Written by Judith Edwards.
When I was asked to tell about someone who mentored me along my missions journey, a parade of faces walked across my memory window. Faces like F. O. Polston, our associational director of missions in eastern New Mexico where I grew up. In the summer, he loaded me and a field “pump organ” into his pickup; we drove to migrant field worker camps to conduct an abbreviated version of Vacation Bible School. I saw Helen Lee Lambirth’s face, the missions advocate in our small rural church. Sunbeams and GA (then Girls Auxiliary now Girls in Action) were where I first learned about and sensed God’s call to missions. Mrs. Lambirth saw to it that we had missions education in our “growing-up” years. Because my church had no YWA, she presented me with a white Bible when I married.
I saw faces of women whose names I’ve long forgotten – women in Fort Worth, Texas, who never gave up on me, and wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Because of their trust in me while we attended SWBTS (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary), I was given leadership responsibilities far beyond anything I thought I could do. Women who, while Dalton was serving as chaplain in Vietnam, continued to push me beyond what I thought I was capable of, “volunteering” me to positions where I was being trained while serving.
Then, when Dalton and I became home (North American) missionaries in New Mexico, Vanita Baldwin, NM WMU executive director, once again trained me while giving me leadership opportunities. She brought such an air of elegance and grace to our casual, western culture. She and the capable women under her leadership mentored me in a rather unexpected way; they demonstrated for me the way that WMU serves to support missionaries. I suppose, if I were given the opportunity to place only one of my WMU mentors’ names on a brick, it would be Miss Vanita’s. Hey, I do have that opportunity!
Back to the mentor windows; one face appears in each frame. My mother. Mama. I do not recall any specific conversations or mentoring experiences. She was not my GA leader; I do, however, have her Royal Service magazine (now Missions Mosaic) from May, 1948, the 60th anniversary edition. I keep it next to her Bible, the one in which she didn’t mind writing! Please allow me, however, to tell you why I would call her my grandest mentor.
She saw to it that I had a missions education. She began, as soon as I could sit alone, I’m sure, teaching me the joy found in playing those black and white things called piano keys. When, as a Sunbeam, I came home after hearing a missionary from China speak, I said, “God wants me to be a preacher.” Mama didn’t laugh at me; she didn’t tease or discourage me. She listened to me. I never remember her speaking in public; she was a very reserved woman. But I remember her playing for church; I recall her ministering to neighbors and friends as they needed help. (On one occasion, she made a potato salad to take to someone. While she went to get ready, my humanity took over! It was the best potato salad I ever tasted!)
She was not embarrassed when, as a 10th grader and church pianist, I left the congregation singing unaccompanied while I went to Bro. Rich, telling him that God was calling me to be a missionary. She supported me when I announced my engagement and subsequent marriage to Dalton Edwards, another mission volunteer.
Skip forward several years. Following Dalton’s service as Army chaplain (one year of that in Vietnam), he and I felt assured that God’s next “foreign” (international) mission assignment would be right in our native state of New Mexico, specifically at First Baptist Church, Shiprock, on the Navajo reservation. Extended family members said to one another, “They must be crazy taking three small children into a culture where they will be the minority.” Even state and national mission leaders doubted that we would stay long. After all, the church had ten pastors in the previous ten years; how would this young family adjust to this post-military life?
Not Mama. She supported us each step of the way. She encouraged the WMU in her church to send us “care packages.” Mama’s sister, my Aunt Rena, was a proud member of the Judy Edwards circle in her church. On several occasions, they sent resources to supplement our ministry.
Just a few months after our arrival Mama and Daddy came to see us; Daddy put on his carpenter apron and got busy doubling the size of the pastor’s house. Mama followed my footsteps, encouraging me all the way and falling in love with our Navajo people. On one occasion, after washing dishes all day, she commented, “You don’t have to go anywhere. The world comes to your door!” During that same visit, I received a card informing me that the article I had submitted to “Home Life” magazine (my first attempt at publication) was accepted. Mama always wanted to be published. I do believe she was as happy as I was!
Oh, I forgot to tell you something very important about Mama. When I was in the 9th grade she had a radical mastectomy. Doctors told my daddy she might live six months; they forgot to tell Mama! She lived that six months plus 14 years. Just prior to her death on May 7, she told me how proud she was of my missions lifestyle. The following Sunday, on Mother’s Day, Dalton and I flew to Atlanta, Georgia, to be commissioned as home missionaries.
Mission mentors. They come in all ages, careers and relationships. They train, empower, support. They encourage, enlist, equip. I thank those who mentored me, and prayerfully have served as mentor to others along my journey.