Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Indian Legacy Passed Down

My grandmother, Edith (Flesher) Willobee, at an early age at the turn of the 20th century, was drawn to India to be a missionary. She went alone in 1907 and joined a small group of other American missionaries from the Pentecostal Bands. Two years later a young man, Ross Willobee, whom she had met in Bible school, followed her. The following year, after they had learned Hindi, they married. Two years later, in 1912, their first daughter was born, Ruth, who became my mother. In 1915 a second daughter came, Hope; and in 1919, in the middle of a great Indian famine, my uncle David was born. In 1921 my grandfather, Ross, died of black water fever. Edith took down the new doors in their bungalow to make a coffin for him. It took days for her to obtain the local chief's permission to bury Ross, a strange and uncomfortable custom to the Hindustani; they were used to either burning the dead (if they were rich); or after a brief ceremony in the middle of a field the poor carried the body to a river bed where it was buried on the shore in a shallow grave for animals to dig up and eat that night. A custom still followed. Three days later my little uncle David died. He collapsed suddenly during play of an unknown illness. Distraught, Edith, all alone, except for her daughters, removed the new window shutters from the bungalow and made a second coffin. Without waiting for the local chief's permission she buried David next to his father. The story continues for decades as my grandmother, after a nervous breakdown, gets out of bed years later and packs up three ox carts and for 5 years establishes Christian churches in Central India.

This past week, our eldest daughter, Trudy Nelson, traveled to India on her second short term missionary adventure there to do some teaching with a group of other ladies from her Baptist Church. Their goals was to teach a group of former untouchable ladies about growing in the Christian life. A recent India national law has allowed the untouchables to leave their low caste, join a religion, and change their life. Here is the link to pictures of her trip to Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh. In this picture she wears a sari I purchased during my trip to India in 1982.


After I posted the above, my sister wrote me (after seeing the blog link) and reminded me that today is the anniversary of our father’s death. Benjamin R. Williams (d. October 24, 1989). Such a date to Catholics is a celebratory date, because it is the date that a person goes to his reward, which in the life of a saint like my Dad, is the moment when he “won the race set before him.” Dad couldn’t wait to go to heaven and praise Jesus. It was a driving motivation in his life...e.g. his eventual death. My mother, Ruth (the tallest of the girls in the picture above) was much the same. When we buried Dad, I can remember my mom standing next to his fresh grave and joyfully pointing to her future grave next to Dad and saying to me, “Someday my body will be right there. But I’ll be in heaven.”

This morning at Mass the priest (Fr. John Riccardo...yeah, I'm lucky) was telling us a little about St. Anthony Mary Claret (d. 1870), whose life (and death) we celebrate today, giving us yet another example upon which to model our life. I had forgotten that today was the anniversary of dad's death. As I was hearing about a little about the life of St. Claret and the example he was to us, I thought of my Dad...and how he was saints too, and a great example for us to follow. Then I thought about Ross and Ross, and my daughter's recent trip to India...literally (for a few days at least) Trudy was following Edith's example to preach to the poor of India....Edith’s great motivation.

We have all these role models for us...and it was cool that I thought through all of this during Mass this if my guardian angel was reminding me that today was a very special day for me...because of my Dad.

1 comment:

  1. Stan,

    Some great connections in this post. God Bless you and your entire family past and present.