Skip to main content

Collection 260 Oral History Interviews with Jeannette Thiessen

Identifier: CN 260

Scope and Contents

Oral history interviews with Jeannette Louise Martig Thiessen (1927-2014) in which she discusses her family life in Illinois, favorite professors and her education at Wheaton College, nurses' training, and years in India (1952-1974) working with her husband under the sponsorship of the Mennonite Mission to the Lepers and American Leprosy Mission. Other topics discussed include: the Indian caste system, Indian politics, economics, literacy, hospital work with lepers, the Indian church, education of American children in India, culture shock on furloughs, and death from Sjorgen-Larsson Syndrome of their daughter. The time period covered by the interview is 1917 to 1983.

Jeannette Thiessen was interviewed by Daniel Hamman on November 9 and 15, 1983 at her home in Wheaton.


  • Created: 1983

Conditions Governing Access

There are no restrictions on the use of this collection.

Biographical Information

Jeannette Louise Martig was born to Karl and Camilla Martig on November 1, 1927, in Peoria, Illinois, the fifth of six daughters. The Martig family was involved first with the Christian Apostolic Church because of the German background of both parents, and later became members of the Missionary Church Association in the Mt. Olive Missionary Church in Peoria.

From a very early age, Jeannette had determined to become a missionary, and decided to apply for a scholarship to Wheaton College offered by the company owned by Robert Le Tourneau in the Peoria vicinity. The decision to become a missionary had been shaped by attendance at a camp at Winona Lake, Indiana, also owned by Le Tourneau. Visits by V. Raymond Edman and Wheaton College counselors, and a book written by Hudson Taylor, Spiritual Secrets, were other influences in her decision to devote her life to mission work.

Her reading about the mission field had generated a realization that medical knowledge would be beneficial. Because of this she enrolled in 1945 in the pre-medical course at Wheaton College, and remained in that training until 1947. The difficulty of this convinced her that it would be better to enter the newly-instituted affiliation with a nurses training program at West Suburban Hospital, Oak Park, Illinois. She completed this program after three years, and then returned to finish her studies at Wheaton. In May 1950 she graduated from West Suburban Hospital as a Registered Nurse, and from Wheaton with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing in January 1951.

While at West Suburban Hospital she became acquainted with a medical student, Arthur David Thiessen, who had grown up in India in a mission family. They were married on October 7, 1951, and spent the period of internship required to complete Dr. Thiessen's medical training in Lafayette, Indiana. When Dr. Thiessen received his degree, they both applied to serve in India under the General Conference of the Mennonite Church to work with lepers, and departed by freighter from New York City on December 5, 1952.

After arrival in Bombay, India, they journeyed to Champa to begin language training for work in the hospital for lepers under the Mennonite Mission to the Lepers and the American Leprosy Mission. On completion of the examinations required, Jeannette began to assume nursing duties in the hospital where her husband was responsible for the medical program and surgery. Together they worked in these capacities from 1952 to l 974, both in Champa and at the Ellingowan House in Landour, India. The health of Dr. Thiessen was primarily responsible for their decision to return to the United States.

The Thiessens had four girls, three of whom were born in India: Karen Joy, Camilla Ruth, and Velma Jean. Sheila Ann was born in Wheaton while the Thiessens were on furlough. Sheila was later diagnosed in 1965 as having Sjorgren-Larsson Syndrome, a rare genetic disease which caused her death in 1979.

After their return to the United States, the Thiessens moved to Wheaton, Illinois. In 1983 Jeannette was employed by Medical Assistance Program International (M.A.P. International), and was responsible for the Resource Center. She also worked with the Wheaton College HNGR program to prepare students for internships overseas. In addition she assisted with "Health in Community Development," a workshop given in Wheaton and in other countries.


3.00 Audio Tapes

192 Minutes

Language of Materials


Accruals and Additions

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

Accession: 83-130, 83-139

September 11, 1985

Frances L. Brocker

D. Hamman

J. Nasgowitz

Collection 260 Oral History Interviews with Jeannette Thiessen
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