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Ruth Margaret Cremer

1952-1953 / NZBTI Diploma (Queen Street Campus)

Ruth grew up in Ranui, West Auckland and committed her life to Jesus at age 16. It was not until her 70th birthday that she learnt that her paternal grandfather had prayed that one of his grandchildren would be a missionary. She was to be the answer to that prayer. At a missionary meeting a year after her conversion, Ruth had a clear call from God to train as a teacher as preparation for her future service. After training, and then teaching in a primary school for two years, Ruth entered the NZ Bible Training Institute at age 21. In her application to NZBTI she wrote: “At each time I have asked God what is His will. He has given me an answer in my daily readings that points to training for the work of telling the Gospel.” [1]

During her time at NZBTI Ruth’s conviction that she was to serve God in Africa was confirmed, and before her graduation in 1953 she had been accepted by SIM (Sudan Interior Mission) to serve in Ethiopia. She set sail from Auckland on 9 July 1954 at age 23, her companion a fellow graduate, Olwyn Keyte, who was on her way to Nigeria. Fifty years later Ruth wrote of that day: “Well I remember the tears of the family who saw me off, but for me it was a great joy to go – the culmination of eight years in which I had sought and found what was the Lord’s will for me.” [2] It was also a great joy for her church community at New Lynn Baptist, as Ruth was their second missionary to be sent from that church. They wrote letters so that Ruth had a letter to open each day of her journey.

After a 28-day voyage to Aden, Yemen, Ruth flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – the country where she was to serve for the next 54 years. She studied Amharic and soon became a fluent speaker and able teacher, teaching Bible and presenting the Gospel in various SIM schools in Ethiopia for the next 20 years. In those years she mostly taught Ethiopian children but for two years she taught Amharic to new missionaries. She also spent one year heading the SIM Education Department which provided supervision, curriculum, and materials for 41 SIM schools.

When the communist revolution took place in Ethiopia in 1974 Ruth refused a seat on the plane evacuating missionaries. Eventually the new communist regime decreed that foreigners were not allowed to teach at the primary level and took over the SIM schools. As that door closed to Ruth, another opened and she joined the Key Scriptures project which was translating basic scripture passages for eight language groups in Ethiopia. After linguistics training in England and Australia, in 1981 Ruth became the Kafa New Testament project coordinator, recruiting and mentoring a number of Kafa speakers.

While working on the translation project, Ruth was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 1996 and returned to New Zealand for surgery and radiotherapy treatment – involving 27 trips to Auckland Hospital. Five months later she was back in Ethiopia. In April 2001 the Kafa New Testament was dedicated.

In an article for an SIM magazine in 2005, Ruth wrote:

After beginning Kafa translation, I found most Kafa “Christians” believed in salvation by good works. In 1992, at the invitation of the Kafa church leaders, I travelled around churches by mule or horse to preach the Gospel. Many entered into new life in Christ. They now use the Kafa New Testament and materials for Sunday Schools, Bible Studies, and literacy in most of the 180 churches of this 700,000 people group. [3]

The article marked 50 years of Ruth’s service in Ethiopia. She concluded by noting: “My aim in coming to Ethiopia was to make the Gospel known. The Lord has given me many opportunities for the fulfilment of that desire.” [4]

Ruth continued her involvement with the Kafa translation team as they worked on the Old Testament. In February 2008, at age 77, she suddenly took ill and returned to NZ where she was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She passed away the following month on 26 March.

At her funeral people spoke of her determined nature, her intelligence, her ability to learn and master languages, and her care of others. A remembrance service in April 2008 saw hundreds of people gather in Addis Ababa to remember this woman who had served among them for 54 years. Representatives from the Kafa translation team, the Kale Heywet church, the United Bible Societies, and her brother Graeme and sister Joan and their spouses, were among the mourners. It was noted that she had been called “Mother Ruth” by many, that she was famous for her hospitality, and that her task was bigger than translating the Kafa Bible. “She wanted to see the Kafa church built up in the most holy faith.” [5]

In 2021, the full Bible translation in the Kafa Language was dedicated in the Ethiopian town of Bonga. The work Ruth had begun 40 years earlier was complete.

[1] Application to NZBTI, 15 October 1951

[2] Ruth M. Cremer, “50 Years” reflections, 2004

[3] Ruth Cremer, “Why am I in Ethiopia?”, Serving in Mission, Issue 108, Dec 2004-Feb 2005, p.6

[4] Ibid, p.7

[5] “Face to Face with Christ my Saviour”, tribute to Ruth Cremer, Serving in Mission Together, Issue 121, July 2008, p.7.

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