Last Friday, May 6, Uni felt an urge to call Gracie, the daughter of our old friend Gladis Gibson, in El Paso, TX. We had heard that Gladis was in hospice care and her health was rapidly declining.
When Gracie answered, Uni said simply, "I called to ask how your mother is doing?"
Gracie replied, "She passed this morning."
This was not a blow to us, as we had known it was coming for quite awhile; nevertheless, we still grieved. Gladis would have been 92 on her next birthday.
We had known Gladis for over 60 years. She and her husband Bill had had a great influence on our walk with Christ during that period. I was honored to do Bill's memorial service in 2009 when he went to be with the Lord.
I first met Gladis and Bill in 1956. I was 19 years old and it had been only a year since I had committed my life to Christ. "Churchy" things were still new to me. I knew that the little church we attended supported foreign missionaries, but at first my opinion of missionaries was that they were social misfits, isolationists, old maids - people who couldn't make it in the "real world." Two events happened to change that opinion.
The first was a news item about what the world considered a horrible tragedy. On a sandy beach along an unknown river deep in the jungles of Ecuador, a number of young American missionaries were savagely killed by members of a tribe known then as Aucas. The reports of their discovery made headlines throughout the country. LIFE magazine did a huge spread of pictures. Radio and TV commentators discussed the event. It was, for much of America, a first exposure to independent missions and to many it seemed senseless. But this event had an impact on many in my generation.
The second was the meeting with the Gibsons, then in their 30's, not long after that event. Bill was from our little church in Michigan and Gladis was from Oklahoma. They had met in Bible college and had been sent out by our church as missionaries with Gospel Missionary Union, an independent mission organization. They were at the time on a one year furlough from serving in the jungles of Ecuador.
Bill and Gladis had served with those martyred men and their families. They were dear friends and had known of the plans to bring the Gospel of Christ to this stone-age tribe that had never had contact with "civilization" before. They had prayed and planned with these men and their wives and families. Bill regaled us and our church youth group with stories of their adventures in the jungles. He had even flown over the Auca village with Nate Saint, the missionary pilot, one of the martyrs.
The Gibsons were not simply good story tellers, they were normal people, yet people who had given their lives completely to Christ, and they spoke of those martyred men as being ordinary people just as they were. I was impressed with Gladis when she played softball with us at a church picnic; she was stronger than many of us men. She could hit harder and run faster than any of us. As she later confessed, "I spend a great amount of my time trekking and sometimes running, through the jungle."
The Gibsons took Uni and me under their wings. They mentored us - not by teaching us theology or how-tos, but simply by modeling the Christian life.
Later, when we moved from Michigan to Texas, we lost track of each other for a few years. Then when I was attending Dallas Theological Seminary, Bill looked me up and found me in the coffee room. The Gibsons were then serving in El Paso as directors of GMU's ministry in South Texas and Northern Mexico. The friendships resumed.
Down through the years, Bill Gibson would sometimes speak at churches I pastored. They'd also sing and Gladis would play her accordion. I was privileged to be the speaker at the biennial retreats held for the South Texas missionaries, as well as in the little chapel where they were active. Sometimes I would receive a phone call from Gladis informing me, "Our church bulletin says that you will be preaching on _______.” We'd make arrangements at home, jump in the car and drive to El Paso for the service.
Gladis and Bill never ceased being missionaries for Christ, even after they retired. They continued to serve in Grace Chapel in El Paso. They started a Bible study in the mobile home park where they lived; it's still going on. Gladis served as an R.N. in a clinic. When she could no longer care for herself and needed to live in an independent living facility, she immediately started some Bible studies in both English and Spanish, with other residents and the care-giving personnel.
"Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of His saints." Psalm 116:15
(Also see: THECHURCH OF THE OPEN DOOR.)