County Native Spends 41 Years In Africa As Methodist Missionary
The lifework of 92-year-old Vera Decker Woodcock took her a long, long way from Fulton County and her family’s Harrisonville farm to what is now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Africa.
It was there at the Sandoa mission station that Vera and husband Everett Woodcock spent 41 years of service as United Methodist Church missionaries.
Vera’s responsibilities at Sandoa were to instruct women and girls in Bible study, sewing and adult literacy. However, the United Methodist Church bishop of Africa at the time, Newell Booth, felt that Vera’s greatest ministry would be her Christian home. And so, Vera engaged school girls to help with the housework, cooking and childcare. This became Vera’s method of ministry as she and Everett served in their varied appointments during their many years of missionary work.
Retired and living with her husband at the Brooks-Howell Home in Ashville, N.C., since 2006, Vera recently came home to Fulton County to attend the reunion of the descendants of her parents, Chester and Mary Decker, at her home church, Sideling Hill Christian Church, where she and Everett were married on Aug. 29, 1944.
The story of her Christian service and long life, including her early life on the family farm, was shared at the reunion with the 50 or so members of the Decker family in attendance
Born in Dec. 28, 1919, Vera is the sixth of nine children: Edna Bard, Thelma Swope, Cleo Fisher, Wayne Decker, Vera, Iva Strait, Wendall Decker and Kyle Decker. She completed high school at Green Hill and then earned a Bachelor of Science degree in education at Shippensburg State College. Vera spent two years teaching in a rural school before applying to the Methodist Board of Missions. To prepare for mission work, she took summer courses at Scarritt College for Christian Workers in Nashville, Tenn.
The Woodcocks happily accepted the Methodist Church’s invitation to teach and minister in what was then known as the Belgian Congo. After a year of mission study at Hartford Seminary, they arrived in Lubumbashi, the second largest city in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on Dec. 20, 1945. They celebrated Christmas that year at the Likasi mission station, where they met John and Helen Springer. The Springers had established the Methodist Mission of the southern Congo in 1918 and are today notable as pioneering missionaries instrumental in developing Methodism on the continent of Africa.
From Likasi, Vera and Everett took a train 400 miles to Dilolo, near the border with Angola, and rode 70 miles north in a pickup truck to the Sandoa mission station. There, Vera says, the couple was welcomed by joyful people who had been waiting for the coming missionaries.
The Woodcocks first priority was to learn the local language, Uruund, a language spoken in the Congo, Angola and Zambia, and sometimes referred to as the English of Africa. With the help of a Danish missionary nurse, Anna Lerback, who had prepared lessons, and several church leaders who knew some English, Vera and Everett began the daunting task of learning the native tongue.
The Woodcocks five children have many fond memories of their time at Sandoa, and women who learned in Vera’s kitchen eventually went on to become church leaders.
Perhaps most telling of all about Vera Woodcock’s years in Africa is the honor bestowed on her by the people she served in Christian love. They named her Kapalang Rukat, Kapalang being the name of a woman village chief who is known for keeping a neat and beautiful village, and Rukat meaning love in the Uruund language.