You have enriched the lives of countless individuals and served as an inspiration to the community. I commend you for sharing your wisdom, guidance, and faith with others
August 8th 1924 – October 26th 2020
Eleanor was born Eleanor Jane Holdeman on August 8, 1924, to Bertha and Roscoe “Doc” Holdeman in rural Tippah County, Mississippi. Eleanor had acquired her pilot’s license early in life, following her dream of being a missionary as a bush pilot in Africa. She earned her undergraduate degree at Stetson University and her M.A. in Christian Education at Columbia Bible Institute—known today as Columbia University. She was the kind of young woman who had submitted herself to God’s will, and willing to go anywhere for His name’s sake, and she felt a strong pull to serve in Africa. But, all that would change when Eleanor was 20 years old, a single trip would change her life’s trajectory..
Eleanor’s mother, Bertha, had wanted to be a missionary for her entire adult life. However, with a German name in the era of world wars, she was not allowed to leave the United States until her 50’s. So, she became a nurse by trade, and served her local community. Finally, in 1947, with her children grown and God’s calling as strong as ever, she moved to Haiti to serve with a fledgling ministry. Later that year, Eleanor came to see her mother’s new home, and became acquainted with the young man working alongside Bertha—Wallace Turnbull. One year later, Eleanor moved to Haiti, and she and Wallace were married.
Reflecting upon her decision to marry Wallace, Eleanor said that she saw the opportunity for them to work together as servants of Jesus. “I married for holiness, not happiness,” she said. “It was obvious to me that this was God’s will. There was a divine, sacred, pre-ordained plan here.” That spirit of obedience resulted in a life that bore an entire orchard of fruit, and continues to bear fruit to this day.
Eleanor devoted the rest of her life to see the expansion of God’s Kingdom in Haiti. When Eleanor arrived, less than 1% of the population was literate. Realizing that those who were illiterate couldn’t read the Bible, Eleanor felt a heavy burden for education. Together, she and Wallace established the first mission school in 1948. Seventy years later, millions of students have been educated in the approximately 350 schools that came to be associated with the mission. She often recalled the encouragement of students who read Scripture to their illiterate parents around the evening fire.
At the beginning of Eleanor’s ministry, the healthcare of the Haitian people was virtually nonexistent. Yaws–a flesh-eating organism–ravaged the countryside, and a large portion of people died from preventable diseases and infections. Eleanor soon found herself on the frontlines of rural public health, fighting to establish a network of care. Eleanor worked with her mother and some local Haitian doctors to establish the Hospital of Fermathe in 1963. She then worked hard to encourage collaboration between healthcare providers across the country, eventually founding the nationwide Association of Christian Hospitals, which would establish guidelines and best practices for the major hospitals of other missions across every department of Haiti. In 2018, the medical ministries initiated by Eleanor served over 120,000 patients. Eleanor’s final days were spent in this hospital under the care of a doctor who was educated in rural Haiti through one of the BHM schools.
Books have been filled with the stories and accomplishments of Wallace and Eleanor. Being the recipient of national awards, honorary doctorates, and the recognition of some of the world’s most influential leaders, Eleanor would be the first to say that all of that was just icing on the cake. “All that stuff is nice. It’s pretty and fancy and it looks nice, but all this—it’s all God’s. Pretense is dangerous,” she would say. “Faith, hope, and love. That’s it. It’s obedience. God is faithful.”
“For the son of man did not come to be served but to serve;” to serve is to replicate Christ. At BHM our service and mission is a reflection of God’s love to those we serve. Our hope is that our actions continue to draw other people Christ.
We desire to see the fostering of spiritual maturity among the people of Haiti just as Christ mentored and instructed his own disciples. As the individuals of the church are equipped and empowered so also will the church be strengthened.
Our mission is rooted in spreading the gospel. As a result, we seek to aid in the development of local churches so they may be equipped for every good work that God wills them to do