Jean Louise (Brokaw) Abell, went safely home, at the age of 93, on April 5, 2020, after a four-year battle with multiple myeloma, at Penney Retirement Community.
Jean was born on August 16, 1926 in Gary, Indiana to Abram Covert Brokaw and Adah Fay (Holloway) Brokaw. Jean’s father was a Baptist minister. She was an only child, raised in upstate New York. At a young age, Jean felt God’s call to overseas service. Jean had met and talked with many missionaries that her parents entertained at their church and in their home. One who particularly encouraged Jean was Robert Vick, whom she knew through Baptist camps she attended. Following high school, Jean attended Denison University in Ohio where she met Norman Burt Abell. Norm and Jean were married on August 16, 1947. Soon after their marriage Norm entered the University of Rochester Medical School. Jean completed a master’s degree in education and began teaching second grade. During Norm’s residency they had two children—Bob and Grace.
In January 1953 Norm and Jean were appointed to serve in the Chin Hills of Burma with the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society. When the visa was not granted for Burma the Abells were assigned to the Belgian Congo (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). They spent time learning French both in the USA and in Belgium, where Norm also did further study in tropical medicine. Norm, Jean, and their two young children sailed from Belgium to Congo in March 1956.
During their time of service in Congo, the Abell family lived in Sona Bata, Moanza, Vanga, Kinshasa, Kimpese, and Kikongo. By 1963, they had added two more children, Marjorie and Jim, to the family. Jean taught many ages and subjects—in several languages. Before learning Kituba, she mastered Kikongo sufficiently to prepare a series of sixth-year religion lessons. She taught French and math to student nurses and assisted in the pharmacy. One of Jean’s favorite tasks was teaching the little ones in Sunday school classes. Other tasks included observing and advising student teachers, helping them prepare for examinations, teaching women to read and working on hospital correspondence and accounts. At one time Jean served as Director of the Moanza School. Norm and Jean loved their adopted country and devoted themselves to ministering to, and with, the Congolese people.
Their ministry was one that faced overwhelming odds and succeeded where persons of less faith could not. They once wrote about the massive problems they encountered, “We can’t solve them. But we can cry to God, and Christ lives to make intercession for us. And we can make our lives a prayer, investing selves and money where they can open a way for the Light to shine in the darkness, so that, no matter what their circumstances are, people can find victory in Christ.”
They retired to the United States in 1990, after serving more than 35 years, and settled in their home in Green Cove Springs, Florida. Shortly thereafter, Norm and Jean spent a school year as missionaries-in-residence at Alderson Broaddus University in Philippi, West Virginia. In 1992 they moved to Penney Farms Retirement Community in Penney Farms, Florida.
Jean spent her “retirement” years in many volunteer roles, including tutoring local young people, leading “aerobics” activities for Alzheimer’s patients, interviewing new residents and writing articles for a local paper, interpreting Shakespeare on stage, praying in various venues, being a friend to many, and participating in a local church-planting effort.
It was Jean’s desire to share her remembrances of their time in Congo. Well before his passing, Norm encouraged her to write a book about it. In late December 2019, Go Boat Congo was published. Putting the manuscript into book form was a labor of love, with family members contributing according to their gifts. The book is available at Amazon.
Jean’s children share: “Mom put God first and encouraged others to do the same. In her retirement years, she continued to grow in the things of the Lord. She naturally reached out to others with an amazing capacity for love, lavishing it on all those whose lives she touched. Mom had a keen and thoughtful mind and tried to help others wrestle with tough questions. She was always sacrificial, putting others first. She enjoyed hugging people, praying for them, and making them laugh. She knew she belonged to God and He never gave up on her.”
Jean was preceded in death by her parents, husband Norman Burt Abell (August 25, 2012) and great-granddaughter, Seren McManus. She is survived by her children: Robert Abell (Anna), Grace Boivin (Michael), Marjorie Clark (Rory), and James Abell (Candace), 14 grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.
Because of the global pandemic, a celebration of Jean’s life will be at a time when it is possible for family and friends to gather at Penney Retirement Community.
In lieu of flowers Jean requested that gifts be given to the Haiti Hope Fund or International Ministries (also known as the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society).