This morning I had just finished reading Proverbs 12, contemplating how important the “root of the righteous” is for stability, security, and fruitfulness. The one who puts down roots into the soil of God’s marvelous love (Eph.3:17-19), according to this proverb of Solomon, will bring God delight through her faithfulness and diligence, will be a light to her neighbor, and her many good deeds will return to her. At that moment, Beth brought me the news that our dear Martha was gone.
After dealing with my first impulse, which was anger at how poorly and carelessly this dear saint had been treated by several hospitals while there in Ghana, my heart was filled with sadness at losing her, but thankfulness for the life of this amazingly sacrificial mother, a truly righteous servant of Jesus. Widowed decades ago, Martha had cared for countless orphans over the years – currently sheltering around 70 children at her home in White Plains – and she has schooled hundreds of children of the community over these recent decades. She proclaimed the focus of her servanthood through the name she chose for her children’s home and school: Jesus Christ International Children’s Ministry, out of a desire that He would receive the glory for anything that she was able to accomplish.
Several sweet times, I was able to speak to Martha at length in an effort to better understand just how she, as a widow with no personal or governmental source of income was able to do all that she did to care for so many children. She always came back to the simple fact that she lived by faith, trusting in God to provide. She would work tirelessly, herself, in partnership with the Lord to meet out His provision to each cherished child. And she truly did consider them her own children, unwilling to even consider putting any one of them up for adoption as they were all her “family.”
For many years, Martha slept on an old mattress on the floor in the midst of some of her younger girls…how excited she was when we were able to arrange for her to have her own bed in a room (still full of girls, at her invitation) at the Methodist Guest House, during those two years that they all had to move there while waiting – in faith – for Compassion Corps to raise the money to build them new dormitories. Once the boys’ and girls’ dorms were finished, we began making plans to build Martha a small cottage of her own, which she insisted must have a room in which she could house any sick children so that they could be close to her. The cottage never materialized, though, because Martha felt that a pure water well and pump, and then a kitchen and dining area were more important, and also there was need for a chicken coop to keep the hawks from stealing their precious chickens, and then a piggery was to be built along with a gardening project…all to help sustain the children. They always came first in her heart.
It amazed me how resourceful Martha was with even the smallest of means. On one visit, we had heard that the children were hungry with very little else to eat but rice, so we stopped to buy her some chicken and fish, some beans, and a big bunch of potato greens. After enjoying some of their greens for dinner, I saw that Martha had taken all of the stems and, enlisting the help of her littlest children, she planted them in a garden spot near the well which we had recently installed for them. Near the end of our three-week visit, the children proudly showed off their growing garden of greens. How much joy had blossomed from one small gift…
A few years ago, her “children”, orphaned during and just after the Liberian Civil War, began to grow up, longing to step out on their own. She carried the weight of their despair in not knowing how in the world they would be able to get college or vocational training, let alone any transportation to and from the city or campus. I remember how, again, she stepped out in faith, enrolling the oldest two girls in a nursing prep program, traveling with them to somehow get them settled in a safe home so that they could attend. By the summer of 2016 though, she had fourteen new high school graduates and it began to seem like an insurmountable challenge. Martha’s sadness for them was evident on her face – I believe it was a low-point in her life as she took on their heartaches – and she shared her concern with Gail and me as to how she would be able to keep feeding them should they decide to stay at home. Thankfully, in a small way, Compassion Corps was able to help in getting some of the girls enrolled at Lifeline Academy for nurses’ aides training, and scholarship funds were raised to help more of the graduating youth over the past three years. I wish you could have seen how her face beamed as she watched her girls get their graduation certificates from Lifeline Academy just over a year ago. Such a proud mother, (all of the children called her “Mother”) who had shared their sorrows but heartily rejoiced in their accomplishments.
On one of our overnight visits with Martha and her children, Gail and I witnessed one of the untold reasons for the strength and success of her ministry: prayer vigils that she carried out on the first Friday of every month. She and the children would “keep watch” with the Lord, staying awake all night, praying together and singing and reading or reciting Scripture. She determined to pass on to her children her love for the Lord and His Word, and to nurture their growing dependence upon Him. It took my breath away to watch them so disciplined to carry on in worship all through the night…wishing I could have set such an example, myself, for my own children. What a mighty prayer warrior was our Martha.
And now she is able to see her Lord face-to-face, and she is no longer suffering, but smiling, with eyes full of happy tears as we so often saw her, thanking us for gifts we had brought for her and the children. A huge empty place remains, though, in her family and community, which Martha had so completely filled with her loving heart and compassionate deeds. We’ll be praying that some of her children will rise up to carry on in sharing the many family responsibilities, well-trained by their mother’s daily example. We’ll also be praying for a spirit of kindness, patience, and goodness to reign over their school so that current teachers will persevere despite some administrative setbacks during Martha’s illness. We’ll be praying for protection for all of the children, staff, and our dear CC Liberia partners from the coronavirus and other illness, and for continued means to see that Martha’s family is sufficiently fed and cared for. Please join with us in praying for all of these things and for giving whatever you can through Compassion Corps to help in their ongoing support.
With a heart grieving their and our loss, but thankful to have been privileged to gain a clearer glimpse of Jesus through her life of faith and love,
We miss you terribly already, dearest Martha…