In memoriam: Missionary emeritus Diana Floretta Lay, 87

Diana Lay, registered nurse, administering a shot to a baby in Ghana. IMB Photo

Diana Floretta Lay, an International Mission Board missionary emeritus who shared the gospel in Ghana, died Nov. 28, 2021. She was 87.

Lay was born April 10, 1934, in Hubbard, Ohio, to the late George F. and Clara Bell Farmer Lay. She graduated from West Phoenix (Arizona) High School and achieved registered nurse certification after training at Good Samaritan Hospital School of Nursing, Phoenix. She later received the Bachelor of Science from Grand Canyon College (now University), Phoenix, and studied at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary, Mill Valley, California.

Lay worked as school nurse while a student at Grand Canyon and later worked as a nurse in Warren, Ohio; Phoenix; Tucson, Arizona; San Rafael, California; and Memphis, Tennessee.

Diana Floretta Lay, 1934-2021
IMB Photo

She wrote when seeking missionary appointment that she realized during a spring revival at college that something was lacking, that God wanted her to do more with her life. But she wasn’t ready to accept God’s will until she worked in a summer camp and saw how eager the children were to hear about Jesus.

Still, she hesitated and was about to drop out of college when her roommate told she had been praying for her because she knew God had called Lay to international missions. Lay soon told her pastor and then her parents how God was calling her. Her father said, “If you know that is what God’s will is for you, you better be doing it.”

On June 15, 1961, the Foreign Mission Board (now International Mission Board) appointed her as a missionary to the West African nation of Ghana, where she served for 37 years before retiring. She spent most of those years as a nurse and nursing director at the Baptist Medical Centre, Nalerigu, although she also lived in Tamale and Kumasi. She was the first nurse at the 3-year-old hospital, which had 40 beds when she arrived. By the time she retired, the hospital had 110 beds.

According to a 2000 article by Pat Centner for Arizona Baptist publication Portraits, Lay learned to share her faith outside the hospital setting. For one class, she wrote down Scripture verses for the women in the class to keep, although some couldn’t read. One day when visiting the village, she visited an elderly blind woman and found the walls of her home covered with Bible verses. When Lay asked how that had come to hang there, she explained that the women in Lay’s class used them to teach her the verses so she could know God’s love.

After retiring, Lay taught missions and Old Testament for a time at Grand Canyon University.

Survivors include Lay’s sister, Judy Harshman of Sun City West, Arizona.

A service was held at 11 a.m., Jan. 13 at First Baptist Church, Sun City West.

Donations in her memory may be made to the Lottie Moon Offering, IMB, 3806 Monument Avenue, Richmond, VA 23230, or online at Generosity Resource Center – IMB Generosity.

Retired IMB missionary nurse Diane Lay and employees of the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu, Ghana parade through the town singing worship songs in celebration of the hospital’s 50th anniversary. IMB Photo

Baw Masu gives IMB missionary Diane Lay a gift of rice for the Baptist Medical Centre’s Christmas celebration. Circa 1960s. IMB Photo

Nalerigu. Baptist Hospital Pediatrics ward; Missionaries W. D Richardson, M. D., and Diana Lay, R. N., examining patient – 1963. IMB Photo