In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Catherine DeLay, 84

Catherine DeLay, 1936-2021
IMB Photo

Catherine DeLay, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Germany, died Feb. 13, 2021. She was 84.

DeLay was born June 16, 1936, in Winder, Georgia, to the late Bill and Sara Jo Crook. Her family moved to Atlanta shortly before she turned 7. She attended Tift College, Forsyth, Georgia, and later received the Bachelor of Arts and Master of Education from Georgia State University, Atlanta.

When seeking missionary appointment, DeLay said that she met and began dating William DeLay during Christmas holidays while she was a student at Tift and he was a student at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky. They were married Dec. 28, 1956.

Bill transferred to Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga., and Catherine went to work as a service representative for Southern Bell Telephone and Telegraph. Soon Bill became pastor of Annie Mary Baptist Church in Monroe, Georgia.

Catherine wrote that the Lord gave Bill that little church for her benefit. “I knew I loved the Lord, and I knew I loved Bill, but I did not know if I had it in me to be a pastor’s wife,” she wrote. “Well, those precious people loved us and accepted us for who and what we were. I realized that I did not have to play the piano, sing solos or be a seminary graduate. I just had to be myself, serve the Lord, and love and encourage Bill.”

Next, Bill served as pastor of Gresham Park Baptist Church in Atlanta, and First Baptist Church, Peachtree City, Georgia. Both were young churches that grew under his leadership. During that time, three daughters joined the family and Catherine continued her education and began teaching.

Catherine wrote that she was perfectly at peace until the Peachtree City church gave them a trip to the Holy Land and Egypt for Bill’s 10th anniversary. “It was heartbreakingly eye-opening,” wrote Catherine. As time passed, she and Bill realized they were both feeling restless and wanted to find out if the Lord had placed a yearning for international missions in their hearts.

The Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) named them missionaries to Germany in 1985.  Bill became pastor of International Baptist church in Düsseldorf. Catherine led women’s Bible studies, opened their home to other women’s groups and participated in a knitting group that gave women a chance for badly needed fellowship.

During the DeLays’ time in Germany, the Berlin Wall came down and the West and East Germany became unified as one nation. Although that brought an influx of refugees and economic strains for the country, “All of this uncertainly is a tremendous opportunity to share Christ and the gospel,” the DeLays wrote in a newsletter.

The Delays wrote in their final newsletter from Germany before retiring in 1996: “It has been an indescribable joy to see people from many different countries, languages, races and cultures come to faith in Christ over the last nine years. And a special joy has been that most of them have been Germans. We now normally have 20 to 21 different nations of the world represented in our congregation. Yet, in spite of all of the differences, there has always been a spirit that can only be described as the ‘sweet, sweet Spirit of the Lord.’”