Each year hundreds of Adventist young people step away from their studies or work to volunteer full-time, for up to two years, around the world, through the church’s Adventist Volunteer Services (AVS) program. Among them, Helen Margaret Hall is unique. She is both the longest serving and oldest active AVS missionary for the Adventist denomination.
Hall, who turns 80 on February 16, will have served for 36 years as an AVS missionary on the Burma-Thailand border as of February 20.
On Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Hall was recognized for these milestones by Adventist leaders from two divisions, and the General Conference, during a four-division leadership conference in Bangkok, Thailand. Kevin Costello, AVS Director for SSD, commended Hall for her service both to the Karen people in Burma - now known as Myanmar - and in the Maela Refugee Camp in Thailand.
Hall then received special plaques from her home division via Glen Townend, president for the Adventist Church in the South Pacific, her current division via Samuel Saw, president of the Southern Asia-Pacific region, and the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists via Vice President Ella Simmons who represented John Thomas, AVS World Director.
Hall’s service includes years as an educator in four countries. A native of Australia, she first worked as a teacher and preceptress at Kabiufa College in Papua New Guinea. She returned to Australia and served for 22 years in the Victorian Conference.
During a bus trip from Nepal to London, England, she saw the great needs of the Nepalese and other Asian children. As a result, she requested a one-year leave to teach Karen children in Thailand. That one year turned into 36 and counting. She shares, "I came here first for one year in 1982 and never went back to work in Australia again.”
She energetically worked as an AVS teacher along the Myanmar-Thailand border. During this time of turmoil within Myanmar, Helen soon found herself and her school in the middle of a war. She shares that more than once the town where her school came under gunfire.
Once she and the children had to hide in large, open pits while war planes stormed overhead, firing down on the very land where they had been. Later, when she and the students had to flee to Thailand, they were fired upon as they crossed the river by boat but eventually crossed to safety.
As a result of the war, a number of refugee camps were established for the Karen people on the Thailand side of the border, including the large Maela Refugee Camp. Although Helen was not permitted to live inside the campus, she made her way inside daily to see to work with her students. Soon she established a new school inside the camp.
The school, which was named Eden Valley Academy (EVA), started with approximately 80 students. Helen, who has served as the school's founder and leader for over three decades, reports that it was not long before the school grew to over 1,000 students and over 150 teachers. Over the years, thousands of young people have matriculated through this refugee camp school and more than 1,500 have been baptized. EVA becomes home to the students and many graduates have continued on as EVA staff.
Through the years, Hall has received numerous awards including a General Conference Award of Excellence in 1999[i], a Women of the Year award from the Association of Adventist Women in 2005, and a Medal of the Order of Australia from the Australian government in 2006. According to reports at the time, she was “believed to be the first Adventist to receive the medal”.[ii] In 2010, Hall was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters for her lifelong commitment to the service of God.”[iii]
In addition to EVA, Hall helped establish the Karen Adventist Academy in Myanmar.
During the recognition program in Bangkok, several leaders commented on Hall’s service. For Saw, who is Burmese, her service has special significance.
“We deeply appreciate the determination, courage and commitment that Helen has had for so many years for the displaced people of the border,” said Saw. “Today, many of the refugees now live in the United States and around the world and are doing very well because of the education they received at Eden Valley. They do not face the struggles and challenges of illiteracy that so many other refugees who did not have the advantage of this Christian education face today. Helen has dedicated her life to changing the lives of others and many will be in the Kingdom because of her efforts."
Please pray for Eden Valley Academy under the leadership of the church's longest serving active volunteer missionary today, Helen Margaret Hall.
For more information about EVA and how you can be part of this remarkable ministry, go to https://www.facebook.com/edenvalleyacademy/.
[i] Adventist News Network. (December 6, 1999). Veteran Adventist Educator Honored for her Work in Troubled Karen Region. https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/1999-12-06/veteran-adventist-educator-honored-for-work-in-troubled-karen-region/
[ii] Kellner, M. (January 30, 2006). Australia: Adventist Honored for Work in Thailand. Adventist Review. https://news.adventist.org/en/all-news/news/go/2006-01-30/australia-adventist-honored-for-mission-work-in-thailand/
[iii] Andrews University. (August 5, 2010). Summer Graduation 2010. https://www.andrews.edu/news/2010/08/summer_graduation.html