What possesses a young, single woman to sacrifice her life? To forfeit the comforts and companionship of home? To embrace a foreign culture where Satan’s lies have ravaged its people? To call a place of dust and death home, where victims riddled with disease and despair cling desperately to false hopes in more than 300,000,000 gods?
Laura Belle Barnard explained it simply before the 1935 General Conference of Original Free Will Baptists at Black Jack Church near Greenville, North Carolina. Her answer was Psalm 16:11. Her life’s verse captured the source of passion that fired her brave soul. Wherever Jesus was, Laura Belle was at home. The surroundings didn’t matter. The sacrifice was never too great. Her joy, her deepest pleasure, was found in the presence of her Savior. And if He was moving in India, that’s where she wanted to be.
With $150 from the treasury and an additional $85 from a freewill offering, Laura Belle left her Georgia roots, crossed the Atlantic, and set foot on South India’s soil. She immediately began the task of learning the difficult language at a school in Kotagiri, a small village nestled in South India’s western mountain range. Upon completing her studies, she turned to the Kotagiri community around her. A quick study of the deeply entrenched caste system revealed a point of obvious neglect from previous missionaries. Though predecessors had made inroads into some of the four predominant class systems, an enormous population characterized as “untouchable” had been ignored. These outcasts drew Laura Belle’s attention and lured her merciful heart.
As Jesus walked among the lame and lepers of His day, Laura Belle Barnard lived among the world’s poorest and neediest people. Though straining against opposition from Hindu priests, plagues, and dire working conditions, Laura Belle and her coworkers labored to establish hope in her community. Over the next 22 years, her efforts bore fruit in the form of two schools, four churches, and numerous Christian workers equipped to continue her efforts. In addition to the church plants in Kotagiri and Gopalapuram, Sunday schools were established to reach the overwhelming number of children in the area. Workers ministered to the children’s physical and true spiritual needs. As they grew in stature and truth, these children became leaders trained to help their own people find true life in India.
Laura Belle Barnard’s example of obedience and self-sacrifice did not go unnoticed in India or her homeland. Her boldness pricked the very conscience of an entire denomination of Free Will Baptists. When she returned from the mission field in 1957, her vision and conviction for missions had already inspired many others to join Christ’s cause, not only in India, but other strategic lands as well.
Though stateside, she continued her evangelistic calling as head of the missions program at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Drawing from 22 years of intense missionary experience, she taught, trained, and equipped many others to prepare well and to succeed in the distant places where her students would carry the gospel. She became a close confidant and friend of faculty and students alike, inspiring them with her obedience flowing from a heart of love for her Savior. She authored two books, His Name Among All Nations—a book of missionary apologetics and history—-and Touching the Untouchables, a tribute to the work and people among India’s poorest souls. She also established a ministry to migrant workers in her hometown of Glennville, Georgia, for which the Glennville Chamber of Commerce honored her.
Throughout her life, Laura Belle remained firm in her calling. Without apology, she called her brothers and sisters in Christ to lay down their lives for Christ’s sake and the souls of the lost. On March 9, 1992, Laura did indeed lay down her life after a hard-fought battle with cancer.