Just Decide to Be Happy!

By Jessica D. Vana

We were finishing our technical evaluation with Mission Aviation Fellowship. We had stayed two weeks with a wonderful host family and then were invited to move into the home of Gene and Lynn Jordan. (Gene serves as vice president of personnel with MAF.)

Gene was practically born into MAF, as he grew up with Steve Saint (son of early MAF pilot Nate Saint) in Ecuador. Shortly after we met Gene, he showed us a black and white picture of himself as a small boy in Ecuador with the strong arm of Nate Saint wrapped around him. Gene shared countless stories of God’s relentless love for the tribal peoples of Ecuador and of the unsung heroes the Lord has been using over the decades to reach these precious people.

Every now and then you get to listen to a storyteller so rich in history, wisdom, and experience that when they dust off one of their old stories, you know not much else in the moment matters. You pull up a chair, lean in, and feel within moments you have the very same wind blowing through your hair as did those heroes of days gone by who pioneered organizations like MAF; guys and gals who had a bedrock faith in God’s power and provision and who seriously lacked many of the comforts and privileges we will enjoy as missionaries overseas. Gene’s stories were moving, fun, and downright hilarious at times. But mostly, his stories were inspiring.

04_Vana_JN2After a few days in their home, we learned that Gene’s mother, Ruth, would be joining us for Sunday lunch. Gene’s mother and father served effectively as missionaries in Ecuador and other parts of South America. Their ministry tool of choice was music. Gene’s father (also named Eugene) was a supremely gifted musician. As one of 10 children, each remarkably gifted in music, Eugene Sr. stood out and had a talent reserved for building God’s kingdom. Eugene’s widow, Ruth, lives comfortably in a retirement home, but most Sundays she enjoys a fine meal with her son and his wife. Lynn Jordan served a delicious meal to us, and while my husband and I juggled our tired children, I thirsted to ask Ruth questions.

Gene Jordan’s incredible gift of story is imparted, no doubt, by his mother. Sincere and certain, Ruth had glorious missionary stories to tell. Firsthand stories of her own and of her time spent in the company of lifelong friends, such as Elisabeth Elliot. A brief lunch was not enough to satisfy my curiosity.

I asked Gene and Lynn if I might visit Ruth at her retirement home in a few days. When I arrived at the retirement home, Ruth seemed happy to have me. She showed pictures and told me stories. I relished our hour together. One of my favorite stories Ruth told was about Elisabeth Elliot, and it went something like this.

Betty [Elisabeth] came to my house in Ecuador one afternoon just heartsick in love with Jim. Jim told her they shouldn’t marry but should focus on their individual ministries. Betty was such a talented Bible translator. Betty loved him dearly and we stayed up until two in the morning eating a pie and talking about Jim. A few months later Betty came back by the house all in a huff and said, “Ruth, I’m going on a trip. Jim and I are getting married tomorrow.” Betty was so happy and I was so happy for her. [Ruth paused and took in a deep sigh.] I don’t know why the Lord took those boys. Those five were the cream of the crop. But . . . he knows best.

(Ruth was alluding to the death of Elisabeth Elliot’s husband, Jim, and Nate Saint, and three other missionaries who were speared to death in 1956 in Ecuador as they were trying to establish communication with the Aucas, an unreached tribe whose members were known for their violence.)

Ruth told me about her own highs and lows as a missionary wife, and at one point, in midstory, she looked right at me and with conviction said, “Honey, you just have to decide to be happy. No matter where you are or what the Lord has you doing, just be happy.” This advice from a woman who has given her life to washing feet and preaching the gospel. This from a woman who raised two children, buried a husband she adored, and continues to serve our good King by calling her retirement home her mission field.

There are things in life that make us truly rich. The company we keep surely is one of them. My time with the Jordan family made me rich, and if I’m a missionary for no other reason than to hang out with people like that, it’s fine with me.

 

Jessica and her husband, Phil, will begin service in Indonesia with Mission Aviation Fellowship later this year. Her book, Adelina Aviator, is available at her website, www.mksrock.com.

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