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Missionary: Kay Washer

By: Beth Lyda (From: Volume 1 - Issue 2)

I have but one candle of life to burn and would rather burn it out where people are dying in darkness than in a land which is filled with lights. (from the flyleaf of Dal Washer’s Bible)

Katherine Jo-Ann Hettema was born on July 10, 1926 in Denver, Colorado. Her father, Harold, immigrated to the United States when he was a boy and her mother, Jennie, was also of Dutch stock. Katherine, or Kay as she was called, was one of eight children. She and her siblings grew up in California. Kay’s mother related fascinating missionary accounts to her children and young Kay would often go to sleep thinking of impoverished children in Africa.

Kay was introduced to Dallas Washer, her future husband, at the age of sixteen. Dal and his mother, Lillian Washer, began attending Kay’s church. Mrs. Washer and her son had been doing missionary work in Africa, but had to return to the United States after Mrs. Washer grew ill. She needed help with writing letters, since her sickness held her back. Kay was volunteered for the job and she enjoyed spending time with the former missionary and hearing about Africa. She also became good friends with Dal, who had a burning desire to return to Africa as a missionary. Their friendship blossomed into romance and they were married in May of 1945. Soon afterwards, Dal and Kay moved to Los Angeles to attend Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles) in preparation for the mission field. Their first child, Luann, was born in Hollywood during their time at Biola.

The Washers applied to and were accepted by the Evangelical Baptist Missions (EBM) board and prepared to go to Africa. In March of 1950, they set sail for Algeria. The rough Atlantic made their voyage uncomfortable, but even more so for Kay, who was expecting their second child, Denny. They spent several months in Algeria, learning French and the ways of the Muslim people.

The family then moved on to Niger. While there, Kay gave birth to their third child, Ronnie, about a year after Ronnie’s birth, Kay came down with dengue fever. To make matters worse, she was also pregnant with their fourth child, who could be harmed by the fever. The Washers decided to return to America for their new baby’s birth. When Terry arrived in August of 1954, his parents learned that the dengue fever had caused him to have cerebral palsy. They stayed in the U.S. for over a year as Terry received special medical care.

After returning to Niger, the Washers resumed their work for the Lord. Kay was very glad to continue ministering to the medical needs of the local people with fellow missionary Helen Bechtel. As she ministered, a man brought his young daughter to her for help. The little girl, whose name was Laya, was suffering from tropical ulcers. Kay knew that Laya’s sores were so bad that it would take a long time for them to heal, so she advised the father to leave his daughter with her. He agreed and as Laya recovered, she became part of the Washer family. After several years, she accepted Christ as her Savior and eventually married a young African pastor.

Life in Niger was hard. The terrible heat, lack of rain, and sandstorms made the eighteen years that the Washers spent there difficult, but they persevered with the hope of rescuing precious souls from the enemy’s grasp. Dal loved to visit villages in the bush and share the Gospel with them whenever he entered a new community, he would meet the chief and speak to his tribe. Some of the people enjoyed hearing about Jesus, while others were hostile to the Truth. Some even spat at Dal’s feet out of disrespect for God’s Word.

Near their home in the village of Tera, there were 200 communities with at least 100 people and 200 more towns with more than 50 inhabitants each. This area was known as the Tera Circle and altogether there were over 37,000 souls that the Washers were burdened to reach with the Gospel. Dal developed a system for sharing God’s Word. He would preach a few times in a village to see if the inhabitants were interested and if they were, he began a Bible class. If it went well and some were accepting Christ, Dal would preach in the village on Sundays, as he was able. When he could not be there, an African Christian or another missionary would preach. The Washers found other ways of spreading the Gospel message, as well. They held services in their home village of Tera, they held a “Fun Night” for the youth where they played volleyball, followed by a puppet show, Dal conducted Bible studies, and after a few years, they started “Camp de Victoire.” The camp offered sports, craft classes, hiking up an old volcano, and of course, the Gospel was shared.

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Kay Washer teaching two blind boys. (Photo courtesy of Kay Washer)

Many children become blind from measles, cataracts, glaucoma, birth defects, and accidents. (Photo courtesy of Kay Washer)

Dal Washer searching for the unreached tribes engulfed in darkness. (Photo courtesy of Kay Washer)

A young blind boy learning the Braille alphabet. (Photo courtesy of Kay Washer)

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