My aunt Helen died this week. She was 87. I spoke at her funeral today. I hope I live the rest of my life more like she lived hers. Aunt Helen was a registered nurse, and when she turned 63—two years after her husband died—she did what few people set out to do in the early stages of retirement. She took, what would turn out to be, the first of twelve medical mission trips. She completed her last at the age of 79.
Offering medical care and compassion, her travels took her to the lost and forgotten, the last and the least of the world. Her passport was stamped with the countries of Honduras, Mexico, Nepal, Ecuador, Iraq, Swaziland, Madagascar, India, Nagaland, Tibet, Bolivia, and Rwanda.
To reach people in need, she made arduous climbs up Himalayan mountain trails. For four days, she and her group were harassed and detained by soldiers guarding the border between Turkey and Iraq. She prayed at the mass graves of 200 Rwandan doctors and nurses who were murdered in 1994. In a rundown African hospital, she held the hands of dying AIDS patients. My aunt had the privilege of working with Mother Teresa on a visit to Calcutta.
Aunt Helen said things like: “If God is the father of all the people in the world, and we’re all made in God’s image, I’d better get to know some of my other brothers and sisters.” Her worldview was such that she once noted: “So often we lose sight. If someone is different, we think they’re bad, or we’re scared of them.”
Had her body cooperated, aunt Helen would have gone on more trips to obscure regions of the world. She knew hurting people needed what she was willing to offer.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my aunt Helen was Jesus’ 13th disciple.