First Woman District Superintendent – Gusta Robinette
Gusta Agnes Robinett, the first fully-qualified woman to be appointed District Superintendent in The Methodist Church world-wide, was a native Hoosier. She was born in rural Whitley County, June 3, 1905, into a devout Methodist family who worshipped at Jefferson Chapel, east of Columbia City.
After earning a B.A. from Asbury College, Wilmore, Kentucky, she taught in the public schools in Whitley County before applying to be a Methodist missionary. In 1930, the church appointed her to China. While serving in the Yen-ping Conference, she was ordained Deacon in 1941 and Elder in 1943, even as World War II raged throughout Asia. Almost immediately, she was forced to leave China and return to the United States.
She used the enforced furlough well by lecturing and speaking, and by attending Garrett Biblical Institute in Evanston, Illinois, where, in 1946, she finished the bachelor of divinity degree.
The next year, Rev. Robinett returned to China where she taught English and Religious Education at a women's Bible training and high school in Yen-Ping. She was doing rural Christian evangelistic work in Fukien Province when, in 1950, she was again forced out of China, this time by the Communist takeover.
Southeast Asia remained in turmoil, making the major denominations scramble to keep their missions open and their native churches alive. In 1953 Miss Robinett was assigned to Indonesia to serve as a pastor of Indonesian, Chinese and English-speaking Methodist churches.
In 1956, Rev. Robinette was admitted to full clergy membership in The Methodist Church. In that same year she oversaw the completion of a new Chinese Methodist High School in Medan, Sumatra. She was admitted on trial in the Sumatra conference in 1957, passed the Course of Study in 1958, and then was accorded full clergy membership in the Conference.
In 1959, Bishop Hobart Amstutz of the Southeastern Asia Central Conference appointed Rev. Robinett as the Superintendent of the Medan Chinese District. It was no sinecure. The Protestants, only one per cent of the population, were divided among several denominations, and even the Methodist membership was split across hostile ethnic groups-- Chinese, Indonesians, and others--speaking a variety of languages. Over all hung the pall of political strife and the threat of Communist infusion. Tensions between the East and West plagued the whole area.
Overseeing 13,000 members in more than seventy congregations, Superintendent Robinett operated from Medan where the Methodists were strongest, but she felt compelled to visit the remote churches in inland jungle villages reachable only by bus, or in the worst cases, by a variety of boat rides. She wrote of her visit to one village in 1959: "The last stretch of the trip was made by sampan where we were literally dragged through the mud. We finally reached shore by a series of somewhat frightening jumps and climbs over junks and sampans."
She labored at her difficult post until 1964, when actual warfare broke out in the region and the Methodist Church could no longer administer its churches there. The Indonesian Methodists were given their autonomy, and Miss Robinett transferred her clergy membership to the North Indiana Conference in the United States. However, she faithfully remained in the field for the next ten years, finally retiring in 1974.
She came back to the States, again making her home at the family farm in Whitley County, and was in demand as a speaker across the country. She was a leading figure in the United Methodist Women.
At last, the effects of 42 years of arduous missionary work and her later exertions brought her, in 1992, to enter the United Methodist Home at Warren. She passed away at Warren, July 20, 1996. She was laid to rest in the family plot beside her beloved Jefferson Chapel where her monument may yet be visited.
GPS for the cemetery: 41 03 46.32, -085 23 38.18