Esther Kroh: Gods Faithful Servant
Our beloved and blessed mother, Esther Galbraith Kroh was ushered into the presence of her Lord and Savior on May 28, 2020 at the Good Samaritan Hospice at Concordia in Cabot, PA Esther was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance and served as a missionary nurse-midwife/teacher for 42 years in the Congo, Gabon and Cambodia, along with her husband, Dr. Dean F. Kroh. She cherished her husband and family and longed for all to know the love of Jesus, clearly exemplified in her life.
Esther is survived by her children, David Kroh, June (Gray) Kershner and Dean Kroh, seven grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Esther was preceded in death by her husband of 70 years, her son Daniel Kroh, grandson Ryan Kroh two brothers and two sisters.
Esther was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where her parents and grandparents were charter members of the North Side Christian and Missionary Alliance (Allegheny Center) Church. She felt a clear call to be a missionary nurse at the age of 14, and it was this singular focus to fulfill the Lord's will in her life that would mark a lifetime of service. In 1938 Esther graduated from West Penn School of Nursing with her RN, then worked for two years at the Erie County TB Hospital to fund the four years at Nyack Missionary Training Institute and the six-month midwifery course in New York City that would follow.
In 1945, after appointment by the Christian and Missionary Alliance to the Belgian Congo, Esther boarded a Pan Am Clipper and embarked on a 50-day journey to Europe and then down the coast of Africa, finally arriving at the remote mission station of Kinkonzi. After intensive study of the local language, Esther began to teach young Congolese girls to become nurse's aids and midwives, and opened a small clinic to provide prenatal and postnatal care, injections, treat local diseases and promote public health. Esther quickly learned that a nurse in the Congo in 1945 must be bold as well as resourceful. She cared for a fragile premature baby in her own home for weeks, with the thankful father later presenting her with fruit and a chicken, and in another case, successfully reattached a severed Achilles tendon, allowing the patient to later walk home. Puzzled why such a procedure was not addressed in her Manual of Minor Surgery, Esther would later find it was classified as major surgery.
Before returning to the States in 1948, Esther was approached by the President of the national church with a specific request. They had been asking for a doctor for years, and in the Kikongo dialect, he said, "We want you to find a doctor and tempt him to come back to Congo with you."
Flying back to Pittsburgh, Esther was understandably skeptical of that prospect, and focused on preparing for her next term, but as she later recounted, "Little did I know the Lord had a willing doctor in mind, Dr. Dean Kroh." Dean Kroh had just finished his medical training with the Army in Japan, returned to Pittsburgh, and was eager to go to the Congo, where he felt called to be a medical missionary. Then, in February 1949 he was introduced to Esther. With Missionary Tour and deadlines looming for Esther's return to the Congo, it became an accelerated courtship, or as Esther put it, "The Lord led Dean to shorten the usual steps of a courtship." But not so fast. When Dean proposed to Esther on a June evening, Esther replied. "My heart says yes, but I have to pray about it." "Ok, but I know what your answer is going to be," was Dean's quick response. Esther's answer to prayer came the next morning in her devotions, where she resumed her reading in Jeremiah, "And I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for the good of them, and of their children after them." Jer 32:39 KJV The vision and faith they shared would see them through more than seventy years of serving the Lord together. Through sacrifice and tragedies, they would always find grace, blessings, and reward to be more abundant, and seeking the Lord's will to be preeminent.
Their calling and vision indeed were one, and on their wedding day on September 2, 1949, they received a telegram from the Alliance that Dean had been appointed to the Congo as the first Medical Doctor for the CMA. In January 1950 the couple sailed to Belgium where they would spend a year studying French and tropical medicine. With the coming challenge of building and outfitting a hospital in the Congo, time was also spent procuring medical equipment, funded by generous donations from churches, individuals, and personal funds. In November, Dean and Esther were blessed with twin sons, Daniel and David. And so it was, having left the field single, Esther returned to the Congo in February 1951 with a husband and two sons.
Dean and Esther immediately began overseeing the designing and construction of what would become the Kinkonzi Evangelical Hospital. Even in that first year, the small staff of additional Alliance nurses and trained nationals would often treat more than 200 patients a day. Over the next four terms the Krohs served in the Congo, later Zaire, the hospital would grow to 150 beds, including a maternity center, surgical unit, medical wards, dispensary, eye, and dental unit, with tens of thousands receiving medical care and countless thousands coming to Christ through Chapel Services and the personal witness of the staff. Esther worked tirelessly, instructing in the Nursing School, managing the maternity ward, working in the dispensary and doing patient intake. Observing Esther in action one day, a fellow missionary was prompted to remark, there goes "Our Mother of Perpetual Motion."
These were personally rewarding years as well, with the addition of two children to the Kroh's Nest, daughter June, and son Dean. Esther and Dean lovingly raised their four children on biblical principles, through instruction in nightly devotions and by the example they set in their daily lives. Esther always encouraged the children to appreciate the unique opportunities in their rich environment, and eagerly planned the European travel the family would enjoy when returning to the States.
In 1969 the Krohs returned home for an extended three-year furlough in Washington, PA. While Esther enjoyed setting up home to provide a base for three children in college, she took every opportunity in churches and the local community to promote missions, and encourage fellow Christians to pray for, write, and support international Christian workers.
In 1972, Dean and Esther answered the call again. In cooperation with the Alliance, World Vision wanted Dean and Esther to design, plan and staff a children's hospital in Phnom Penh, the capital of war-torn Cambodia. While work was progressing on the hospital, Dean and Esther worked with the thousands of refugees who had fled to the city for safety. Each day scattered rockets came into the city, maiming and setting fires, but Esther spoke of the opportunity to bring Bible School students to their clinics to witness to the refugees, offering some hope to receptive Cambodians in the midst of their hardships. The fall of the city to the Khmer Rouge was imminent, however, and in March of 1975, after the Kroh's were given three days notice by the American Embassy to evacuate Phnom Penh, they returned to Pittsburgh.
After eight more years of work in Zaire and Gabon, Esther and Dean officially retired from the CMA at Council in May of 1987. But within a year, with Cambodia somewhat stabilized after the destruction of war and subsequent occupation by the Vietnamese, World Vision requested the couple return to work in their children's hospital. Esther relates that they felt full assurance of the Lord's purpose and plan for them in their first days back. While in the large market in Phnom Penh, a young woman greeted her with a surprised hello, "You were my teacher! For 13 years my sister and I have prayed that you would come back to us." There had been profound suffering in Cambodia, but Esther rejoiced in the opportunity to renew former friendships, hand out Bibles, and encourage new Christians.
When Esther Galbraith arrived in the Congo as a single missionary in 1945, she recorded meeting a 71-year-old missionary lady beginning her 26th year of service. Esther observed, "May the Lord grant me the health and vigor to continue my labor for Him that long." Her retirement in 1987 from the Alliance marked 42 years of service, and the recent celebration of her 102nd birthday is testimony to an answer to that prayer.
Reflecting on her life, Easter once remarked: "How thankful we are that we followed the Lord's leading to minister to physical needs and share His love. Sometimes it was in a small hospital, or a one-room hut in Congo, designing a children's hospital, or encouraging struggling refugees who had just seen all they owned destroyed and had great physical needs. We feel wonderfully rewarded for our years of service by the joy and abundant blessing He continually pours out upon us."
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Christian and Missionary Alliance Great Commission Fund at cmalliance.org.
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