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Mary Hamilton

Homemaker, Hostess, Counselor, and Teacher
"I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee."
By Rachel Elwood, Staff Writer, 2013

When Mary Hamilton, along with her husband, Lester, first arrived in India as missionaries in 1951, they had no idea that they would be part of starting a movement for Vacation Bible Schools that would bring the message of the gospel to countless children and continue to grow for decades to come.

Mary’s life began far away, in a Christian home in Schuyler Falls, New York. She and Lester met and were married while pursuing graduate degrees at Asbury Theological Seminary (Kentucky). They applied for missionary service with World Gospel Mission and were appointed as missionaries to India. Lester wrote that he and Mary walked in confident assurance because of God’s promise in Hebrews 13:5: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Lester and Mary began serving at South India Bible Institute (now South India Biblical Seminary), which was founded in 1937. While teaching a variety of subjects, they also accompanied students on ministry trips to surrounding villages, mentoring students as they practiced sharing the message of Jesus Christ. Mary served as a homemaker, a hostess, a counselor, and a teacher with specialization in Christian education. They also raised three children: Joy, Paul, and Becky, who were educated at boarding schools.

Students at SIBI were looking for an outlet to reach out to the younger generation, and, with Mary and Lester’s dedication, founded the VBS ministry in India. In 1952, the first VBS program was held for 75 children. The Hamiltons became responsible for training VBS teachers, writing curriculum, and preparing materials. VBS teachers they had trained then returned to their communities, led VBS in their villages, and trained more leaders throughout India. As the ministry grew, Bangalore was established as the ministry’s headquarters.

Lester and Mary began to sense God calling them to work full time with VBS. After 10 years of service at SIBI, the Hamiltons moved to Bangalore. Mary developed VBS curriculum, while Lester designed VBS centers and constructed new ministry buildings in Bangalore. In a 1971 Call to Prayer article, Mary wrote: “The development of Vacation Bible School students into steady Christian leaders is one of the sweet rewards of this ministry.” Just 14 years after the first VBS was held on SIBI’s campus, over 50,000 children were regularly participating in VBS programs.

The ministry exploded beyond what anyone could have imagined, and today, over two million children are being reached annually, in 13 different languages, throughout India and surrounding countries. Thousands of children have come to know the Lord through VBS.

In 1978, Lester and Mary turned VBS over to Indian leadership and returned to serve at SIBS. For eight years, the couple taught classes, helped in construction, and maintained their involvement with VBS. Lester and Mary officially retired in 1986 after 35 years of service in India with WGM. Mary passed away on August 12, 2013, at the age of 89.

With deep appreciation, World Gospel Mission joins with Mary’s family and friends to celebrate her life and her faithful commitment to the Lord. Second Corinthians 4:18 testifies of her life: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary and what is unseen is eternal.” Mary clearly fixed her eyes on the eternal, and we rejoice that Mary is in the presence of her Savior today.

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