Her name was Bo. But I called her B.O. Not to her face, mind you. And not because she had body odour, either. I was 14. In 8th grade. And she was my teacher—at the seventh school I’d attended, in the fifth city, in the third country.
. . . the Bible is full of stories of both deliverance and of immense sacrifice. And when we just tell ourselves the former, and forget the latter, we are the spiritually poorer for it.
My educational performance up to that point was what is commonly referred to as “disappointing”. In the swirl of different systems, schools and locations, the basics—ranging from spelling through to handwriting, times tables and classroom decorum—had all fallen through the cracks. I wasn’t interested in school. Didn’t like schoolwork. And had received such a sustained barrage of negative feedback that I had given up entirely on the whole educational endeavour.
But that was before I entered Bo’s classroom in Bangkok.
She may have been old, single and a foreigner living in a strange land. But she was tough as turnips and she didn’t let up on me until she’d whipped me into shape. One year was all it took. And just as well, as I’m not sure I could have survived a second. Somehow, from there, the academic life fell into place. So much so that I had to be pulled kicking and screaming out of university. Bo had created a monster!
Bo’s sister, Helen, also single and in the later stages of life, came to serve as a medical missionary in Thailand. The two of them had a dream. They would retire in Thailand together and live out their lives continuing to serve the people they loved.
It didn’t happen.
On November 11, 1981, two bandits accosted Helen. In the ensuing struggle, they shot her and left her to die. When Bo got the heartbreaking news she rushed next door to where my mother was teaching the lower grades. Bo just hung onto my mother as she wept in utter anguish in front of the stunned children. Bo had lost her sister, her friend and her future.
A United Press International article reporting Helen’s death, noted that she was the second North American missionary murdered in Thailand that year.
Missionary life is not for the faint-hearted. And the rewards in this life are frequently meagre. Peni Tavodi, a Fijian missionary whose story of commitment and sacrifice was told in the South Pacific Division report at the General Conference Session, died of a snakebite. He is not the only one who gave his life to spread the gospel in the Pacific. Others returned sick or disabled; some returned carrying serious psychological scars. Others incurred substantial financial loss. Still others gave up something more valuable than all of that combined: the health or even the lives of their children.
A missionary told me of his travels overseas to teach. One night when he was out ministering, one of his students entered his home and viciously raped his young daughter. His daughter now struggles with such profound psychiatric issues that she spends much of her life institutionalised.
Of course, there are many stories of miracles. Stories of protection and progress, success and reward. I have no doubt whatsoever that God does intervene, and in amazing ways. But the Bible is full of stories of both deliverance and of immense sacrifice. And when we just tell ourselves the former, and forget the latter, we are the spiritually poorer for it. That’s why we have committed every November to tell the stories of courage and sacrifice in the pages of this magazine. And why we encourage every church to dedicate time to do the same. We need to remember and honour those who suffer for Christ–it is only right.
God did not deliver His own Son from the cross and, for reasons I do not fully understand, He didn’t deliver Helen. What I do know is Christ promised, “everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matthew 19:29). I look forward to the day Bo and Helen are reunited and rewarded 100 times over for eternity for their fidelity, and the awful price they paid for it. And until that day I will remember Bo and Helen, and honour them for their sacrifice. Whose memory will you honour this month?
Visit www.spd.adventist.org/in-memoriam for more stories of mission and sacrifice.
James Standish is editor of Adventist Record.