Faithful Until Death: The Sacrifices of Three Southwestern Women
The New Testament records that as the church grew, women were among the first converts (Acts 5:14, 8:12, 17:4,12). Scripture also records that women were among the first persecuted for their faith (Acts 8:3; 9:22; 22:4). And from that time on, not only were women involved in spreading the Good News, but also, women were persecuted, even giving their lives . . . dying . . . because of their bold testimonies.
Throughout church history we read about women who remained steadfast in their declaration of Jesus as Lord to the point of death, yet even so, the church continued to grow. As Tertullian reminds us, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
The word martyr was originally translated from Greek as “witnesses,” but it came to refer to people who died because of their testimony.
Recently, Southwestern Seminary dedicated the Martyrs’ Walk that remembers Baptist martyrs for giving their lives in the service of Jesus Christ. Twenty-seven names and stories make up the Martyrs’ Walk; fourteen men and thirteen women. Of the women, three were Southwesterners. Let me tell you a little about those three.
Mavis studied at Southwestern in the 1960s before being appointed by the Foreign Mission Board as a nurse. At her first appointment service, Mavis said, God has his way to deal with us, and with this obstinate one, it required me there for about a year, to see the need that existed and to help point out to me my part in meeting that need. . . On the basis of that. . . I made the commitment to foreign mission service. Mavis served on a mercy ship, then served in Bangladesh, in Thailand, and eventually in Gaza. While in Gaza she was touched by the plight of Palestinian refugees and began to minister to those in the refugee camps, meeting physical needs through her nursing and meeting spiritual needs by sharing Christ. On a trip to one of the refugee camps, the car she was traveling in was ambushed by Arab guerillas and Mavis was shot three times. So moved by her care for them, many of the Arabs attended her funeral, and many of the refugees cried for their loss, even apologizing for her death.
Cheryll secured both a master’s degree from Southwestern and a master’s in education from another university so that she could be a teacher in Jordan. She served the Jordanian people by teaching English and using those teaching opportunities to share the Gospel for 24 years before she was martyred. Stabbed 10 times by a young man whom she had friended and who helped her with various maintenance needs, Cheryll was left for dead in her apartment. Not only was it a shock to the Jordanians because brutal crimes were rare, but also because she was so loved. Her pastor remembered her as one who had a quiet and unassuming spirit, as well as a passion for sharing the Good News.
Cyd’s name pricks my heart the sharpest, because Cyd was my friend. We attended seminary together and lived on the same hall in the women’s dorm. Cyd had a calmness about her, a gentle spirit, but a fierce faith. She served in Afghanistan teaching English at the Kandahar University. She also taught embroidery to the Afghan girls and helped women start projects to generate income for their families. Cyd and her driver were kidnapped at gunpoint as they drove to work. Cyd’s plaque on the Martyrs’ Walk is the only one without a date, as Cyd was never found and is only presumed dead. While we do not know exactly what happened to Cyd, I know Cyd, and am convinced that in her gentle way she brought glory to God, continually testifying His love for all, and without wavering, remained fiercely faithful until she saw her Savior face-to-face.
There is one other plaque on the Martyrs’ Walk that must be acknowledged: The Unknown Martyr . . . for surely there have been others who served tirelessly, giving all, even unto death, in the service of Jesus Christ. Like many of the faithful women referenced in Scripture, we don’t know her name, but she is the one who gave her life because of her testimony, yet only the hand of the evil one who struck the fatal blow and our loving Heavenly Father who welcomed her home, know of her sacrifice.
The Martyrs’ Walk is a sobering reminder of the price for following Christ, but the walk is not yet complete. Should the Lord tarry, there will be more who will die for answering God’s call and space on the walk has been left for them. There will be days ahead when we gather around newly forged plaques to solemnly add the names of men and women who quite literally gave all and left all. We will grieve our loss, but celebrate that they, too overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to death. (Rev 12:11)
To honor Mavis, Cheryll, and Cyd we must not declare that their lives were taken or lost. That would do a disservice to the fact that these three women gave their lives with an open hand. Mavis, Cheryll, and Cyd, my Southwestern sisters, surrendered their lives to Christ, answered His call to service, did the hard work of preparation, and then stepped out in faith … giving all for the soul of the one who was lost and surrendering all for the one true living God whom they loved so dearly.
Do not fear what you are about to suffer . . . Be faithful until death,
and I will give you the crown of life.