Obituary: Lorinda Robinson / Baden missionary, 'Mother Teresa of Africa'
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Lorinda Robinson, a Baden native who took the gospel of Jesus into West African prisons and clean water into disease-stricken villages, died Thursday from cancer at the age of 53.
Since 1988, she had fled civil war in Ivory Coast, ministered to the needy in Burkina Faso and was planning to join a new outreach in Senegal when she was diagnosed with cancer.
"In many ways she was a Mother Teresa of Africa in her love and care for the people there," said Bob Fetherlin, vice president for international ministries of the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church in the United States.
"Lorinda had a joyful spirit and a grateful heart, regardless of the circumstances she was in. ... Her primary passion was to glorify her Lord and savior."
She grew up in the Christian & Missionary Alliance Church, a denomination founded to foster ties between congregations and overseas missionaries. In 2005, she told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that she felt a strong call to the mission field as a 3-year-old.
"My parents always talked about how much God loved us. Then someone said there were people in the world that didn't know this, and I felt bad," she said. "I wanted to tell them."
After graduating from Ambridge Area High School in 1976, she earned a degree in missiology from St. Paul Bible College in Minnesota and in 1987 a master's degree in missions and intercultural ministries from Wheaton College in Illinois.
In the interim she served as director of Christian education at a church in New Jersey. After Wheaton, she spent a year in France learning French for service in West Africa.
She was 30 when she arrived in Ivory Coast, where she became fluent in the Baule tribal language. According to her mission agency, she was a gifted teacher of teachers, who trained Sunday school teachers and other leaders for the local church. She was active in women's ministries and served as a hostess for visitors at the mission station.
When robbers broke into the house she shared with other missionaries, "we prayed and they left," she said in 2005, adding that townspeople told them the robbers reported being frightened away by men in white robes.
In 2002, civil war broke out, with fighting around her house. After a week, the U.S. State Department organized a risky evacuation. She had to leave nearly everything behind.
"The hardest part was saying good-bye. It was terrible knowing that we would be leaving our friends in the middle of a war," she said.
"Lorinda handled it with great grace and was never overwhelmed by fear or terror. And she was adaptable, willing to look at other places where she could serve," Mr. Fetherlin said.
At home, before going to Burkina Faso, she was the same outgoing person she had always been, said her brother, Paul Robinson of Baden.
"She was a big Steelers fan. She was a very social person," he said.
To the best of Mr. Robinson's knowledge, his sister never regretted not marrying.
"I think, in some ways, singleness gave her more freedom," he said.
In Burkina Faso she taught the Bible, also using it as a textbook to teach English. She had a ministry to prostitutes, helping them leave the streets, get treatment for medical issues including AIDS and helping immigrants among them return home.
She taught preventive health to mothers, along with knowledge of how to respond to common diseases. She ministered to women in prison, in a nation where the prisoner's families had to supply food and any medical care. Her brother recalled her taking a pregnant woman from the prison to deliver in a hospital.
If she visited a village where children were dying because of malnutrition or unclean drinking water, she would call on her extensive network to bring in food or drill a well.
"She would do it in a way that was marked by dignity, so they didn't feel like beggars," Mr. Fetherlin said.
When she returned to the United States last summer she was preparing to move from Burkina Faso to Senegal, where the Christian & Missionary Alliance was planning a new outreach to people who were hostile to Christianity, Mr. Fetherlin said. Through providing social services geared to specific local needs at a freestanding service center, "the hope was that opportunities would come to build relationships with local people so that misgivings and misunderstandings would fade away," he said.
All missionaries home on leave are required to have extensive medical exams. Last fall, a routine colonoscopy revealed cancer. Initially surgery seemed successful. But in April, the cancer recurred as a highly aggressive melanoma that ate into her bones.
Through all of it her prayer, taken up by countless others who heard her story, was that she could return to the mission field.
"If we had blessed it, she would have died there," Mr. Fetherlin said.
She is survived by her parents, Dorman and Florence Robinson of Baden; a brother, Paul Robinson of Baden; and a sister, Charlotte Robinson of Mars.
A memorial service will be held Aug. 4 at 11 a.m. in Christ Alliance Church, 1881 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa. Gifts may be made to the Christian & Missionary Alliance, P.O. Box 35000, Colorado Springs, CO 80935, with memo line Lorinda Robinson/Dakar Ministry Center.
First Published July 22, 2012 12:00 am