In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Raymond Wesson Eitelman, 82

Ray Eitelman, 1938-2020

Raymond Wesson Eitelman, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel among the Sub-Saharan African Affinity Peoples in Burkina Faso and Togo, died Nov. 16, 2020. He was 82.

He was born March 30, 1938, in Fort Worth, Texas, to the late Edward and Ardelle Ward Eitelman. He received the Bachelor of Science in Agriculture from Texas Technological College (now Texas Tech University), Lubbock, and the Bachelor of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Fort Worth, Texas

When seeking missionary appointment, Eitelman wrote that the two things that most influenced his life were his Christian faith and “the country way of life.” At age 9 he became a Christian; at 15 he established the practice of reading his Bible 30 minutes to an hour each morning.

Although he grew up in the city, he said his family kept livestock and he had a horse as soon as he was big enough to sit on top of one. Behind his family’s house stretched the 4,000-acre Edwards Ranch, where he was hired for summer and weekends when he was 14.

As a young man, he wrote, he spent three years sleeping outside or in a barn—until he was hospitalized with tetanus and polio at age 16. Through six months in the hospital and learning to walk again, Eitelman wrote, “Christ was especially meaningful to me … I never was discouraged. He made my life full and complete.” A year and a half later, he was back wrangling horses at Frontier Ranch, a Young Life camp for teens in Buena Vista, Colorado.

After college, Eitelman became an assistant country agricultural agent in Canton, Texas, where he met Patsy Walker, a waitress in a café where he ate. They married in 1962. Eitelman worked in a series of agricultural jobs, eventually becoming ranch manager for the 45,000 -acre T-Bar Ranch in Tahoka, Texas.

There in his dream job, he wrote, God called him to preach. “He gave me an awareness that I was spending my life away from people, doing things that were not lasting. I longed to spend my time, all of it, doing things that were eternal. This he showed me could only be done by influencing the lives of people.”

After seminary, Eitelman served as pastor of churches in Cortez, Colorado, and Granite City, Illinois. Eitelman said his call to missions came as a result of the family’s praying each day for a different country where missionaries worked.

The Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) appointed the Eitelmans missionaries to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) in 1974. After language study in France, the Eitelmans and their daughters moved to Burkina Faso, where Eitelman served as an evangelist. In 1984, they transferred to Togo.

According to the family, the Eitelmans saw at least 10,000 baptized and 190 churches established during more than 30 years in Africa. During those years, they said, Eitelman wore out six motorcycles on the West African roads, riding the equivalent of 16 times around the world.

There also, in Burkina Faso, Ray and Patsy buried a daughter, Laura, who died at age 15.

After retirement, the couple moved to Butterfield Trail Village in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and were members of University Baptist Church in Fayetteville. After 52 years of marriage, Patsy died in 2014.

Eitelman is survived by his daughter, Julie Yngsdal (David) of Durban, South Africa; a sister, Jean Ardelle Unger of Portland, Oregon; a brother, Miley Barrett Eitelman (Betty) of Abilene, Texas; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

A funeral service was held Nov. 21, 2020, at University Baptist Church with interment following in Brashears Cemetery near St. Paul, Arkansas.

Memorial donations may be made to the International Mission Board, 3806 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230, or online.

Read an obituary here.

Read a story about the Eitelmans’ daughter’s death here and about the Eitelmans’ work here.