Aunty Eunice: 'Small' faith, big heart, huge influence.
"Auntie Eunice" spent most of her adult life as a teacher, mentor, boarding parent and friend to literally hundreds of children who passed through the halls of Murree Christian School in Pakistan. Her love for children living without their parents came from her own experience of being orphaned early in her teens, and from God, who she serves and loves with her whole heart.
At 70, I look back a long way, to growing up in the small city of Regina in Saskatchewn, Canada.
My father had been married before so I had four half-brothers as well as one full sister. Because my dad became a Christian later in life his gratitude for forgiveness meant that he was very alive to what God was doing. He was a legal advisor to many missions and our home was often filled with either missionaries on their home leave or ex-convicts being rehabilitated.
Dad died suddenly of a heart attack when I was just 12. Mom passed away from cancer the next year. My sister Pat was 15 and I was 13.
The year that Mother was very ill we heard her faith and saw it in many ways. She often quoted Romans 8:28 and kept saying strongly, “If God takes me he will care for you”.
I was embarrassed by the profuse sympathy given to me by anyone when they heard I'd lost both parents. I found it awkward so I wouldn't offer the information unless I had to. I had a stock answer that, “it’s really OK. I'd rather have had the parents I had than any others.”
I realized as I got older that my answer was a truth but it was also a dodge. Mother encouraged us to speak about our sadness, but when she went we sort of decided that it was selfish to want her back as she had been so ill.
I probably didn't really grieve very much and I think it made me pretty unsympathetic to others’ hurts for awhile. I know one of my friends from college said she felt like she was a bit of a baby wanting her parents at graduation when I didn't appear to think it was that important.
After a difficult first year of being an ‘orphan’, I recommitted to God (I was a Christian, but went through a stage of wanting to please my peers and for God to 'leave me alone') and then spent five years at a Christian boarding school. I was with many missionary kids (MKs), including some in elementary school, who didn’t see their parents for four or five years at a time. When a missions representative answered my question as to what was needed in his country, it made sense to me when he replied that “We desperately need people to teach MKs abroad to avoid this separation.” I was only 16 but I asked God then to use me with MKs.
A year of Bible School was followed with two years of teacher training. My sister, Pat had gone east for university and it was good to be reunited in Winnipeg where we both started working.
After two years of teaching I wondered about this ‘call’ to missions. It would mean two more years of university and two of Bible school - which seemed impossible. In discussing it with my pastor, he suggested a Christian college in California.
“Wouldn’t that be very expensive?” I asked.
“If God wants you there it won’t be a problem,” was his answer.
I set off conscious of a desperate need for God to make a difference in my life. I saw I really wasn’t missionary material and had little money, so I knew God HAD to do it!
Three years later I graduated with no debt. I had also taken a trip around the world representing Westmont College in Pakistan on their student Missionary Peace Corps project and God had confirmed that this was where I would serve (and be abundantly blessed).
He met my small faith with such a proving of who he was and he also introduced me to the place I would spend the majority of my adult life - Murree Christian School in Pakistan.
Being a boarding parent at MCS gave me back the ability to express and receive the affection I had missed after my parents’ deaths. On my first night of boarding I looked at 23 little girls, all waiting to be kissed goodnight and wondered how to handle it. Their little arms came up and quickly taught me how.
Years later an administrator commented on how each department reflected the houseparent "like yours are always so affectionate" she said. God used the children in my life to bring a healing over the years I think.
Another result of losing my parents so young meant that I tried very hard to be ‘put together’. I'm so thankful for a friend, Synnove, who taught me what acceptance was all about. I remember clearly the amazing insight that God also accepted what He had created and I could accept each child as His creation too. It was up to me to accept, nurture, and love what he had made – and not try to change them into something acceptable to me. I realized that if I was trying to be ‘put together", the kids have to make me look good. That wasn’t what I was there for!
I am an extreme extrovert so having people around all day long was constant energy for me as a younger person. I loved the parents dropping by and other staff when the kids weren't up or at school. I looked after both little girls and little boys. They all brought so much joy -and frustration - but usually delight! Each one gave so much. The little ones didn't stop to see whether they liked you as older kids might have done--they just wanted someone to love them.
Living in community brings a reality to our Christian walk. In a regular church setting you can think you love everyone while quietly avoiding the ones you would struggle with. I learned early on to be honest with God and lean on him for people I found difficult.
I also realize that love is not just a feeling but a decision to act, trusting God for the feelings to follow. Having my friend of 35 years, Deb, to pray with meant a lot too as she was always committed to loving those around us. She was not a gossiper and always put her kids and others in the best light.
Yes, in a boarding school there’s a lack of privacy. For the first 25 years I lived in one room off the hallway with the children’s rooms. The children were always in and out of my room but with large windows I never felt cramped. I must admit, though, that when they decided to give us an extra bedroom, I couldn't have gone back to the other way of life easily.
Of course, I wanted to get married and have my own children, but I remember at Westmont, getting ready to go to Pakistan the first time, I was lying on my top bunk, so excited about finally working with Missionary Kids. I prayed, "God, I'll happily stay single if it means working with MKs".
God genuinely gave me that joy and I was never sorry. There were times when I struggled with singleness and thought things like, "Am I just not attractive enough?" but I would always go back to the truth that I had chosen it. No, that God had chosen it for me.
I would have found it harder to be childless than single but God gave me so many kids and even today I cannot feel childless. Some are still around me in Winnipeg and others are in contact from all over the world. Nothing could have matched this --to see so many following the Lord and doing things I could never have done. I feel very loved.
The last few years in Pakistan were event-filled. When our church in Islamabad was attacked one day, Deb and I were away in Murree but came home to find 40 of our congregation in the hospital. They were the lucky ones – there were also five funerals being organized. The FBI was getting involved and we had no pastor. We helped in trying to get counselors to traumatized people, and putting together support groups for people who needed more help long term. That attack was in the March. In August, the school was attacked by five gunmen and just days later a Christian hospital was also attacked - with more loss of life.
My forty two years in Pakistan can hardly be summed up here but I’d say the best image I have is of the little boy who gave Jesus his lunch. I have given such a little in comparison to the way God has multiplied it. I’ve been able to work with children from around the world, have such warm contacts with them and their families. I’ve seen my mother’s faith reflected in many parents who trusted God with their children in difficult separations.
All this would have been enough of a reward but God let me and my dear friend of 35 years, Deb, follow many of ‘our kids’ up as they have left our school, gone to College, take up life in their home countries or served abroad. We’ve visited them working in Albania, Bulgaria, Cairo, Cambodia, to mention just a few places. Some are serving obediently in quiet ways, others with very high profile jobs. Many over the years have come back to work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most are doing things I could never have accomplished - including some of the faithful moms at home.
As a retiree God has blessed me with a position in member care in my mission which allows me to continue following up our kids. I’m living near my sister in Winnipeg, my friend Deb is caring for her parents and working with her mission in Pennsylvania but it looks like this spring we might be in Germany, Morocco and the UK together, visiting ‘our kids’. Transition home hasn’t been easy but God has been present.
On a personal note. Aunty Eunice is one of my favourite people in the whole world, and one of the reasons is because I always come away from her company feeling uplifted. She honestly never has a bad or negative or discouraging thing to say about anyone, and she always praises God in every situation. If you ever went to MCS or knew Eunice, share some of your favourite memories of her as a comment below.