When Linda arrived in Hong Kong as a new missionary in the fall of 1979, she was prepared to support her husband, Ken, in his ministry. As she raised their children, she also developed her own side of the ministry, and Hong Kong became home.
But when Ken died suddenly, she faced losing that home and even the ministry itself.
“If you’re married, then you need to have a working relationship where you give necessary support to your husband. That’s a biblical stance,” Linda says. “But when he is gone, you have to make a new focus. You still support, not him exactly, but the work that he was doing, and you just keep on going.”
Widows face a constant barrage of new beginnings, some of which can be overwhelming in the midst of mind-numbing grief. Most of them have support in making life-impacting decisions. But for the widowed missionary, that is often not the case. So talk of moving back home to the States didn’t settle well with Linda — because the United States is not her home.
“I haven’t lived there for 40 years,” she says, “and the States has greatly changed. I don’t have any interest in moving back.”
Plus, returning to the States would present staggering logistical problems. There is the expense of moving and the loss of funding. If she returned, there would be no point in people continuing to support her, and all of her financial support would end. For a woman nearly 70 years old, job opportunities are not abundant. What money she had left would allow her to either have a roof over her head or eat. But probably not both.
Fortunately, the people responsible for Linda’s finances wisely asked her supporting churches to allow her six months to grieve before making life-changing decisions. Because three of her four children live in the States —her son lives in Hong Kong and is now preaching in his father’s place — many people assumed she would move back.
But she never considered moving.
What’s a Widow to Do?
Linda has seen widowed missionaries immediately pack up and move to the States, but she says making big decisions like that so quickly might not be wise.
“Don’t make any sudden decisions,” Linda advises. “You have to get used to your new situation, and you can’t do that when your brain is in a fog.”
Linda knows first-hand the importance of giving yourself time to grieve in your own way.
“The main thing,” says Linda,”is to keep focusing on God.”
Circumstances radically change, and yes, widowed missionaries may lose income.
“Just because the funds go down doesn’t mean God doesn’t want me here, even though one must ask that question,” she reasons. Linda says it may mean God is asking you to quit — or it could be He’s testing you to see if you will.
“God sees the big picture, but all we can see is our little corner,” Linda points out. She firmly believes seeking God is the key in making these new decisions.
In time, Linda lost a significant portion of her support. Some well-meaning friends tried to convince her that less support meant she should quit. At the time, she was still in shock, and the thought of stopping her and Ken’s ministry was not acceptable on any level.
Linda rejects the assumption that a woman’s sole purpose in the mission field is to support the work of her husband. But some seem to feel with Ken gone, the ministry no longer has value. If enough supporters adopt that position, Linda may be forced to move back to the States.
Already, some support has been discontinued with flimsy reasons that barely disguise their lack of confidence in her — a woman. Linda says it’s unhelpful to tell a grieving widow, “We see that you are doing good work. But we are going in a different direction, so we can no longer support you.”
Supporters may not realize how grief distorts perceptions and overshadows everything else for a while; what one hears is, “You’re just a woman, and a woman can’t do anything.”
The church in Hong Kong will continue. Linda’s role in the church is still vital, and she is still quite capable of doing it. So, she elected to keep doing what she was doing.
It meant some reorganization of the mission, but that has not affected the work. Linda continued the Bible study she and Ken were leading together. She also plays piano for worship and mentors the alone and lonely in her community. Linda’s opportunities have expanded to include occasionally preaching in her own church and in others.
Ken may no longer be the driving force for the ministry, but Linda has everything in hand. Just because the man is no longer in the picture doesn’t mean the work is finished. When Linda went to Hong Kong, it was a life commitment. For her, that has not changed. Her ministry will not end until she joins her husband.
Author’s note: Linda depends on God working through His people to supply her needs. If you would like to contribute to this ministry, make U.S checks payable to Outreach International and write CCC 4401 on the memo line.
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