Tunkhannock sits smack in the middle of cow country. The town’s highlight for the year is Founder’s Day where you can guess the serial number on a ten dollar bill. If you win, you can buy a round of hotdogs and sodas for all your friends and still have change left over.
The Baptist church’s highlight for the year is Missionary Week when speakers arrive from all over the world carting displays of snake skins and beads. Extra workers are assigned to the nursery because the little ones get too restless by the third night.
But the highlight for me when I turned forty in this tiny community was not the surprise party complete with gag gifts – it was the day Aunt Barb taught me new meaning to the word missionary.
“She’s got liver cancer. She’s already yellow.” My sister-in-law’s words tore at my heart. I was the Christian Bookstore lady and should have known what to do in this situation. But I had only one thought - call Aunt Barb.
Aunt Barb wasn’t my biological aunt although I wished she was. Her relationship began with me as the mother of my babysitter and then eventually she took over as my primary childcare giver. Aunt Barb invited me (who never attended church) to all her ladies’ fellowships and eventually shared Jesus with my daughter. She was there to hug me when I was being stalked by a former employee, and she was there to encourage me when my husband and I experienced marital discord.
“Get a Bible and I will meet you at the elevators.” I reached for a NKJ edition from my stock. My heart pounded in my ears as I feared the drive to Tyler hospital might result in me becoming the patient. She smiled when she saw me and reached in for a hug.
“Thank you for coming. I know you were busy but I didn’t know who to call or what to do…” My words came out in a rush. Aunt Barb hugged me again and told me quickly how we would share God with this woman who had a short time to live.
I never liked hospitals – the smell - the sounds – they all left me with a foreign feeling in my stomach that urged me to run back outside. I tried to prepare myself for the scene that was before us. She was yellow, just as Beth had warned. I glanced at Aunt Barb to gage how the scene was affecting her. She was already wrapping her hands firmly around Beth’s mother’s hands. I mumbled some introductions and waited for Aunt Barb to take the lead.
I didn’t know if this woman knew about Jesus. I stuffed tracts in my Christmas cards, and offered scripture to someone searching for the perfect verse, but I had never shared about my personal relationship with the Lord to anyone. I sat in the chair next to the bed and marveled how Aunt Barb was already deep in conversation. These ladies had never met but there was no lack of words from either.
Aunt Barb stopped her dialogue and nodded to the Bible I still gripped in my lap. “Ellen brought you a gift. Would you mind if I read some verses out of it to you?” This was the moment I dreaded. Would this dying woman throw us out of her room now? I had only met her at a few Labor Day picnics and even then we were polite strangers.
I handed over the Bible and eyed the door. My feet wouldn’t let me leave so I prayed as I had never prayed before. Soon she was reading verse after verse.
“Have you ever trusted Jesus as your Savior?” There it was. Aunt Barb’s voice never faltered – never shrank back. She was giving the gospel as though she was talking about what my child left on her plate that day at lunch. She was my hero – she was my own personal missionary who lived her life not on the foreign field but in my own backyard. I wiped tears from my eyes as I heard the words I needed to hear from this dying woman.
I lost touch with Aunt Barb when we moved from Tunkhannock until the week before my daughter’s wedding. She wrote about helping her retired husband build churches. But I know differently. My Aunt Barb’s helping build new lives.
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