Ellen Pfirman


Retired missionary to Kenya
“We Did Not Live in Fear”
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer
May 2014

When God first called Ellen Pfirman to serve Him on the mission field, she was worried because she was sure He was calling her to Africa. But even though she was terrified at the idea of snakes, scorpions, and danger of all kinds, once she made the commitment to surrender to God’s will, she stuck with it.

Born in Northfield, New Jersey, on September 25, 1937, Ellen attended church with her mother and siblings throughout her childhood. She accepted Christ as her Savior at the age of 16, and a month later made a full surrender to the Lord. She attended Eastern Pilgrim College (Pennsylvania) for her Bachelor of Theology degree and went on to complete her MA in elementary education at Glassboro State Teacher’s College (New Jersey) while teaching in New Jersey public schools.

In 1964, Ellen was appointed as a missionary to Burundi. She taught English and Bible to high school students. She worked on creating Vacation Bible School materials from scratch, including lessons, illustrations, and training materials for teachers. She especially looked forward to spending time with her students outside of class. “Often I would just stumble into moments of ministry while walking to a village or going over papers.”

In addition to ministry, Ellen often found herself doing things she never would have dreamed of, such as maintaining the hydroelectric plant that powered the mission station. “The Lord was marvelous, always helping us. One day, the power turned off and it was only Eva Hasecuster and I at the station. I hiked down to the valley and found a dead rat trapped in the works. So I took it out and everything worked again!”

In 1982, a teacher was needed at Southwest Indian School on the American Indian Field. In addition to teaching, Ellen served as dorm mother to 30 Native American girls. She enjoyed the one-on-one counseling and encouraging that came along with this role.

But Africa remained on her heart, and in 1985, Ellen moved to Tanzania. She continued to be involved in education. She taught Bible lessons in Swahili, one of the main languages. These lessons were distributed all over the area, and participants earned their own Bibles after completing the lessons.

She also began traveling with a team showing the Jesus film. In almost every single showing of the film, people prayed to receive Christ. “Sometimes it would look like it was threatening to rain, and we would pray so hard for the rain to hold off. I lost count of how many times the rain would start right after we packed up all the equipment,” she shared.

In 2000, Ellen moved to Kenya, where she “had the ideal job.” She taught Bible and theology to pastors in training during the week and showed the Jesus film and an AIDS prevention film on the weekends. She retired in 2002 after 37 years of remarkable, varied service.

Ellen returned to her home state of New Jersey, and she is still involved in active ministry. She and other members of her church regularly go to the New Jersey boardwalk, a walkway along the Atlantic coast, and talk to people about spiritual things. With a sign that says “Take the Heaven Test, it’s free!” they engage people in conversations about eternity. For Ellen, who once suffered from extreme shyness, it’s incredible to see how the Lord has enabled her to reach out to people.

“I felt that I was as green as I could be,” Ellen said of her early years of service. “We had to trust Him through all the difficult circumstances, and we saw that He was faithful in all the problems we faced. He didn’t abandon us. We did not live in fear, and that in itself is a miracle.”