Skip to main content

Collection 335 Papers of Ralph E. Shannon

Identifier: CN 335

Scope and Contents

Oral history interviews and paper records relating to Ralph Shannon’s life and ministry as a medical missionary in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo).

Audio Tapes

Four oral history interviews with Ralph Shannon, recorded on eight reels of audio tape. Topics covered include Shannon's childhood in Belgian Congo (Zaire) with his missionary parents, Wheaton College undergraduate and graduate education, service in Zaire as a medical missionary with the Presbyterian Church US (southern branch) and its successor, Presbyterian Church-USA, the Church of Christ in Zaire and its internal politics and corruption, the experience of his children as MK's, his wife's work in ethnomusicology, the AIDS epidemic in Zaire, and various other mission-related topics.  The events described in the interviews cover the period from ca. 1938 to 1990.

Ralph Shannon was interviewed by Paul A. Ericksen on July 3, 7, and 8. 1986 and May 16, 1990 at the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College.

Box List (Paper Records)

Also included are several papers written by Shannon while a student in the Wheaton College Graduate School, all related to aspects of the church and ministry in Zaire, including African independent churches (like the Kimbanguist Church), witchcraft among Sub-Saharan Africans, church to mission relationships. These papers tend to be more theoretical in nature, yet express Shannon's thinking on areas also he discussed in his interviews.


  • Created: 1986-1990

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Ralph Edwin Shannon was born in 1938 to Clyde and Elizabeth Lemiere Shannon, the eldest of four children. His parents were missionaries with the Unevangelized Tribes Mission, based at the rural station in Kajiji, Belgian Congo, near the Angolan border. The Shannons returned to the United States for their scheduled furlough in 1939. Unable to return to Africa due to World War II, Shannon's parents had an evangelistic ministry among French Catholics in Louisiana. It was during this time when Shannon was five or six that he was converted during a Bible club taught by his mother. With the conclusion of the war, the Shannons were able to return to Kajiji. Shannon lived on the station with his parents, and was educated through grade school by his mother, using the Calvert programmed learning course. Shannon returned to the United States, living in Monroe, Iowa, where he attended high school; his siblings were educated in a local boarding school which opened when Shannon was in high school. With the dissolution of the UTM in 1953, the Shannons returned to the United States. His parents then affiliated with the Mennonite Brethren, returning to Kajiji in 1955. Shannon entered Wheaton College in 1955 with a declared major of pre-med, intending to become a doctor. He graduated from Wheaton in 1959. He then went to Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston. Between his junior and senior years at Baylor, he was granted a fellowship to work as part of a study group on medical problems in developing areas of Latin America; his assignment was to Guatemala. While there, he met Ralph Winter, then a missionary in Guatemala. Shannon graduated from Baylor in 1963. While a student at Wheaton, Shannon had moved from his Baptist roots to Presbyterianism, and in 1964, Shannon was accepted for a three-year short term appointment (eventually four years) as a missionary doctor to Zaire by the Presbyterian US Board of World Missions. He was momentarily stationed at Lubondaie before he was transferred to Kinshasa for a government-required orientation. After completing the program, Shannon was returned to Lubondaie. He was then assigned to the medical station in Bibanga, where he developed his interest in ophthalmology. Shannon left the station three times during this term: first, for his wedding (See below); then for the birth of their first child, and lastly for an evacuation due to political turmoil.

Returning to the United States in 1968, Shannon began his study and residency in ophthalmology at the University of Pennsylvania in anticipation of establishing an eye treatment center in Zaire. He spent 1971 in Switzerland studying French, and returned to Kananga in 1972 to begin the eye program. The Shannons lived and worked in Kananga from that time, with furloughs in 1975-1976 (Decatur, Georgia), 1980-1981 (Decatur), 1985-86 (Wheaton, Illinois) and 1989-1990 (Wheaton, while Shannon studied at Wheaton College Graduate School in the Missions/Intercultural Studies program).

In 1966, Shannon married Elsbeth Johanna Scheidegger, a Swiss woman working as a secretary and administrative assistant to the Mennonite Central Committee in the Congo. The Shannons had four children: Cedric, Corrine, Scott and Stephanie.


8 Audio Tapes

1 Folder

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives in July 1986 and May 1990 from Ralph Shannon.

Accession 86-72, 86-75, 86-76, 90-53, 90-54

June 7, 1990

Paul A. Ericksen

C. Easley

Archon Finding Aid Title
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US