Friday, October 01, 2010

Family story

I have a great-aunt and great-uncle, Aunt Esther and Uncle Dean, who are retired missionaries.  I like the story of how they married:

Esther, my grandfather's sister, was 31. She had already been a missionary nurse for years in Belgian Congo, as a single woman. She was a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance, and they wanted a doctor from their own denomination to work with. So in 1948 when Esther was coming up on her next furlough, another CMA missionary jokingly said to her, "See if you can lure a doctor back here."

Esther went home and was introduced to Dean. He was twenty-seven years old, had served in Japan in WWII, and was a new doctor. After a radical conversion experience as an adult, he'd concluded that God wanted him to be a missionary. First, though, he planned to take a course in tropical diseases, figuring that would come in handy. Esther and Dean's parents attended the same church, but the couple had never met. They saw each other several times that summer in group settings, but that was all-- they didn't go on any dates.

Then Dean left with his mother for a road trip to South Carolina, where his tropical disease course awaited. In a hotel room on the way, he happened to be looking through a yearbook from the local university with all the young college-aged girls. And then he suddenly thought of Esther. He had some sort of vision, or at least a very strong impression, that he should marry her.

So off he went, back to Pennsylvania, offering no explanation to his bemused mother. Having arrived back home, he phoned Esther and asked to see her. She figured he must be planning to tell her why he'd decided not to take the tropical disease course after all.

They met. "You know I'm planning to be a missionary..." said Dean, and then he asked her to marry him. Just like that.

Esther was floored, of course-- they'd never dated.  (But I figure there must have been some mutual attraction there...)  Years before, Esther had broken an engagement in order to become a missionary, and she had firmly decided that if she ever got serious about anyone again, she'd have to make certain it was the right thing, since she didn't want to break anyone else's heart. Now here was this man she hardly knew proposing to her. Of course she'd say no, right? But she had a sort of vision of her own, a light shining in darkness which meant to her that in the midst of confusion, God was showing her His will.

"My heart says yes," Esther said to Dean, "but I'll have to pray about it."

So she went home, woke up her parents to deliver the news, and prayed about it.  A few days later she gave her answer-- yes.  Before too long she and Dean were married. Dean eventually took his tropical disease course, in Belgium instead of South Carolina, and by the time Esther returned to Belgian Congo from her furlough, she had a doctor husband and twin sons in tow.

That was sixty years ago. They spent years in Africa, then Cambodia, then Africa again. They had four children and bunch of grandkids and retired to Pennsylvania. Now Esther and Dean are 93 and 89, both in quite good health for their ages, with kind faces and sparkling eyes. They're unfailingly loving to each other. It's wonderful to see.