On Mother's Day this year at Knox, we celebrated courageous women in scripture and in our lives. The following are some special testimonies to courageous women through the ages from a variety of voices in the congregation.
Judy Langdon had 20 women who had influenced her life on her list and choose to speak on
Mary Pack founded the Arthritis Society in 1947. In 1940 Mary home-schooled children with disabilities - often with Juvenile Arthritis so they were bed-ridden and could not attend school. Her whole life became driven to find a cure for this painful debilitating illness.
I did not meet her until she came to the Kitsilano Local Area Planning Committee to plead for traffic lights and a lowered speed limit on Cornwall after a fatality at Balsam.
Mary had written a book called "Never Surrender" (1974) which mentioned 'lupus' so I called Mary to see if she would meet with a friend who had lupus. Although Pat would not accept the help of the Arthritis Society she did meet Mary.
Mary hoped to find a politician sympathetic to her cause (later Pat Carney proved most helpful). Instead, her greatest support came from a sorority
Three little vignettes from after Mary's retirement as the Executive Director (1948-1969) of the newly formed B.C. division of the Canadian Arthritis Society:
1. Her retirement gift was a telescope as the staff knew she had a fabulous view of Kitsilano Beach. However she was a believer in a purposeful life, so she mentioned a woman who came early in the day to soak up the sun at Kits Beach and left late in the day after doing virtually nothing. Mary wished she could engage this gal in some meaningful volunteer work! (Also Mary was the one sprinkling flower seeds on the grass by the beach.)
2. Naokosan from Japan had had a hip operation before a visit to Canada. She walked gingerly with a cane. When Mary met her Mary impressed Naokosan by doing some deep knee bends. Mary had had both hips replaced. Naokosan gave up the cane!
3. Mary was an artist - how do people find room for watercolour art supplies in a 1-bedroom apartment? One day Mary compared some famous paintings of flowers with hers and wondered what was the difference. She would love to have commanded a good price for her art and given the money to the Arthritis Society --- All in the search for the elusive cure.
We look forward to Mary's vision of a world without arthritis. Amen
Phil King chose to speak on
Helen Adams Keller
Born June 27, 1880 in Tuscumbia, Alabama
Helen was born with the ability to see and hear and started speaking when just 6 months old – she started walking at the age of 1. At 19 months, however, Helen contracted what was thought to be Scarlet Fever or Meningitis, which is what let her both deaf and blind.
At that time she had been able to communicate with the cook’s 6-year-old daughter who understood many of Helen’s signs. By the age of 7 Helen had more than 60 “home signs” enabling her to communicate with her family. She even learned how to tell which personal was walking by, from the vibrations their footsteps made.
In the late 1800’s, Anne Sullivan, herself visually impaired, became Helen’s instructor and remained with her for over 40 years. She taught Helen to communicate by spelling words into her hand. When Helen understood that every object had a word uniquely identifying it, she nearly exhausted Sullivan, demanding the names of all the familiar objects in her world. She learned to “HEAR” people’s speech by reading their lips with her hands – her sense of touch had become extremely subtle – and by placing her fingertips on a resonant table top, she could experience music played close by. She was delayed at picking up language, but that did not stop her from having a VOICE! In 1916 she gave a talk with her own lips and voice on HAPPINESS and the joy that life gave her.
A quote from that speech: “Helping your fellow man should be one’s only excuse for being in this world, and in the doing of things to help one’s fellows lay the secret of lasting happiness.”
Helen Keller died in 1968.
Helen O. told us about a Polish social worker who saved 2,500 Jewish babies and children from the Nazi death camps during WW2 – a most courageous woman named Irena Sandler.
Irena was in her late twenties when Nazi tanks rolled into Warsaw in September of 1939. She worked in the Warsaw health department and had permission to enter the ghetto, which had been set up in November 1940 to segregate the city’s 380,000 Jews. While they were imprisoned behind a ghetto wall without food or medicine, she appealed to her closest friends and colleagues, mostly young women, some barely out of their teens. They were part of a secret organization called Zegota, set up by the Polish government in exile in London.
Together they smuggled aid in and smuggled Jewish orphans out of the ghetto by hiding infants on trams, and garbage wagons, and in ambulances- leading older children out through secret passageways and city sewers. Catholic birth certificates and identity papers were forged and signed by priests and high ranking officials in the Social Services Department so that the children could be taken from safe-houses in Warsaw to orphanages and convents in the surrounding countryside. They were then placed in Polish Roman Catholic families.
The scheme was fraught with danger. The city was crawling with ruthless blackmailers, and the Gestapo were constantly on the lookout for Jews who had escaped from the ghetto.
Sandler and her colleagues kept meticulous records of the children’s Jewish names so that they could be reunited with their parents after the war. They noted the names of the children on cigarette papers, twice for security, and sealed them in two glass bottles, which she buried in a colleague’s garden.
After the war, the bottles were dug up and the lists handed to Jewish representatives. Attempts were made to reunited the children with their families but most of them had perished in concentration camps.
Sendler and her colleagues were taking an enormous risk. No work in the underground was as dangerous as hiding a Jew. “If they find out, they will kill you, your family and the person you are hiding.”
One of the boys whose name was in a jar later said, “ I think about her the way you think of someone you owe your life too.” Another survivor was smuggled out of the ghetto by Sendler in a toolbox on a lorry when she was just five months old. Sometimes working as a plumber in the ghetto, Irena had the use of the toolbox and a van. Her dog waited in the van and was usually able to divert the guards with his barking. The survivor later said, “In the face of today’s indifference, the example of Irena Sendler is very important. She is like a third mother to me and many rescued children,” referring also to her real mother and her Polish foster mother.
Irena later married and had three children of her own. In March 2007, at age 97 years she was honoured by the Polish parliament as a national hero. “I am no hero!” she replied from her home in Warsaw nursing home. She insisted she did nothing special. In an interview, she said: “I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality.” The term hero irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience that I did so little.”
Her story finally came to attention through interviews, rare stock footage, and a documentary. “In the Name of Their Mothers” This was produced and premiered in May 2011 by PBS television.
Irena died in 2008 at the age of 98 years. Her life and work is a testament to the human capacity for moral courage during history’s darkest times.
Ben B. spoke of the composite of the many women in his life.
His family is primarily made up of women.
Then as he attended school almost all of his teachers were women. He felt women had gifted him with values and attributes which have carried him through life thus far.
Since joining Knox the ministers have been Edith, Sally, Jay and now Liz, all women and all enabling.