Bill Hopper’s Hundred-Year Missionary Adventure
- February 9, 2021
Bill Hopper’s friends pestered him for years to write an autobiography. Finally, in 2019 Bill published My Hundred-Year Missionary Adventure, recounting stories of church planting and discipleship in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Thailand, and Hawaii.
He died a year later, on November 6, 2020, just one week shy of his 102nd birthday.
Born in Minear, Illinois, in 1918, Bill began his spiritual journey in his 20s when he dropped by a church to give a donation for his young daughter’s time in vacation Bible school. “Thank you,” the pastor said, “but we don’t accept money from the unsaved.” Appalled but curious, Bill and his wife began attending services where they heard and believed the gospel.
Joining the US Navy in 1944, Bill wasn’t thinking about a second calling. But while stationed on a ship off the coast of the Philippines, Bill got the distinct impression that he would be back to the islands for a different kind of service.
After the war he enrolled at Moody Bible Institute, where he came across a pamphlet about the Ati of Panay, a remote Filipino tribe. The Ati people captured his interest, and after graduating in 1948 and becoming an ABWE missionary, Bill said, “I was amazed when the mission assigned me to Panay.” He and his wife, Dorothy, and their three young children soon sailed to the Philippines.
“You don't need to learn the language,” a veteran missionary told him. “Almost everyone here speaks English.” But Bill was more convinced by the words of a Filipino who told him, “English speaks to my head, but Ilonggo speaks to my heart.” With the aid of a native speaker and a book on learning languages, Bill was thrilled when he was able to start preaching in the local dialect.
Besides teaching at Doane Evangelistic Institute in Iloilo, the capital of Panay, Bill sought out the unreached Ati people, who were considered “soulless” by other Filipinos. The Ati people had been told that Americans would use their bodies to fuel sugar mills, but one chief, Severo, chose to trust Bill and became the first Ati convert.
Severo as a student
At a meeting with the Ati, when Bill asked who wanted to give their life to Christ, Severo commanded his entire clan, “Raise your hands!” Severo later graduated from Doane Evangelistic Institute and became a missionary to his own people. Today more than 80 Ati pastors and congregations exist on the islands of Panay and Guimaras.
The Hopper family moved back to the US for sabbatical, where Dorothy died of cancer in 1966. But while the three older children were reaching adulthood, Bill felt a keen loss and knew nine-year-old Susan still needed a mother. In 1967 he married Philippine national Naomi, a close family friend and former student of Doane Evangelistic Institute.
Blessed with two more children, the couple answered the call to serve in Puerto Rico at a Christian servicemen’s center and an associated church. Four years later they transferred to Honolulu to serve at a faltering church and mission there. Honolulu Bible Church and the mission began to thrive, and Bill and Naomi remained there until Bill retired in 1989.
“Old missionaries don’t retire,” Bill often said. “They just get recycled.” He and Naomi spent the next several years in Thailand and the Philippines, serving on various short-term missions projects. In 1995 they helped found Leyte Baptist Seminary, even selling their SUV for $3,000 to make a down payment on a piece of land for the new school.
The Hoppers returned to Hawaii permanently in 2004. Bill’s son Billy followed in his dad’s footsteps, graduating from Moody in 1991 and pastoring Honolulu Bible Church since 2008.
Hopper and Severo at 45th Anniversary of Nagpana Church, 2000
Bill’s final visit to the Philippines was in the spring of 2020 at the age of 101, where he gave the seminary’s commencement address. Reflecting on his dad’s amazing life, Billy says, “The thing that really characterized him was his love for evangelism and missions. That’s from a Moody education.”