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Patricia (Pat) Holdaway

1950-1951 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street Campus)

Pat entered the NZ Bible Training Institute at age 24 in 1950, having trained in general and maternity nursing. A call to serve in overseas mission had been growing for a number of years and in her application to NZBTI she wrote: “On occasions when I have been alone with God I have been led to pray, ‘Oh, that I might be a fit vessel for Thy service, that I might share in the task of winning souls for Thee is my greatest desire’”. While at NZBTI Pat began attending prayer meetings of WEC (Worldwide Evangelism Crusade) and learnt of opportunities to serve in the Belgian Congo. Believing that this was where God was calling her, she joined WEC and on 12 July 1952 set sail for England to complete six month’s missionary orientation. After that, Pat learnt the French language in Switzerland for eight months, and then studied Tropical Medicine in French in Antwerp, Belgium.


In December 1954, at age 29, Pat travelled by boat and train to the Congo – the country where she was to serve for over 30 years. Initially she lived with an elderly missionary in her hut in Ibambi and applied herself to learning Swahili. When she transferred a year later to a leprosy unit at Maligwia, close to the southern border with Sudan, she had to learn a new tribal language, Bangala. In Maligwia Pat spent her mornings teaching French to children, and her afternoons assisting the doctor in his work – which involved everything from setting up for surgical procedures, to resuscitating new-born babies, to caring for leprosy patients. Later, at a mission station deep in the jungle, Pat had to call on all her medical knowledge to run the clinics, as there were no doctors in the area. During a year’s furlough in NZ in 1961, Pat took a midwifery course at St Helen’s Hospital to upskill.


The gift of a Land Rover helped Pat travel from village to village to hold clinics. She had to learn vehicle maintenance so she could fix the various issues that arose from driving over deeply rutted dirt roads. In a letter home she described a river crossing – a river ferry consisted of six large dug-out canoes lashed together which took 12 men to row across a river with a strong current: “From the time we arrived at the river to the time we left it on the other side, two hours had passed”. In another letter she described one of her days: “Friday, I am to go to a village 30 miles from here for the weekend. I have to dress the huge wounds of a man mauled by a buffalo last week, and I must make up mixtures, lotions, etc, for dispensary and maternity.” [1] Travelling with her would often be two or three nurse aides that she mentored as they gained experience.


When visiting villages to run clinics Pat would sleep in a hut with a local family, bringing her own food and cooking it in the communal village kitchen alongside the other women. Her stove was a kerosene drum balanced on three large stones with a fire beneath. She also gave time most days to teaching Bible studies, and occasionally preached at local church services.


In 1964 Pat endured a terrifying ordeal. The Congo had gained independence in 1960, and in 1964 guerilla forces, the Simbas (Swahili for ‘lions’) rose up against the national army and sitting President. The rebels carried out massacres of both local people and foreigners. Initially the trouble was far away from Pat and she wrote a reassuring letter home to her parents telling them not to worry. And then there was silence.

Pat and another woman missionary were at an isolated station deep in the jungle when they heard on their transistor radio that the nearby capitol, Stanleyville, had been seized by the rebels. Pat went to her room to pray and clearly heard God say to her, “You are going to suffer and see dreadful things, but you will be rescued and will see your parents again”.[2] These words sustained her in coming months.


That night some Americans took the two women further north to a mission station in Wamba, but a week later Wamba fell to the rebels. Pat and two other women missionaries were put under house arrest for four and a half months, enduring beatings and abuse several times and under threat of imminent execution. Around this time it was erroneously reported in Auckland newspapers that Pat had been killed [3].


The women hostages were taken by the rebels into the jungle and put into a village hut. Some mercenaries were alerted to their situation and mounted a rescue. When the rebels heard the noise of the mercenaries’ helicopter, they led the women outside to be shot. The words of Psalm 61:2 came to Pat’s mind, “From the end of the earth I will cry unto thee when my heart is overwhelmed. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” [4] Immediately, Pat felt peace. Within minutes the rescuers arrived, and the rebels fled.


All up 30 WEC missionaries were held hostage in the north-eastern area of the Congo – many escaping by various means; all with differing tales of brutality, yet also amazing stories of God’s intervention. Some did not return – one a fellow Kiwi and NZBTI graduate of 1941, Cyril Taylor was shot alongside other hostages by the rebels.[5]






Repatriated to NZ, Pat spent some years caring for her frail stepmother but then returned to the Congo (now Zaire) in 1973 for a further 18 years. At age 66 she retired back to NZ, and volunteered in the ministries of Mt Albert Baptist, the church she had attended since age 17. She joined the pastoral visitation team, helped with a support group for those aged over sixty, and taught beginner English in the church’s ESOL classes. Pat passed away in 2019, a few weeks after turning 94.



[1] Letter quoted in article “Miss Holdaway led busy life serving in Congo”, Mt Albert and Pt Chev News, 14 October 1964

[2] Quote from an interview of Pat Holdaway by Kay Lawson, “World Changer” in a Mt Albert Baptist newsletter, 2010

[3] “Mr and Mrs K.M. Holdaway of St Luke’s Road, Mt Albert, recently received the tragic news of the death of their daughter, Miss Pat Holdaway, who was a missionary in the Congo and was killed by the rebels”; subheading of article: “Miss Holdaway led busy life serving in Congo”, Mt Albert and Pt Chev News, 14 October 1964

[4] As quoted in interview with Kay Lawson, in Mt Albert Baptist newsletter, 2010

[5] The account of Cyril’s death is given by Dr Helen Roseveare in Living Stones: Seventy-Five years of WEC International (Hodder & Stoughton, London), 160-161



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