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Collection 256 Oral History Interviews with Malcolm and Helen Sawyer

Identifier: CN 256

Scope and Contents

Oral history interviews with Malcolm Maurice Sawyer (1919-2007) and with Helen Irvin Sawyer, in which the Sawyers discuss their childhood, education, and working for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in China, 1948-1950 and in Laos, 1950-1975. Mission activities in Laos include church planting, training of pastors, and medical assistance to the Khamu and Hmong peoples, language study, Vietnam, Thailand and Tibet, transfer to Laos, cultural differences, political situation in Vietnam, relationships between Protestant and Catholic groups, and spiritism. Laotian and tribal people and conversions, cultural situations, and contemporary Indochina. The Sawyers also opened a Bible school which included literacy education and they developed and expanded the literature program for the C&MA. Interviews also include information about their work in the Chicago area with Hmong refugees.  The time period covered by the interviews is roughly 1900 to 1985.

Malcolm Sawyer was interview by Robert Shuster on September 27 and November 14, 1983. Helen Sawyer was interviewed by Stephanie Dixon on November 22 and November 30, 1983.


  • Created: 1985

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Malcolm Sawyer was born April 24, 1919, in Laconia, New Hampshire. He was converted in 1930 through the influence of his uncle, James Sawyer. Partly because of the influence of Robert Ekvall and his mission work in Tibet, Malcolm later felt a definite call to the mission field while he was living in Old Orchard, Maine. This decision to be a missionary determined his choice of Nyack Missionary Institute for training, and it was there he met his future wife, Helen Irvin. Helen Irvin was born in August, 1923, and grew up in Louisville, Kentucky in a family which included four brothers and sisters. The healing of her mother's tuberculosis of the bone, the family involvement with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA), and the presence of many Christian guests in the household contributed to the subsequent involvement of all of her brothers and sisters in Christian work. Helen decided to become a missionary, and selected Nyack Missionary Institute, New York, for her schooling. There she met her future husband, Malcolm Sawyer. They were married in 1943. After their marriage, Malcolm was required by the policies of the Christian and Missionary Alliance to serve a pastorate as preparation for the mission field. The Sawyers went first to West Haverstraw, New York, and next to Dixon, Illinois, where they stayed for two years. Both felt strongly called to go to China while in Dixon, and this decision led to departure for training in language and cultural studies in Montreat, North Carolina. The Sawyers left for China from San Francisco in 1947, and arrived in Shanghai in 1948. Their first assignment was in Gansu Province near the Tibetan border in Labrang. They spent the following year in study of the Tibetan language, but were forced to leave in 1949 because of the communist takeover. The eldest of four daughters, Janet, was five and a half years old when they left after spending a few months in southern China. Following a short period in Hong Kong in 1950, the Sawyers were sent to Saigon, Vietnam, and then to Dalat for French language study, where a center for Christian work was established to work with tribal peoples of Vietnam. After nine months of learning French, they were next assigned, in September 1950, to Luang Prabang in Laos for language study. The Sawyers remained in Laos between 1950 and 1975. Two more daughters, Karen and Susan, were born in Indo-China, and the youngest, Ellen, was born in the United States during one of their furloughs. Their first assignment in Luang Prabang included work in church planting in tribal villages of both the Khamu and Hmong peoples and with Laotian Buddhist believers in the city. This evangelistic activity included training of pastors and dispensing simple medical supplies because of the absence of medical facilities in Laos. The Sawyers also spent one year working in a Bible school which included many students from the Hmong tribe. In 1959 the Sawyers moved to Vietiane, Laos, to open up a Bible school and begin a program of Bible training. Between 1960 and 1971, the campus was enlarged and more extensive training provided for different grade levels as literacy increased. The Sawyers were asked to take over the literature department for CMA in 1971, and they worked with its expansion and with church planting until 1975. In that year Laos was taken over by communist rulers following the fall of Vietnam and Cambodia. The Sawyers crossed the border into Thailand, expecting to return shortly, but were unable to do this. They remained in Thailand for several months and then returned for furlough in July 1975 to Wheaton, Illinois. Their next assignment was to Thailand to work with refugees in 1976. A year later they were transferred to Hong Kong until 1981. After their return to Wheaton, Illinois, both Sawyers became involved in working with Hmong refugees who had emigrated to the Chicago area. Their ministry was conducted through the College Church and Blanchard Road Alliance Church, both in Wheaton. They also conducted a ministry to Laotians in Hanover Park, Illinois, and in Chesterton, Indiana. As of 1985, the Sawyers lived in Wheaton.


4.00 Audio Tapes

496 Minutes

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

The materials in this collection were given to the Billy Graham Center Archives in September and November 1983.

Accession 83-106, 83-133, 83-147, 83-151

December 18, 1985

Frances L. Brocker

J. Nasgowitz

October 31, 1995

Paul A. Ericksen

Collection 256 Oral History Interviews with Malcolm and Helen Sawyer
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Repository Details

Part of the Evangelism & Missions Archives Repository

501 College Avenue
Wheaton IL 60187 US