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Leslie Madsen

Retired Missionary to Haiti, the American Indian Field, and Haitian American Ministries
"Missions Was Just a Way of Life"
By Kristi Schweitzer, Intern, adapted by Kateland Vernon, Staff Writer, March 2020

From Haiti to the American Indian Field and finally to Haitian American Ministries in Florida, Leslie and Mary Ruth spent over three decades as missionaries with World Gospel Mission, serving in a variety of ways.

Leslie was born June 25, 1936, in Rolfe, Iowa, and grew up in North Dakota. On his 14th birthday, he gave his heart to Jesus, and later at summer camp, he sought a sanctified heart, submitting his entire will over to the Lordship of Christ. Leslie farmed for 15 years and also studied engineering at Dakota State University. He later studied auto and diesel mechanics and radio. During this time, he felt a call to missions and eventually enrolled at Vennard College (Iowa). At first only attending during winter quarters, he earned his BS degree in Bible and Christian education.

Mary Ruth was born May 10, 1939, in Seattle, Washington, into a pastor’s family and she spent her childhood in Montana. She gave her heart to Jesus at the age of 5, already developing an interest in missions, with a passion to live for and serve Jesus. In preparation for this, she graduated from Hillcrest Christian College in Medicine Hat, Alberta (Canada), earning a Bible degree, and then later received her BA in education at Seattle Pacific College (Washington). Before her senior year, Mary Ruth went to Bolivia with WGM’s Summer Career Corp (now Volunteers In Action). During a missionary retreat in Bolivia, she, by faith, yielded to the sanctifying presence of the Holy Spirit in her life, thus solidifying her continued interest in missions.

Following graduation, Mary Ruth taught the third grade in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota, for two years. During this time, she was introduced to Leslie by his aunt and uncle. A year later, they married and moved to Oskaloosa, Iowa, where Mary Ruth taught school while Leslie finished college. They also made a trip to Haiti to visit two missions organizations. “On the way home, we both felt clearly led to apply with World Gospel Mission,” Mary Ruth said.

In February 1970, WGM appointed the Madsens to serve as career missionaries to Haiti. Their first year was spent studying French in Port-au-Prince. They next relocated into the mountain village of Mombin Crochu, where they lived for the next three years. While there, they studied Creole, the “language of the people.” Several times a week in the early mornings, Leslie would travel on his mountain bike to various “station meetings” to preach to the people in Creole. When they heard him coming, the Haitians would refer to his bike as “the beast” and would rush out of their gardens to meet together, overjoyed to see him! Leslie was also the field mechanic.

Mary Ruth’s primary ministry was “friendship evangelism,” visiting with her house girls and the people in the town, practicing her Creole, and becoming friends with everyone. They lived right on the town square, so the whole town knew them. The town was a center of Voodoo religion. Despite Satan’s power over the entire area, the Madsens were able to be a strong witness for Christ and the power of God. “We were never afraid, because time and again we witnessed that God’s power was stronger than Satan’s,” Mary Ruth said. Often Leslie would attend burning ceremonies, where newly committed Christians would destroy all of their voodoo fetishes.

Due to language difficulties with Leslie’s “tractor deafness,” WGM transferred the Madsens to Southwest Indian School on the American Indian Field in Arizona, where they served from 1976 to 1985. Leslie’s ministries included maintenance foreman, Bible and auto mechanics teacher, and driver for all sports and music events. Mary Ruth was the music director, teaching music classes and voice lessons, and was the high school choir director and the organist and pianist for the campus chapel and the choir.

In 1986 Leslie, Mary Ruth, and their family were transferred to central Florida where their knowledge of the Haitian people and culture was needed to help develop WGM’s Haitian American Ministries. After having thought that they’d never work with Haitians again, they enjoyed this return into Haitian culture and helping refugees with their new way of life in America.

Leslie and Mary Ruth tutored the children and worked together as liaisons between parents and schools. Leslie spent much of his time with the children and youth in sports and tutored children of all ages in their school subjects. Mary Ruth taught the books of the Bible one-on-one to youth and children and gave phonics lessons. She was the director of discipleship among adults, teaching (in Creole) 23 lessons in the basic doctrines of the faith. They taught Sunday School, translated at schools and clinics and during baby deliveries at the hospital, and were also involved in jail and prison ministries.

Throughout their many moves and transitions, Leslie and Mary Ruth’s family grew and thrived. “Missions was just a way of life with us 24/7, both in and out of our home,” Mary Ruth said. Their kids caught their passion for missions and enjoyed every area and field of service. In spite of hard times and spiritual struggles that are a part of growing up, their three children all grew strong in the Lord, each one choosing to study at Vennard following high school. “It was the leading of the Lord and due to answered prayer,” Leslie said of all three of them committing to serve Jesus.

After 35 years of service with WGM, the Madsens retired on June 30, 2005. Mary Ruth passed away unexpectedly in May 2014, and Leslie passed away on March 9, 2020. Before their passing, they continued to minister to the Haitian population in Florida and were regularly involved in two other church ministries. “We still open our doors to the Haitian people,” Mary Ruth said before her passing. “They know they’re always welcome here. We love these people and to visit with them and attend their church when possible.”

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