Editor’s Note: Lottie Moon gets a lot of press here at imb.org, and rightfully so. Her legacy lives on as the impetus for generations of missionary engagement among peoples and places around the world. She, however, is far from the only woman whose influence has cast a long shadow on the world of missions. This week, as we look toward Mother’s Day, we’d like to celebrate the lives and work of a few spiritual mothers that have deeply impacted many in the work of missions.
They stood on the porch together—the giant of a man and his precious lady. Her white hair, blown by the wind, circled her face. Her eyes sparkled and her smile lit up like a lantern when she saw us. This was the typical greeting whether it was on the porch of their home or in other places they met us over the years: at airports, on the field where we needed them to stand beside us as we struggled to make sense of the death of our coworkers, or on the porch of the mission house where we would spend years rebuilding our lives after our son’s death. Bob and “Eddie” Fields were always there ready to listen, advise, and lend their expertise.
She was a counselor who could look deep into my heart and know what I wanted to say when I couldn’t get my words out around the tears.
She was born Edwina, but I never heard her called that. She was just Eddie, and the life she lived before me when I was a young college girl, a very naïve bride, a mother, and later a worker overseas has shaped every aspect of my thirty-plus years as a missionary. It isn’t anything she was trained or educated to do, although later in her life she went back to school to earn a master’s degree in family studies. It was just who she was. Always in love with Jesus, with Bob, and always pouring herself into others.
Serving Christ is a family affair.
Eddie’s example shaped me as a mom. From that first porch encounter, where she welcomed four carloads of college freshmen to the hills of Rockcastle County, Kentucky, for a weekend retreat, I witnessed the importance of family. Bob and Eddie were in Kentucky, home from Israel where they had served for ten years. Bob was now serving as a campus minister at Georgetown College while the family developed a retreat center in the mountains. On that Friday afternoon, Eddie quickly put on her apron and busied her three children with tasks to make us feel welcomed, fed, and renewed. Throughout the entire weekend, Tamira, Todd, and Valarie were as much a part of the retreat as those of us who were attending. It wasn’t that Bob and Eddie had a ministry and their children were add-ons. The children were part of the team, the planning, and the weekend. It was a family affair.
Mates are teammates.
Wherever Eddie was, you knew Bob was close by. There was never a porch experience that the two of them were not there to greet us or to say farewell. Bob and Eddie met as students in college where they became prayer partners (which is always dangerous). When asked what she first loved about Bob, Eddie said, “I loved the way his eyes sparkled when he talked about Jesus.” That never changed. Eddie modeled for a young bride, and for many who came after me, what it meant to love your husband, to support him, and to be that partner who walks through sickness or health, poverty or riches, and good times or bad.
Over the years, many young couples have asked us to counsel and perform their weddings. Our prerequisite, and gift to them, was a weekend of marriage counseling with Bob and Eddie. Bob and Eddie were always so great at helping us identify problems while helping our young friends figure out how to be husbands and wives, and teams, who minister together and love each other.
There’s always room for one more.
Eddie offered hospitality to everyone who walked into her home. She treated each person as the most important guest. It didn’t matter what time you arrived, you were expected to pull up a chair and be part of the meal, tea time, or coffee break. She would scoot her chair close to you and listen to you for hours. You would never want to miss meal times. Conversations were rich, and Eddie took in everything and knew just what to say. She knew the importance of building you up and creating an atmosphere where you could say anything and no one would put you down for it. In fact, that became the only rule at the retreat center they established in 1974: no put-downs.
Eddie knew the importance of building you up and creating an atmosphere where you could say anything and no one would put you down for it.
Burden-bearers meet us in the valleys.
I don’t know if it was the fact that, like me, Eddie was a mother who tragically lost a son on the mission field, or that she was a counselor who could look deep into my heart and know what I wanted to say when I couldn’t get my words out around the tears. Perhaps, it was that she was a woman who spent hours on her knees with the Father praying about the peoples and needs of the world. Whatever it was, I always knew that Eddie understood, and she cared. Eddie would help. Eddie would come wherever.
Later in their years, Bob and Eddie went back overseas to serve workers on the field. They saw the huge needs of those who were living in war zones and famines or juggling health issues and team concerns. They always knew ways to be in the right place at the right time.
At the right time in my life, God put a precious lady on the porch to help me be who I am today. Thank you, Eddie. I’m trying to pass on to others what you gave to me.
Ruth Ripken and her husband, Nik, are mission veterans of thirty years with the International Mission Board, having served in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East and currently serving as Global Missiologists. They’ve extensively researched believers living in the midst of persecution in over seventy countries and shared their findings in numerous articles and two books, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected and The Insanity of Obedience: Walking With Jesus in Tough Places. You can find Ruth on Facebook here.