Faith Works 11-14-15
Stories of sacrifice, and of service
A quick note: a week from tomorrow, on Sunday evening, Nov. 22 at Neal Avenue United Methodist Church, a community Thanksgiving Service will be held at 7:00 pm, sponsored by the Newark Area Ministerial Association. This service moves around the city each year, but is a longstanding tradition where we can, as Christians, come together in thanks and praise for an evening. And yes, there will be an offering, which will go entirely to the Coalition of Care. Please consider joining us for an hour of scripture and song next Sunday.
The following really should have been written last year, on the fiftieth anniversary of a death in what was then still known in the news as the Belgian Congo, by 1964 an independent nation known today as the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
I'd like to lift up before you all the life of Phyllis Rine, a young woman of this area who died on November 24, 1964 during what is known as the "Congo Massacre," when some 250 Christian missionaries were killed. Obviously, I never knew her (says your columnist, born in 1961), but I've met those who did, and had heard her story told in hushed tones as a child myself, back in Illinois during Sunday school assemblies. She had been a missionary in Stanleyville, now Kisangani, when a Maoist-inspired Communist militia took over the town, and after two months of captivity as a hostage, was killed with many other missionaries, nuns, and medical workers from the West, even as soldiers landed on the edge of town to attempt their rescue.
Until this week, I had not tracked down the place where they brought her body back to be buried, just over the county line in her native Martinsburg. But recently I had some business in Utica and then in Zanesville, so had no excuse not to stop and search a bit in that small town along my way, and indeed found the place where she is buried.
Phyllis has relatives still living in Knox and Licking Counties, and I am hesitant to say too much that might intrude on their own memories. But as we become ever more aware of some of the struggles people of faith are having around the world, this one death represents some of the dangers that still exist for believers. The stories we hear today may seem as distant as fifty years and more, but standing at her grave made both her story and today's tragedies something more immediate in my own prayers and reflections.
She went to a church camp of the Restoration Movement tradition that we share, and heard a missionary speak who I heard speak once, years later in Indiana. His story motivated her to attend Cincinnati Bible Seminary, now Cincinnati Christian University, and to go into the mission field. In sum, she barely spent two years in Africa, teaching and working and witnessing.
These words, on the wall of her childhood home, made an epitaph that her friend and fellow missionary Zola Brown would use in writing a book about her all too brief life:
Only one life 'twill soon be past,
Only what's done for Christ will last.
Service and sacrifice and surrender to God's will -- may her example bring us more inspiration than sorrow, a life that has touched more of us after her death than she ever could have known and ministered to while on this earth. She left Ohio so all the world might know about the hope that was in her, and that hope did not die in Africa, but was instead reborn. Martinsburg was a good place to pray on a November morning, over fifty years after this marker was set. We never really know what will endure . . .
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; so far, God just sent him to Ohio. Tell him where you believe you are called to serve at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.