work,” he recalls. The University of Oregon decided otherwise. After studying his academic record, they told him that if he could do the work, they would grant him a master’s in history. He wrote his thesis on Uganda.
At age 20, Harry attended a missionary conference and asked to teach school in Ethiopia. Rejected because of his youth and inexperience, he called the embassy and persuaded them otherwise. “I taught history and geography at the high school level,” he notes. “Ethiopia had 80 tribes, and the students spoke their own languages plus Amharic, the national language, so we taught them all in English.”
After three years in Ethiopia, Harry signed on for three more as principal at a mission school in bordering Eritrea, where he met Blanche. A graduate of Wesleyan Methodist University, she had served in Haiti before going to Eritrea. “She brought a novelty to Africa: her accordion,” Harry says. “Nobody there had ever seen one.”
Throughout his service in Africa, Harry desired to train Ethiopians to advance their own lives, so he started a teacher training school. Working with the Society of International Missionaries, he helped establish a private school system serving some 100,000 students. Harry wanted to teach children about the history of their country to give them a context for their lives and a connection to their home. Since no Ethiopian history books existed, he wrote them, including “Ethiopia: Land of Enchantment,” and had them translated into the local language.
One day, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie visited Harry’s school. “As he left,” recalls Harry, “the emperor said to me, ‘When you go home, tell your people how much I appreciate what you’ve done for my people. You’ve left your people, your land, your country, to help my country by building schools and clinics here. Thank you so much.’”
In 1978, Harry and Blanche returned to California and opened the Monterey Bible Bookstore, continuing their Christian ministry for another 30 years. They raised four children, all but one born in Ethiopia, and have 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
As Harry looks back on his long life as a missionary, he considers himself blessed by his calling to serve others. “I put myself to sleep every night,” he says, “by settling myself down with fond memories of Ethiopia while waiting to go to heaven.”
Excerpted and edited from an original article by Lisa Crawford Watson published June 18, 2022, in the Monterey Herald. email@example.com.