Dr Elizabeth Ostring is a retired medical doctor and missionary, and now a theologian and author based in Auckland, New Zealand. She talked recently about her life experience and books.
After working for many years as a medical doctor, what prompted your more recent focus on theology and writing?
To improve my care of patients in our general practice in Christchurch, I enrolled in a Family Ministry Master’s course at Avondale College. This course offered not only practical family therapy training, but also relevant theology classes. The supervisor of the program, Dr Stephen Thompson, noted my interest in theology. When offered the chance to do a doctoral dissertation I gratefully accepted, and studied the theology of human work in the narrative of Genesis. As for writing, I have always enjoyed that, and wrote my first “book” aged eight years! My head is full of stories and ideas! Medicine and family took all my time and energy for many years, but when forced to retire, I had time to write.
Your latest book is the story of a Finnish woman called Tyra. Who is Tyra?
Tyra, my fourth book, is about my mother-in-law, an unassuming woman whom I admired, but could not easily talk to because we had no common language.
How did you go about researching this story?
Researching this story was a slow process! Casual remarks when I first met my husband’s much older brother in Sweden (after the death of Tyra) indicated a dramatic story, which my husband did not know. So I began the search to find out how the family came to Australia. I visited all the places where Tyra lived, talked to her sons and my sister-in-law, and read everything I could find on Finnish history to validate what they shared with me. Then, just before the book was published, my sister-in-law discovered a box of 370 letters between my parents-in-law describing what they went through during World War II.
Why is it a story worth telling?
This story shows that God is working things out in our lives, even in the most painful and discouraging situations. Importantly, all Christians influence others, and impact their lives.
How did Tyra’s story impact your own faith?
The faithfulness and courage of my mother-in-law gave me the wonderful gift of a good husband, for which I am very grateful. But Tyra not only impacted my husband, but also her own. Tyra became an Adventist after her marriage, from the witness of her mother and an unknown young pastor who started a tiny church in a small town in northern Finland. For years in arctic Kiruna, Tyra worshipped entirely alone, but her witness ultimately bore fruit in her own husband’s commitment to Jesus Christ. So this story testifies to the power of a godly woman’s life. This has been a huge inspiration to me.
Tell us about your previous book, Just 30 Minutes.
I wrote Just 30 Minutes because mission work is often seen as “achieving” great things for God. But for me, it was the wonderful privilege of getting to know people in a different culture and realising that they have the same struggles that we do, and we, like them, need the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ. I wanted people to see beyond the externals of mere faces, and recognise that all people have heartaches, struggles and needs, that everyone is a child of God.
Why is re-telling true stories like yours valuable for our growth and understanding of faith?
The Bible is story. God chose to use narrative as one of the most prominent ways of sharing His good news of love and salvation. The Bible is a book of small stories and one Big Story. I believe by sharing the “small” stories that impact our contemporary lives we can be strengthened in our understanding of the Big Story of the Great Controversy between Jesus Christ and Satan.
Tyra and Just 30 Minutes are available from Adventist bookstores in Australia and New Zealand, or online.