It has been my privilege, to offer care to our retired SIM missionaries.
I call my ministry “Caring for the Warriors”.
From the year 2000 I’ve cared for over 300 retirees. With a conservative estimate of each having served for 35 years as active missionaries, the 11 file drawers in my office represent the files of at least 10,500 years of active missionary service. My job is varied and never dull as I offer a ministry of pastoral care, advocacy, hands-on care, communication and recognition of significant events in their lives. We love to party and so retirements, 80th and 90th birthdays as well as 50th and 60th wedding anniversaries are all recognized and honoured. I've now written tributes of the lives of about 250 of our missionaries.
Numerous single missionary ladies choose to make Toronto their place of retirement. Most had no biological relatives living close by and so I became their Power of Attorney for personal care. This has meant my becoming a surrogate daughter. I do what a daughter would do – visit in the hospital, take people to doctor’s appointments, apply for long-term care, downsize their apartment and orchestrate their move.
I remember moving one of the ladies seven times in all. As she settled into her last place, I remarked to her: “This is your last move. The next one is to your forever home. You won't need to pack for that one.” She looked up and with a twinkle in her eye said: “That’s true, I won’t need to pack but you’ll still have to pack up for me!”
She was right and I did! My greatest privilege is to be with so many of our folks in the last days and hours of their earthly life. What a privilege to keep vigil at their bedside as they slip into the presence of Jesus. I imagine our single ladies going home in their wedding gowns to meet their bridegroom. I sat with one of our retirees for the last six weeks of her life. My thoughts were torn on that final day as our son, his wife and their children were leaving to return to China the next day. I had been called to her bedside at 2:00 in the morning. As the day went on it became obvious that this sweet, gentle lady was near her eternal home. She looked up at me and in her always-kind voice she said: “Anne, I want you to thank your family for sharing you with me in these past six weeks.” I was so touched as she was the first to think of the sacrifice that my family make in my ministry.
I so often take for granted that Charles, my beloved husband, has always been there to support and encourage in all ways – both practically and emotionally. How many times has he helped move furniture, clean out apartments, sit beside the bedside of a dying male missionary or drive me as I visit retirees spread out across Canada? I could not have done this ministry without him. He has always maintained a wonderful balance between ministry and care of his family. For me it has been a struggle to keep that balance. Our children have had to share me with many others over the years.
For each of our retirees I write a tribute on behalf of SIM for the funeral service. In the tribute I want to recognize the sacrifice that the missionary children have made for their parents’ ministry. If there is no family at the time of death, I will arrange the funeral and always write a synopsis of the life and ministry of the retiree. Numerous times Charles and I, with just a couple of others, go to a graveside to bury the earthly remains of the retiree. Charles prepares a meaningful interment service. We know that those present for the goodbye on earth may be few in numbers but the welcome home to heaven is one that is cheered on by those who have gone before them. I have now said good-bye to over 160 of our retirees. They served long and faithfully.
We have never lived near biological family and so we have ‘made family’ wherever we have lived. It has been our joy to welcome into our home retirees to share our Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter meals. Yes, it's a bit loud at times with three little grandchildren running about in our small living room, but it brings joy to those who join us. Some have never had grandchildren and for others, their grandchildren live thousands of miles away. I think back to one of our retirees. She suffered with dementia. When we gave her a 90th birthday party she said it was the first birthday party she had ever experienced. I don’t know if that was accurate, but the party did give her much joy.
I popped in to visit her regularly in the long-term care facility, and especially in the last few days of her life. I always told her I loved her and with a hug and a kiss, assured her that she was closer to seeing Jesus. I had been in the night before and popped in early the next morning. When I gave her a hug and assured her I would be back again later that day she said: “I haven’t had a hug in so long.” I asked her: “Would you like another one?” She nodded her head and I gave her the extra hug. I stepped out into the hallway and headed out for my next visit. Just an hour later she was welcomed into the arms of Jesus. She was truly home!
Yes, they are warriors who will all eventually reach their heavenly home. They will receive the crown of life – the one given to those who endure. Upon receiving it, they will quickly bow down and put it at the feet of Jesus.