Hal and Ruthan Burchel

Retired Missionaries to Kenya
By Kacey Heinlein, Writing Intern
March 2015

Doctor and nurse team Hal and Ruthan Burchel answered God’s call to serve at many different stages in their lives, both in Africa and in the United States. As parents, medical professionals, and evangelists, their primary goal has always been to share the gospel.

Hal remembers being called to missions at the age of 9 while being raised in a minister’s family in New England. Ruthan grew up in Ohio, also as the daughter of a minister. Despite wrestling with her faith throughout her teen years, she knew she was supposed to be a missionary from age 11. They met at the Ohio Conference of the Wesleyan Church and became friends, forming a close relationship right before Ruth left to serve short term as a nurse in Sierra Leone after graduating from the Grant Hospital School of Nursing (Ohio). They married soon after her return in 1965.

Hal attended Houghton College and earned his medical degree at the Upstate Medical Center (New York). Before joining World Gospel Mission, Hal and Ruthan served in a Wesleyan mission hospital in Zambia where their second child, Jim, was born. Their daughter, Martha, was 3 at the time. Though they only stayed in Zambia three and a half years, the Burchels knew that once their children were grown, they would like to return to the mission field to serve.

Back in the United States, Hal went into family practice and the family moved to Thomasville, North Carolina. After several years, they began to feel a call back to missions. Despite financial obligations, things fell into place for the Burchels to return to the mission field, something Hal called “nothing short of a miracle.” In October 1988, Hal and Ruthan were appointed to Kenya with WGM. They brought with them their two youngest sons, Jon and Joe.

Serving the medical needs of the patients at Tenwek Hospital in Kenya gave them the opportunity to share their faith. One man who was an inpatient at the hospital surprised Hal after being led through the plan of salvation when he refused to pray, “Lord, I admit I am a sinner and need your forgiveness.” When asked why, the man replied, “I already did that five minutes ago when you were talking to me about it, and I am no longer a sinner. God has forgiven me!”

In February 1995, Hal and Ruthan transferred to Tanzania, where they opened a new medical mission. To serve as many people as possible, they worked in mobile medical clinics in villages around Tabora, Tanzania. They used these clinics to witness and serve the community’s spiritual needs as well as their medical needs.

Though the Burchels retired in 1999, they remained committed to evangelism. In a letter to Dennis Johnson, then vice president of Field Ministries at WGM, Hal said, “Someone once asked Billy Graham what he’d do if he knew Jesus was returning that day, or week, or month, and he replied, ‘I’d keep right on doing what I’m doing now.’ Well, I wouldn’t! I’m earning a lot of money, but I don’t want to waste the rest of my life earning money…. I want to spend the rest of my productive days winning as many people to Jesus as possible.”

Hal and Ruthan sought to do just that on several short-term trips to Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia. They led work teams to build orphanages for children of AIDS victims. They organized pastors’ conferences and courses on evangelism. By 2004, they felt led back to full-time ministry and returned to Africa to serve in Nairobi, Kenya. At that time, they formed a relationship with New Directions International, a missions organization based in Burlington, North Carolina. When the Burchels retired from WGM in 2006, they continued working with New Directions International.

Hal and Ruthan live in Florida where they spend time with their children and grandchildren. Their many years of service have been lived exemplifying the value they once asked their supporters to pray for: “The ability to sort out eternal values from the pressing things to be done.”