God’s Early Call
I am blessed to have been born to parents who loved me and also loved the Lord greatly. Our home was one of daily Scripture reading, prayer, and of service to those around us. Jesus was very much a member of our household.
Although both of my grandfathers were pastors in the Church of the Brethren, during my lifetime we never lived near enough to a Church of the Brethren for us to attend regularly. So we would choose another church, often based on the pastor, in the communities where we lived. My first church memories were in a Congregational Christian Church (a denomination which no longer exists). During my childhood and teen years, after we moved to another area of Virginia, we attended the local Methodist church. Although I never regularly attended a Church of the Brethren, when I was six years old, I chose to be baptized in the Church of the Brethren that my father’s father had founded, given the land for, and pastored.
While my childhood with my dear brother, who was six years older than I, and my parents was normal in most ways, two childhood events stand out. One occurred when I had just turned 10 years old. I had attended a two-week Word of Life camp at Lake George, New York with my cousin. On the last night, there was a campfire with several very inspiring speakers. On that night, I very clearly heard, not in an audible voice, but deep inside, God calling me to give my life in service to Him overseas. From that moment on — during my teen years, in college, in midwifery school — I never veered from the path of going overseas to serve the Lord. Service overseas was the reason I chose to become a nurse. And later, since people had advised me that any nurse working overseas would need to deliver babies, I attended midwifery school following college, to become a nurse-midwife.
The second major event in my young life occurred when I was twelve years old. I became very ill with a neuromuscular paralysis that left me struggling to use my voluntary muscles. Walking or using my arms was difficult. For at least five or six months over the next two years, I spent time in five different hospitals on the east coast of the United States. Later, when I came home, I went through intensive physical therapy and home visits by therapists. During the acute phase of the illness, the doctors told my parents that I would not survive, and they felt they should talk to me about this. “Oh, don’t worry,” I responded. “They’re wrong. God wants me to serve Him overseas — so, of course, I will recover.” I could not attend school during this period, so my sixth and seventh grade education was provided by a teacher who visited my home. During this illness I providentially received a first-hand education on good nursing care. This kind of education is not provided in a classroom.
During both of these experiences, as well as throughout my childhood (since the age of five or six), I had a very personal relationship with Jesus. I talked with Him often and read His Word daily from the time I gave my life in service to Him at age ten. I never doubted His call on my life.
How to Answer
Living in a rural Virginia community, I had never met a Catholic. There were no cities in the county, and there were no Catholic churches in the entire county. I’m sure I must have met Catholics when I went away to university, but I never encountered one who identified himself or herself to me as Catholic. The first “real” Catholics that I knew personally were two midwives working with me in Cook County Hospital in Chicago in 1973. The one, I never remember talking to about faith, but she did invite me to her family home for Easter Sunday. We didn’t go to Mass but they did serve Bloody Marys at brunch. The reason I remember this is that I come from a long line of southern evangelical teetotalers. Drinking alcohol was one of the graver sins. So I refused the Bloody Mary. They insisted that I have one but said they would make me one without alcohol. Of course, they did put some vodka in it, which I did not discover until I experienced a strange sensation soon after drinking it.
The other midwife I worked with was a very faithful Catholic who attended Mass every Sunday, although I never knew her to speak of her faith. I believe she had a deep faith but, like many Catholics at the time, did not consider it something to be talked about.
Let’s now return to my early life timeline. I left my rural Virginia community to go to university to study nursing. Along the way, I learned that nurses in resource constrained countries often look to nurses and midwives to attend births. I therefore understood that, in following my vocation, it would be a good idea for me to study at a midwifery school. There were few midwifery schools in the U.S. at the time, but I knew I needed one outside of a large city hospital. I found what I was looking for in Kentucky, at the Frontier Nursing Service. There in the Appalachian Mountains, we practiced nursing and midwifery with minimal technology and few resources. We even did our own lab work and did not always have a resident doctor available. It was perfect preparation for my later life. I loved my time with the mountain people, and if it had not been that I knew God’s call for me to go overseas, I could have stayed there forever.
After midwifery school, I realized that I was going to need experience with complicated and abnormal pregnancies and births. We had referred complicated cases to the doctors when I was in Kentucky, but I knew that, overseas, I would encounter many complications and have to deal with them on my own. So off I went to Cook County Hospital in Illinois, which at the time was the largest hospital in the U.S. There I would do four to seven deliveries in an eight-hour shift. Also, I worked nights, when the resident doctors were not present, so that I could also assist at births that were twins or breeches or had complications. Being in Chicago also gave me an opportunity to attend evening school at Moody Bible Institute. But even at that point in my life, their teaching was too fundamentalist for me. I did spend the summer studying at Wheaton College, which I enjoyed very much. I was drawn there because Billy Graham, whom I very much admire to this day, had graduated from there. During all this time, I attended an Evangelical Free Church in Chicago, where I grew through study and prayer with a small group and through being taught by a dynamic pastor.
So where was I getting all of the money to fund this education? My parents were certainly not providing it. I worked while I went to school, but also, the Church of the Brethren was funding a significant part of my education, with the understanding that I would work for them in a mission hospital for five years after graduation.
However, God was continuing to work in my heart, and I came to the conclusion that God did not want me to work in a well-served area with lots of Christians, but rather in some out-of-the-way place where others didn’t want to go. As the Lord ordained, during midwifery school I came in contact with a Christian group that operated exactly as my heart was teaching me. They did not provide a salary, but they also did not allow people working with them to ask churches, schools or anyone else for funds for their support. The assumption, which I had had all along, was that if God wanted you to be somewhere doing a certain thing, He was the only one you needed to ask. Jehovah Jireh; “the Lord will provide.” He knows what we need before we ask Him, and He will provide for our needs in whatever way and through whatever channels He chooses. And this is exactly what He did.
Giving All for God
This small, faith-filled group was going to begin medical work in a Middle Eastern country. At that time (1972–73), no one I talked to had ever heard of this country. There was little in the library concerning it. I only learned that it was a very isolated nation — a country with the highest maternal and newborn mortality in the world at that time. And this little group of Christians was going into that land to operate a small hospital and provide medical care in whatever way they could. The northern third of the country had no medical facility or care. This was indeed a needy country.
The little team had a couple of doctors and other workers but needed midwives. Perfect! That’s where I fit in. However, there was a snag. In order to pay back my loan, I was under obligation to work for five years in the Church of the Brethren hospital in India. I had no money to repay the loan but decided to make a trip to their headquarters in Chicago to talk to the leaders there. As the meeting began, the director announced to me very seriously, “I have bad news. The hospital in India is being nationalized, and the Church of the Brethren will no longer be sending staff there.” So they were in a quandary about how I should work off my loan. I jumped at this opportunity and proposed, “What if I work with another Christian group for five years; would that satisfy my requirement?” The leaders met about this and had me return the next day. They agreed that this would be a wonderful arrangement. The door was open for me to work in the country the Lord was calling me to.
Our small team was composed primarily of doctors, nurses, and auxiliary staff from the Netherlands, Germany, Great Britain, and a few other European countries. We worshipped together, worked together, lived together, cried together, and laughed together. We became closer than most families. For most of the time I was there, we had no phone service, irregular postal service, and of course no email or internet (they hadn’t been invented yet), so we were rather isolated from the rest of the world. But this type of situation draws people close together. Living with these wonderful, godly people for many years in such intense closeness taught me much about the grace and beauty of lives lived fully for the Lord. The two doctors who led our team exemplified the life of Jesus here on earth in their devotion to God and intense desire to serve Him, their sacrificial love for people, and their faith, which truly wrought miracles — including the miracle of raising a family and living joyfully and faithfully for more than thirty years in such difficult circumstances.
I am thankful for my life as an Evangelical Protestant. I learned to love the Lord and His Word. I learned of faith and trust in God’s love and provision through the many, many wonderful brothers and sisters along the way who taught me, worshipped with me, worked with me in various parts of the world, and loved me with Christ’s Love.
I also loved the country I was living and working in. I lived in a village in one of the more remote and conservative areas of the country. The work was very hard. For many of those years I was on-call 24/7, the work grueling and the resources limited and primitive. However, the people were wonderful. The women I lived among became my sisters and daughters and mothers. If you want to know true hospitality, know the rural people of this country. They vehemently protected those they had taken in. And indeed, they took me into their homes and hearts.
During my time in this country, I visited the work of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, whose Sisters of Charity had recently arrived in one of the coastal towns. I spent time talking with the nuns who worked there. These Sisters, who owned nothing in the world but two uniforms in which to work, beamed with joy, peace, and love. This impressed me very much, since I was becoming overwhelmed and depressed by the constant need and suffering around me.
“Pray for Us”
I went overseas in February of 1975 and during my first twelve years there only returned to the States twice. I came back to the States to complete my Masters of Public Health degree in 1987, ended up working for Johns Hopkins University for two years, and then returned to the Middle East during the Gulf War in 1991. At that time, I went to Jordan and lived between two Palestinian refugee camps in one of the poorest areas of the capital city, Amman. During that time, I studied Arabic for a while, and then a group of us went to Northern Iraq to work with the Kurds. Although our stay there wasn’t long, it opened new vistas to the needs of the Kurds as well as of the Christian minority there. At one point I visited the Chaldean Catholic priest at his old church in the town where we were living. At the end of our visit, I asked him what we could do for him, how we could help him. In those days, there was a lot of U.N. and other relief aid going into the Kurdish area, so usually the answer to that question was, “Give us food or money.” But this dear priest said, “Please tell the Christians in your country to pray for us. Life is hard. Whenever you hear of a Kurdish village being gas bombed, Christians are also being killed, as we often live in villages that are predominantly Kurdish. Please, please pray for us.” That request has remained with me ever since.
A Deeper Understanding
I was still living by trusting in God’s provision, but I wanted to go back to the country I had come to love. Then Johns Hopkins University asked me to do a consultancy at the medical school in that country. I jumped at this chance to get a free ticket back there — another provision from the Lord! When my consultancy with Hopkins was finished, I cancelled the return portion of my ticket and stayed. I was getting requests from agencies working in relief and development there, so I took on some of this assistance. For the next seven years, I lived in the capital city and worked with people and organizations all over the country, occasionally even outside of the country.
In 1999, I saw that it was time to leave this land that I loved. My parents were getting older and deteriorating in health. And I was worn down, physically (weighed only 94 pounds when I returned to the States), mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. These mothers, sisters, and daughters of mine lived such a difficult and prejudicial and male-dominated life from the day they were born — as inferior to their brothers, until they were married to the man chosen by their father — to the day they died. Also, a woman could easily be divorced by her husband’s mere word, and always the children would stay with the husband. So the woman would never see her children again. This life with the suffering of those I loved began to hurt too much, and I needed to leave.
Returning to the States, I went to visit friends at Johns Hopkins University, where I was again offered a job with them in an international maternal and newborn health program. We worked primarily in Asia and Africa. I traveled frequently to places such as Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Liberia, Myanmar (Burma), Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Turkey, and Uganda. I was also an associate faculty member in the schools of Nursing and of Public Health at Johns Hopkins. I loved working with students and seeing such enthusiasm for learning.
But it was work, and I became spiritually depressed. Scripture study seemed dull and laborious. Although I still prayed, I wondered if prayer was really heard by God. And I couldn’t find a church in which I found God. I began to look into the Episcopal Church. For some reason, I was drawn to liturgy and the beauty of their services. I found comfort in the liturgy. I ended up joining a wonderful Episcopal parish in Baltimore, where I was living at the time. I shared great fellowship with brothers and sisters in a small group there.
A Man Who Loves the Lord
But also I began to think seriously of being married, of having someone to share life with. And so I met George, a wonderful Catholic man, who was warm and interested in global issues, was well-read and had a delightful sense of humor. Most importantly, he loved the Lord. He was the first Catholic I had ever met who actually spoke of his faith and his love for God. I began to attend church with him, St. Ignatius, in Hickory, Maryland, the oldest parish in the Archdiocese of Baltimore. Although at first I didn’t know when to stand, kneel or sit, and knew none of the responses, I was drawn to the beauty and comfort of these Masses. I saw real worship and real honoring of Jesus and His Word. In fact, more than the Bible-believing churches that I had attended before, every Sunday Mass included Scripture from the Old Testament, Psalms, New Testament, and Gospels. And so I decided, unbeknownst to George, to begin RCIA (the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults). What a tremendous experience! For the first time in twenty years, my faith was renewed. I was enthusiastic about knowing Him and knowing Him better. I was enthralled by the wonders of the Catholic Church. So many of these people who, as I had been taught in childhood, were deceived, idol-worshipping, and trying to work their way into Heaven, were instead devoted to the Lord, worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth, following Christ’s scriptural injunctions in worship and in life, and faithfully trusting in God’s grace for salvation through His death and glorious resurrection. As I’ve often heard since then, “many people hate what they believe the Catholic Church teaches, but few would hate what the Catholic Church actually teaches.” Also, I learned that much of Scripture that I had glossed over or tried to explain away clearly showed the “way home” to and through the Catholic Church. I can’t praise God enough for allowing me to come into the Church through St. Ignatius in Hickory, Maryland, where we have such godly, giving priests and deacons under the leadership of Msgr. Jim, a true man of God.
George and I were married in 2006, and four months later, I came into full communion with the Catholic Church — to the consternation of many among my family and friends. From their perspective, I had served God faithfully for so many years but had now “fallen off the wagon.” A funny and sad story is that, the night before George and I were married, and therefore before I had become a Catholic, my mother called me into the living room; she had “something important I have to say to you.” She and her praying friends had decided that Satan was trying to deceive me and drag me away from the Lord by having me marry a Catholic, right in a Catholic church! I explained that she was welcome to say whatever she felt she needed to, but God was very much leading me to be married to a Catholic in a Catholic church.
Home to Stay
Today, besides being grateful for my wonderful husband and his dear family, who are now my family, we have been blessed to be able to learn, grow, and serve in our parish. I am an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion and a Lector, and we have both become involved with the ChristLife Ministry for Evangelization at our parish. Again, our pastor has stepped out into the joy of the Gospel and is actively building our parish into an evangelistic community that is enthusiastic about following Christ in a personal relationship and sharing Him with those around us.
I want to be clear that I treasure my Protestant evangelical background and the many wonderful men and women of God who have helped me along the way and nurtured me in my relationship with the Lord. I rejoice in what the Holy Spirit is doing in and through evangelical Protestant churches and evangelical Catholic parishes. Yes, I rejoice in the path that God has blessed me to walk with Him since I was a child.
My path home to the Catholic Church has been circuitous, but God was continually at work. Even as a child, I had been impressed with Mary and her important role in Christian history — and thus in my own life. I remember asking my mother why we gave so little attention in church to Mary. Again, kneeling for prayer seemed so “right.” I remember being in church, as a Protestant, and feeling I should be kneeling when I prayed, but not doing it because I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. Also, I was drawn to the liturgy. The only place I knew to look for such liturgy had been the Episcopal Church. I remember taking a Book of Common Prayer with me when I went overseas. Although I knew God in an intimately personal way, I also knew He was majestic and not to be taken casually or without deference and respect. He is King of the Universe, no less! And I had been in so many different denominations with different beliefs and doctrines. Did this make sense? If the Holy Spirit was our guide, how could He lead so many different people in so many different directions? Didn’t Truth exist? Or was Truth something subjective that we could create as we went along?
I rejoice that God showed me the fullness of His Truth in the Catholic Church, the Church that Jesus established, the Church that He promised would never be overcome! How blessed we are to be able to live and worship with the great multitude throughout the world and throughout the ages!