Chester and Mary Travis were Christian missionaries to French Indochina and Vietnam from 1925-75, where, according to Trena Chellino, they “experienced an abundant measure of Christ’s indwelling and overflowing life.”
The Travis family, with their five children, were taken prisoner by the Japanese during World War II, but that part of their time in French Indochina is not explored much in Chellino’s Love Poured Out of Viet Nam: First-Hand Account of Chester & Mary Travis and Their 50 Years of Ministry in a Country at War (Living Stones, 251 pp., $5.99, Kindle). I would have liked to read a lot more about those years.
I enjoyed this book as it is one of the few I have read in which people are actually happy to be in Southeast Asia. Keep in mind that Chester and Mary Travis were there for most of fifty years with their children. I have countless books by young Americans who spent a year or so in South Vietnam, and do nothing but complain about the people, the heat, the smell, and the food. The Travis family does none of that.
When they left Vietnam in February 1975, they cried. They did not go on about the glories of getting on a Freedom Bird. They were 82 and 77 by then, and it had been a dozen years since they had had a furlough. Long past retirement age, the couple admits, though, that they “were getting really tired.”
Their point of view about the war and about life in Southeast Asia was fascinating to me. President Nixon, they say, “resigned after a political blunder.” Really? They also say that Americans were weary of the war so the United States refused to defend South Vietnam.
The couple continued to minister to the South Vietnamese during the entire war.The book contains chapters about hair-raising escapes over bad roads and driving cars that barely run. Chester Travis is a genius auto mechanic, so he kept old vehicles running long after they should have given up.
The journey via ship to the U. S. is described as “six weeks of tears” as they couple contemplated “the dark cloud of communism” that now “spread all over Vietnam.” What kept the Travis family strong throughout their time in Vietnam was the goal of providing “deliverance from Satan’s power and to be out in the sunshine of God’s infinite love.The hope was to reach “the hearts of hopeless, helpless, miserable human beings who were trapped far from God in a web of darkness.”
The Viet Cong murdered Christian missionaries in 1962 and the family was at serious risk when they took to the roads to visit remote villages where Chester Travis worked as an outdoor evangelist. They would sit with the Vietnamese in their huts and eat steaming hot rice with Nuoc Mam sauce.They learned to enjoy the taste and the odor. They endured malaria and dysentery while ministering to their assigned district of four provinces. This area contained a million people.
Lessons can be learned from this book. Chester and Mary Travis learned the language fluently and the customs, and they truly loved the Vietnamese people.
Qui Nhon, their home base, was at times a target for communist attacks, and it is a miracle they did not die. The chapter on Tet ’68 is one of the most interesting of the war-related chapters. The family was asked or told to evacuate to Bangkok, but refused to go. Five missionaries died during Tet—or as the Travises put it, they were “at home now with the Lord.”
I enjoyed reading this fine book and highly recommend it to readers who are hungry to read about brave Americans who went to the war zone to bring a better life to millions of South Vietnamese. They did not expect, or wish for, a parade when they returned home to America.