The online Bible teaching ministry of John Brand

This Day in HIS-story: March 4

HT: Christian History Institute

On this day, 4 March 1963, two missionary couples drove out of Saigon, South Vietnam, crowded into a Land-Rover with their five children. The Makils and Jacobsens were headed north along Route 20, toward the Makil home near Dalat. 

The Makils were recent arrivals in Vietnam where they planned to engage in translation work. Gaspar Makil had served as a shoeless Filipino freedom fighter against the Japanese during World War II. After the war, he studied engineering in the United States. Making a commitment to Christ, he went on to obtain Bible training from Moody Bible Institute. He met his wife, African American Josephine Johnson, while helping out at the Pacific Garden Mission in Chicago. Following their marriage, they engaged in language studies with the Summer Institute of Linguistics and were assigned to work in Vietnam. 

The pair had four children—including twin girls Janie and Jessie, who were born after their arrival in Vietnam. Part of the reason they had been in Saigon was to obtain official birth certificates for the twins. While in Saigon, they had also received their translation assignment.

Now headed home, they were about seventy miles outside Saigon when they encountered a string of stalled cars. Armed men ordered them to stop. Assuming they were at a South Vietnamese checkpoint, they presented their credentials. The armed men ordered the families from their vehicle and began looting it. Then the missionaries realized they had fallen into the hands of Communist guerillas. 

A warning shot rang out as a truckload of South Korean troops appeared in the distance. The Vietcong responded by shooting Elwood Jacobson point blank in the head, killing him instantly. They riddled Gaspar with bullets. Then the assassins vanished into the countryside.

They left dead bodies and two shattered families behind them. Makil had died before he hit the ground, wounded in his chest and jugular vein. He had been holding his son, Thomas, and baby Janie in his arms. Both children were also struck by bullets. Janie would die within a few hours in a Saigon hospital, but Thomas, wounded in the leg, recovered. Government troops failed to find the assassins.

Makil had written to his sister that he did not pray for long life in this world. “How you live that life is the thing that matters, not how long. The life is Christ’s.” 

Service for Christ remained the motivation of the widows. Vurnell Jacobsen, who had held her seven-month-old daughter Karli during the shooting, continued mission work in South Vietnam. Josephine Makil requested transfer to the Philippines so that her surviving children, Thomas, Carol, and Jessie, could grow up near their father’s family. After her return to the United States, she worked as a translator, educator, and cross-cultural trainer with Wycliffe Bible translators.

Dan Graves

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