Brave Son of Tibet: The Many Lives of Robert B. Ekvall   

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Leader’s Edge: Missionary Biographies

Brave Son of Tibet: The Many Lives of Robert B. Ekvall*

By: David P. Jones

Resource Publications, 2023

274 Pages 

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Who is this person?

Robert B. Ekvall and his wife, Betty were Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries sent to the West China-Tibetan border in 1921. “Bob” was raised on the edge of the Tibetan plateau and, after attending Wheaton and Nyack Missionary Training Institute, returned to China and subsequently entered Tibet. He, his wife and young son traveled through treacherous Tibetan territory to share the Gospel until World War II. A polyglot, Bob joined the US military and served in Burma and China until 1951, then served as an interpreter during the signing of the Korean War settlement, leaving the military in 1958. He became a researcher at the University of Washington and a museum curator until his retirement in the early 1970s.

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What stood out to you about this person’s story?

The ministry that Bob and Betty undertook on the Tibetan steppes and mountains is astounding. It came at a time when bandits and thieves made travel between monasteries and roadside inns very dangerous. They did this on horseback with a baby. At times they traveled through active military conflict between Chinese and Muslim rebel armies. This is the story of a true pioneer, going into hostile territory. Bob and Betty both exhibited courage in the face of extreme, almost unbelievable, odds. Eventually, Betty would pay the ultimate price and die from an infection contracted on the field. All this before he began a new career as a spy for the Allied forces, a marriage to a 23 year old second wife, a meeting with Chiang Kai Shek, a 3rd marriage and other adventures. As the byline of the book states, Ekvall led numerous lives.

What was this person’s significant contributions?

Bob’s unique linguistic skills gave him an entry into the culture. He researched and wrote about Tibetan culture throughout his life and was a source of many academic articles on the Tibetan people. Not only did he serve as a missionary but served as an intelligence officer, doing what few people could do, during and after World War 2. He played a key role in ending the Korean War through his careful translation between the warring parties.

What does this person’s life teach us?

Ekvall did live many lives in one. As he went through life’s challenges, his marriage to Eva took a toll on his faith. As he grew into old age the memories of his life as a missionary were the most influential. He returned to his spiritual roots after leaving the academic world. For many years, it seemed that Ekvall took leave of God before “coming home.” Certainly the choices he made along the way contributed to astounding differences in his spirituality. For those who seek to follow the Lord, a few wrong choices can make a huge difference.


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