This is a picture of Katie V. painting a window shutter. Katie was a missionary in a small village in West Africa. She and her husband went to Africa with the intention of starting a literacy program that would support Bible translation and church planting efforts in this particular community. And while Katie saw this vision come into reality in some ways, she also spent a good deal of time doing things like painting shutters. I took the picture because I thought to myself, “she doesn’t get many pictures taken of her.” It’s clear why – painting shutters isn’t particularly glamorous. This was the life of Katie – both her blessing and her struggle.
When I first met Katie, we were both in graduate school, with the optimism and determination of those who haven’t actually started on the mission field. Katie told me that she had wanted to go to Asia, but her husband felt called to Africa. He had won her over with pictures of cute African children and visions of opening the doors of literacy for them. He had been to Africa before, and he confidently told Katie that while there he had made a list of essential items to bring back to Africa. When she looked at this list, she was amused to discover that it contained one item: binder clips. So Katie went to Africa, armed with binder clips and visions of transformed lives.
However, while Katie was there, she began to discover that it was her own vision that would be transformed. It was with some angst that Katie watched as her husband began to start an adventurous life of building relationships and language learning, while she started a life of learning to hand wash clothes and cook meals from scratch. She did get the opportunity to do her own language learning and to build relationships in the community, and her visions of a literacy program became more clear. However, on their second term, they returned with a small baby, and Katie once again had to face the change of her vision. Her title was now “Mom” rather than “Literacy Specialist”. Her primary tasks were playing baby games, making baby food, and washing diapers.
The various times I went to visit Katie, I saw her longing to return to her work in literacy – to make an impact on the community. But I also saw the impact she was making – an impact I wondered if she fully comprehended. The truth is, Katie was the support on which a thriving ministry was functioning. Because of her tireless work, her husband was able to start a Bible reading and discipleship program in the village. He also was able to move into an administrative role and have an impact on teams across West Africa. Her children were growing in their knowledge of the Lord. The translation work moved forward as she opened her house and allowed it to be an office. In fact, she became a hostess extraordinaire – hosting interns, colleagues, friends, and family. All of these people were impacted by her hospitality. She had dreams of having her house as a place of quiet respite from a difficult life, but she gave up this dream in order to serve the needs of many around her. It was difficult for her to make this sacrifice, but she embraced it – labeling cupboards and writing instructions in bright, sunshiney handwriting so guests could find their way through the kitchen and through African life. Her organizational skills extended to the broader missions community as well, whether it was organizing meetings or arranging the guesthouse kitchen. She did all the she could to support those around her…even painting shutters.
Katie’s life reminds me of this quote by Amy Carmichael, “Sometimes when we read the words of those who have been more than conquerors, we feel almost despondent. I feel that I shall never be like that. But they won through step by step, by little bits of wills, little denials of self, little inward victories, by faithfulness in very little things. They became what they are. No one sees these little hidden steps. They only see the accomplishment, but even so, those small steps were taken. There is no sudden triumph, no spiritual maturity. That is the work of the moment.”
Katie’s life was a work of moments. A work of quiet and steady determination. A daily sacrifice to the God whom she loved. On November 4 of this year, Katie passed away unexpectedly, leaving this earthly struggle to go to her heavenly rest. She leaves behind the work of quiet moments, and now is standing where she can see the accomplishment – the result of faithfulness in every little thing. Her vision is now truly transformed!
I am privileged to have known Katie – to have seen her struggles and talked with her about the challenges she faced. I prayed often that she would see the value of her work, even though it wasn’t the ministry she expected. The sweetness of knowing that she now truly understands the impact of her life cuts through the bitterness of her death. The example of her life will continue to be a support to others on the mission field, as we reflect on what it means to walk faithfully in the midst of challenges and changes. To God be the glory!