December 4, 2006

Matriarchs of Missions
by Pastor George Van Alstine

Two members of the ABC family recently passed away, and their memorial services were both held last weekend. Phyllis Berry’s service was at Scripps Home last Saturday, and Jodie Van Loon’s was at the U.S. Center for World Mission on Sunday. Both services were very well attended, and both were full of memorable personal reflections.

For me, these two women symbolized a chapter in the history of world missions that was full of optimism and adventure. Right after World War II, missionaries from churches in the U.S. saw open doors throughout the world and did all they could to run through those doors with the gospel. Jodie and Phyllis were born within six months of each other, and they both had their origins in the mid-western part of the country. Both of them were trained in evangelical Bible Colleges and felt a call to missionary service early in their lives. From there, their paths diverged, but they followed the same goal: to help fulfill Jesus’ Great Commission, to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.â€?

Phyllis met her husband Don when they were students at Wheaton College. He had been in the Air Force during the War, and he saw the opportunity to use his flying skills in service to the Lord. In 1948 he joined the new Mission Aviation Fellowship, becoming their fourth pilot. The daring and dangerous work he did can be seen from the recent Hollywood movie “End of the Spear,â€? which retells the story of the 1956 killing of an MAF pilot and four other missionaries in Ecuador.

Phyllis herself was a missionary pioneer. She raised six children while serving in Mexico, Honduras, the Philippines and Laos, home schooling them and caring for their health needs. She also housed countless missionary families as they were traveling to or from remote fields of service.

After 1966, Phyllis and Don served in the MAF home office, making Redlands CA their home. During these years Don stayed in Southern California, but Phyllis became a world traveler, supporting various missionary causes. Her special passion was for Albania. For over twenty years, she prayed that country’s doors would open to evangelism. When they finally did, Phyllis was able to travel there herself as a short-term missionary.

Meanwhile, Jodie’s journey emerged in Southern California, where her parents had moved when she was young. Believing that God was calling her to the mission field, she attended Biola College, and then Simpson Bible Institute, where she met a man with a similar vision, Howard Van Loon. The two of them married and continued their preparation for a career as missionaries.

But Howard had tuberculosis, and this reality dominated Jodie’s life for decades to come. Instead of going overseas, they ministered in two California churches, where Howard was the pastor and Jodie was the youth director. She never lost her missionary vision, and she supported worldwide evangelism in every way she could. She and Howard spent some years working at Instituto Evangelico in La Puente, where many Mexican young people were trained for ministry. It was there that they met Dan Donovan, a young (35) man preparing himself for ministry in Latin America.

Howard’s tuberculosis got worse and worse. For the last twelve years of his life, while he was dependent on an iron lung and a tracheotomy, Jodie cared for him in their Pasadena home. After Howard’s death, Jodie finally got to travel. She visited Hong Kong, the Netherlands, Brazil and Mexico. But the international experience that most greatly impacted her was her short-term missionary experience in India, whose people and culture seemed to touch a special spot in her soul.

It was after this that Jodie found her unique missionary niche at the U.S. Center for World Mission. During her twenty-seven years working there, she served in many capacities. Her most memorable roles were as the Center’s official hostess, facilitating the transition of people coming from every culture of the world, and as the curator of the Center’s cultural artifacts from many nations and peoples.

We at ABC have been blessed to know these two great women during the last chapter of their lives. They have shared their missionary passion with us and have helped revive our commitment to the worldwide vision that dominated their years of Christian ministry.

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Thanks to all who donated to the very generous birthday gift I received at last Sunday’s service. I feel loved. Pastor George Van Alstine