Today I met an amazing woman. Her name is Velma, she’s 73, and she is one of my heroes.
In 1961 at the age of 25, Velma boarded a boat bound for Australia. It was a 3 week trip, at the end of which, she got on a smaller boat, and set sail for the untamed island of Papua New Guinea.
Then she lived there, among the tribal people, for 42 years — minus the occasional furlough home.
Velma was a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators, and she gave her entire adult life to translating the New Testament into 2 obscure languages, spoken by no more than 1000 people each. When she arrived, fresh from University and jungle training, she and an American woman, a year older than her, set up their home with the help of friendly tribespeople, where they lived off rain water collected in a barrel, and food cooked over a little propane stove.
For the next 19 years they devoted themselves to creating a written language for these people — mapping the sounds of their words into an alphabet, and then, since they’d never seen such a thing before, teaching them how to read it. Their first New Testament, in a language who’s name I can’t pronounce, was produced in the 80s — the product of painstaking, hand-written then manually re-typed labor.
The next language, she said, came a lot easier. By then they had a foundation to work from, and computers were just starting to become available to their organization.
Velma, and her partner, meanwhile, accepted positions as directors of their region with Wycliffe and took on the additional responsibilities that came with that. All while facing 5-month stretches in the bush with barely any contact from another English-speaking person. They kept emergency supplies of a treatment for malaria — Velma says she lost count of how many times she fell ill with the horrible disease.
In 2003, at the age of 67, she returned to Canada. Velma has never driven a car — but she has carved her own canoe out of the trunk of a tree. For 5 decades the world changed: wars were fought, politicians came and went, and churches were built and some of them closed their doors. But Velma stood, umoved and unwavering in her mission to bring God’s message of hope and redemption to a people group who might never hear it otherwise. One life, lived all-out so that 2000 others might know the Truth that sets us free.
Velma’s a little lady. She grew up in a single parent home with 4 other sisters. She went to our church as a child, until one day a pastor challenged her to go to Bible College. She is not stronger, or smarter, or more capable than anyone else. She was simply obedient — putting her life in God’s hands, and trusting Him to do the rest. And for that, she is a hero.
Today, on our church’s 75th anniversary, they asked those in the generations who have come before us, and who served in ministry, to come up to the front and tell us what God done with their willingness to follow Him. Velma was among many with gray hair and lines on their faces, who got up and spoke with joy about the decades across which they had worked, and the places that God had taken them.
People who had no way to know are with Jesus today because of Velma’s life of obedience. When I’m 73, will anyone be able to say the same about me? How about you?