One of our colleagues, Tim Lale, recently related the story of his missionary parents and their tragic end while serving in Zimbabwe. We share an adapted version of the account taken from the Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists.1—Editors.
Don Lale and his wife, Ann, were Adventist teachers serving as missionaries in Zimbabwe when in 1981 they were brutally murdered by suspected Mozambican rebels in a dawn attack at the school where they taught. The rebels were carrying out reprisals against an attack by South African forces, and the Lales were innocent victims of their rage.
Early Life and Education
Don Lale was born in 1931 on the Isle of Wight, United Kingdom. As a young man he joined the Royal Air Force and, while serving in Mauritius, began taking Bible studies from a French family that led him to become an Adventist. When he returned to England, he was baptized and attended Newbold College. For a time Lale worked at the Stanborough Press in the Photo-Litho Department.
On March 18, 1962, Lale married Ann E. Smith. She had attended Newbold College, where she graduated as a Bible instructor. Ann had worked at the Stanborough Sanitarium and as a Bible instructor at the New Gallery Seventh-day Adventist Church in London. When the Stanborough Press relocated to Grantham in 1966, the Lales moved with it. Lale continued to work for the press until both he and Ann enrolled in a three-year teacher-training course at the Stoke Rochford College of Education in Grantham. After graduating, they both worked at schools in Grantham.
Moving to Africa
In January 1975 the Lales were called to serve at the Teacher Training College in Gwelo (now Gweru), Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). The country was undergoing a period of instability following the war of liberation that pitted nationalist forces fighting the regime of Prime Minister Ian Smith. In a letter published in the British Advent Messenger in 1975, the Lales had evidently embraced and adjusted well to life in Africa, visiting and enjoying the attractions that Rhodesia had to offer. They wrote, “The political situation becomes more uncertain by the day and the terrorist war has been stepped up, but we believe that the Lord will be our refuge and our strength.”2 They served at Gweru for two years, and their two sons attended local schools. Timothy, the elder of the two, went to boarding school, while Andrew commuted to school.
In August 1977 they moved to Anderson School, 17 kilometers (10 miles) east of Gweru. They relocated because of insecurity in the Gweru area and remained at Anderson for three years. Besides the normal teaching load, Don was in charge of the boys’ dormitory. In July 1978 they returned to England on furlough with their sons, Timothy and Andrew, after which they returned to the Anderson School. In April 1980 Rhodesia became the independent nation of Zimbabwe.
Death and Aftermath
In December 1980 the Lales moved to Inyazura Secondary School (now Nyazura Adventist High School) in eastern Zimbabwe, about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from the border town of Mutare. They had responded to a call by the acting headmaster to move to Nyazura to fill a gap. The school was established in 1910 and was one of the oldest Adventist schools in Zimbabwe.3 In 1976 it had been shut down during the war of liberation, reopening in 1979, and the Lales were part of its revival program.
The Lales had just settled in to teach when, on Tuesday, February 3, 1981, they were attacked by two armed men and murdered in cold blood. Ann was hit on the head with a stool and then shot at close range. Don rushed to the office to get help, but was followed by one of the gunmen, who hit him across the chest with a blunt object.4 Don fell, and the staff who were there tried to help him, but the assailant threatened to shoot them if they dared. They watched helplessly as he bludgeoned Don to death. The assailant then forced the staff to recite nationalist slogans and forced them out of the building before fleeing into the dark.
The murder of the Lales sent shock waves across the world, and major news networks carried the story. At the time of his parents’ deaths Tim was in England studying at Stanborough Secondary School, and Andrew was in Zimbabwe. Tim flew to Zimbabwe to attend their funeral. The couple were laid to rest next to each other at the Solusi Cemetery in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
A memorial service was held at Stanborough Park church on March 1, 1981, and was attended by the deputy mayor of Watford and a local member of Parliament. The BBC interviewed their son, Tim, soon after he and his brother returned from Zimbabwe. He spoke eloquently about the incident, his faith in God, and his hope in the soon return of Christ. He was heard by millions of listeners across England. The major newspapers also carried the story in their headlines, and the Adventist Church in England received unprecedented attention in a nation in which many had not even heard of the church.5 More than 40 years have passed since this tragic event, and their son, Tim, still speaks with confidence in God and His leading. We cannot understand why such things occur to those who commit their lives to sharing the gospel, but we will not be deterred from reaching others for Jesus no matter the challenges or circumstances. No matter where we are, we work “in the line of duty,” following Jesus no matter where He leads.
1 Visit encyclopedia.adventist.org and search for “Lale” or use this full address: encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=EH3H&highlight=lale.
2 R. D. Vine, “Open Letter—From Well-known Britons Serving in Rhodesia,” British Advent Messenger, Feb. 18, 1977.
3 “Institutions and Other Entities Located in the Zambesi Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1996), p. 118.
4 D. N. Marshall, “Tragic Deaths in Zimbabwe,” British Advent Messenger, Feb. 13, 1981.
5 W. J. Arthur, “Communication,” British Advent Messenger, July 24, 1981.
Adapted from an entry by Godfrey K. Sang, a historical researcher, writer, and published author with an interest in Adventist history who lives in Kenya.
Picture: the Lale family when they were on furlough in the UK in 1978; left to right: Don, Andrew, Ann and Timothy. Credit: Stanborough Press Archive.