Choosing calling over comfort

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If you’ve visited or studied at Avondale University you might recognise the girls’ dormitory Ella Boyd. But do you know Ella’s story or why the building was named for her?

Let’s start with Ella’s mum. Maud Sisley moved to America at age 11 with her widowed mum and siblings. She went to a camp meeting and heard Ellen White preach. Mrs White then prophesied over the children saying, “The Lord has shown me that every one of these children will become a worker for the cause.”

Ella’s mum was the first woman to ever be called into Adventist foreign mission service, joining J N Andrews in Switzerland where she would set type for the printing press. The type was in Italian, and she couldn’t speak Italian but it didn’t matter because her attention to detail was so great.

Maud married a man called Charles Boyd and Ella was born a year later, followed closely by her sister Ethel. The family were called to be the first group of missionaries to South Africa. Unfortunately both Ethel and her father would die there.

But Maud and Ella’s passion for service and ministry was undiminished and they set sail for Australia when Ella was just 17. Ella became the first Avondale graduate, completing the 8th grade in 1902. By that stage Avondale decided that both Ella and her mum were sufficiently well-educated enough to be the pioneer teachers on campus!

Tragedy struck again; a girl by the name of Elsie Gates, who had just arrived in Australia only eight days earlier, was taking a ride with Ella Boyd and Sarah Peck in Ellen White’s carriage “when the horse became unmanageable and backed the carriage into the stream near the school. The shock of being overturned evidently stunned [Elsie], for she made no struggle in the water . . . [Some men rescued her] within a few minutes and worked for hours to try to resuscitate her but were unable. Sarah Peck narrowly escaped being trampled by the horse and Ella, although thrown into the stream, miraculously escaped with her life. The horse was drowned in 10 or 12 feet of water.”

Ella would go on to set up schools in Brisbane and Tasmania before a taste for mission would overtake her again. She left Sydney for Tonga on November 9, 1904, at just 21, aboard the SS Mokoia.

For a young single woman to leave her homeland, immerse herself in a totally new culture, and live on her own at a time when travel was difficult and communications poor must have been an incredible challenge! But one she was willing to take on because of her love for the people, whom she desired to help. “Isolated, as she was, on a lonely island in the Tongan group . . . her love for souls proved a most powerful means of winning hearts to Jesus, as well as a sure personal protection in a strange land” (GC Bulletin, May 19, 1909).

The school begun in Tonga under Ella’s direction, “became the leading school of Tonga. There many of the sons and daughters of the Tongan nobles were made familiar with the message. This school became the nucleus of what is now known as Beulah Missionary College. When Miss Boyd left Tonga, she was given a royal farewell by King Georgie II, who sent the palace carriage and horses to drive the honoured teacher through the streets of the capital to the waiting ship” (Review and Herald, February 27, 1969).

She would come back to Australia on furlough and bring a young Tongan girl with her, Vai Vaemolo, who received her training at Avondale and went back to Tonga to teach. Ella married Leonard Paap and they’d go on to do ministry work in New Zealand and Tonga, but Tonga would always hold a special place in her heart.

Ella Boyd’s life was marked by tragedy and trauma. She could’ve chosen comfort—a gifted teacher and administrator, she could have stayed at Avondale close to her mum and friends—but she faithfully followed God’s call into uncomfortable, foreign and new territory.

For many years the chapel upstairs in Avondale’s College Hall had a large, framed world map with many pins indicating where graduates had or were still serving around the globe as missionaries. Ella Boyd was among the first Avondale graduates to serve as a foreign missionary but she wouldn’t be the last.

Lyndelle Peterson is the Associate Ministerial Association secretary and Sabbath school and stewardship director at the Australian Union Conference.

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