Still serving: Local missionary keeps working, even after two retirements
by Sherry Kughn
Special to The Star
May 17, 2013 | 3372 views |  0 comments | 226 226 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Anneli Dotson looks at a missionary prayer map in her apartment in Anniston. Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Anneli Dotson looks at a missionary prayer map in her apartment in Anniston. Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star
Whenever people look back over their lives, some remember unfulfilled dreams, unintended journeys and unexpected losses. Finland native Annali Dotson, 84, has known all three, however, she has no regrets because she can still serve others.

Dotson is a retired Southern Baptist missionary, nurse and midwife. She worked in Africa for many years and now teaches Bible lessons to women, sharing her experiences at various churches in Calhoun County. Most recently, she taught a Sunday school class at Leatherwood Baptist Church.

“My faith is everything to me,” said Dotson, “and it’s easy for me to talk about trust in the Lord because I have learned that he never fails us.”

Unfulfilled dreams

Dotson attended a Lutheran school while growing up outside of Helsinki, the capital of Finland. She was a religious child who, at age 10, believed God was calling her to become a missionary. When she grew older, the mentors in her church suggested that she become a nurse because she had a heart of service to others. However, she wanted to study home economics and teach in Japan where her church and school supported a mission program.

Before fulfilling her goal, Dotson decided to attend the Deaconess Institute in Helsinki, a school sponsored by the Lutheran Church. She followed what she felt was God’s leading — a life of celibacy and service to others. She became a registered nurse and midwife and studied further at the nearby Lutheran Mission School. A year later, school leaders assigned her to work in southwest Africa.

Dotson traveled by boat to Cape Town. During her journey, she was in a room designated for letter writing when a man walked by the table where she sat. Dotson recalls hearing a voice behind her say, “You will marry him.” Dotson believed the voice came from God, however, because of her vow of celibacy she did not heed what she heard. When the man approached her, she refused to talk to him and shooed him away.

The man was Clyde Dotson of Tuscumbia, a respected, 32-year veteran missionary who was 25 years older than she. After he departed from the boat, Dotson began receiving letters from him where he was living, hundreds of miles away in southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). In his letters, he told her that he was a man of prayer and was asking God to give her to him as a wife.

Unintended journeys

The idea of switching religions was difficult for Dotson, who had already moved away from her family and her beloved Finland to serve God. But shebegan to entertain the idea of marrying her persistent suitor, especially since she respected his deep faith. He traveled to her mission and wooed her. Two years after meeting him, in 1962, they married on her 33rd birthday.

Looking back on that period of her life, Dotson said her joys were greater than her losses. She loved administering care to those who dwelt in the five villages in the southwestern region of Gokwe, where her husband preached. She accompanied him and offered basic medical care while he pulled teeth in their specially equipped van. Often, Dotson noticed that the sick babies — whose mothers brought them to her — wore cloth necklaces and bracelets that had been decorated with bone beads. She recognized these items as being from the spiritually dark world of witch doctors. Before she treated the babies, which usually took place after one of her husband’s Bible lessons, she explained to the mothers that her type of treatment was based on God’s will. She asked them to choose between her type of treatment or the witch doctors’.

“Our purpose was to know the Lord and, then, to treat the people,” said Dotson.

Unexpected losses

Dotson and her husband worked together for 12 years until he took mandatory retirement in 1979. She was disappointed that they had to give up their work, but the two did not grow idle.

First, they had to decide where to live. They chose to move to the United States and selected Calhoun County to be near his adult children, who are spread across the Southeast.

Shortly after settling in Oxford, the two began traveling to churches throughout the country, speaking about their work in Africa and seeking support for other missionaries.

They continued to travel, including visits to Norway and Hawaii, and at one point, they returned to Africa where one of Dotson’s stepdaughters worked as a missionary. On one of their trips, Clyde became ill. They returned home to Oxford in 1982, where Clyde lived for only five more months.

After her husband’s death, Dotson moved back to Finland, where her parents still lived, to care for her sick mother. She stayed three years, during which time both of her parents died.

On her own again, Dotson wished she could return to her mission work in Africa. However, the mission board sent her to Finland, where she served in the Baptist church for three years, retiring, for the second time, in the 1990s. Eventually, she returned to the U.S. and chose to live in Anniston.

Nowadays, Dotson enjoys living in a local senior citizen complex where she has many friends, including a local woman who is also from Finland, attended the same Lutheran school she did, and speaks her native language.

“There is great joy when I look back at the Lord’s faithfulness,” said Dotson. “I know he will continue taking care of me.”

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