Experiencing the Loss of a Pastor's Wife

Experiencing the Loss of a Pastor's Wife: Tribute to Our Teammate and Friend, Joy Liwanag

Tribute to Our Teammate and Friend, Joy Liwanag.

Rita Stevens writes from Amarillo, Texas, where her husband has been the president of the Texico Conference since December 1996. They have two adult sons, and Rita works as a medical technologist.

During more than 20 years in ministry, I had not experienced the loss of a pastor's wife in a confer­ence where we were working until this past year. I want to share how this very sad experience had brought joy to many.

I became acquainted with Joy at a pastors' meeting more than two years ago. Her love for the Lord was so evident. Barbara Forss, a pastor's wife who had met Joy only once, sent me an e-mail following Joy's death. She wrote, "I'm deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of Joy, her two children, and her niece! I met her for the first time at our Shepherdess get-together only a few weeks ago, but I found an instant friend. She was so full of energy and life with a delightful, ready laugh. We discovered we were the same age, my birthday just a little earlier in the year than hers, as I recall, making me the "eldest." It was wonderful to hear her account of meeting and marrying her husband. Her love for her husband, the Lord, and her life as a pastor's wife was very evident. I've thought of her many times since that meeting. I was so looking forward to seeing Joy again at the next workers' meeting. Now I'll have to wait until Jesus comes, and I feel a terrible loss, even though I barely knew her. I can't imagine the deep sorrow of her family! I am so ready for Jesus to come!"

At the Tuesday night prayer service for Joy, her two children, Jasher and Jether, and her niece, Diadem, the audience was asked to share memories of them. I was unable to speak, as were many in the audience. No words seemed appropriate due to the magnitude of grief in that room. During Wednesday's prayer meeting, I shared Barbara's words with the family. I thought they would find comfort in knowing what a joy Joy had been to the pastors' wives, even to those who had known her for just a short time. Joy did not know cultural or language barriers. She had a way of identifying with every person in some way. She made everyone she met feel special.

I would like to share an experience I had with Joy which illustrates her kindness and love for others. My son had recently had a book stolen from his desk. It cost about $100, and I had been praying that the Lord would pro­vide so we would not have to pay for another book. At the church leaders' meeting, my husband and I were talk­ing to Joy and her husband. I was telling her about our ordeal and discovered that Joy had a former edition of the same book and that she was no longer using it. We discussed the idea of having them mail the book to us once they returned to Abilene. After lunch, Joy said, "Why don't we drive to Abilene and get the book so you can take it back to Amarillo?" Thinking it must be fairly close, I asked about the distance to Abilene. She laughed and said, "Around 100 miles!" I replied that I did not have a car. Dina Simmons, the education director's wife, was with us. She said, "Oh, you can drive my car."

"Are you kidding?" I exclaimed. "That would be won­derful."

Within a few minutes, the three of us were heading toward Abilene, with admonitions from our husbands to be back in three hours. We laughed and shared so many things. I thought at the time that the gift the Lord gave me was the book, but now I praise the Lord for our special time together; I now see that this was truly the bigger gift.

During our trip, Joy related a story about faith in the Lord. Joy had been a successful literature evangelist in the Philippines. Her husband, Rodel, was away from home and wasn't returning home anytime soon. Though Joy had little money, she was not worried because she was good at selling books.

For some reason, Joy was unable to sell any books that morning. By noon she was very hungry, so she went to a cafeteria. She had $5.15 with her. She was almost through the line when she dropped her food. She not only spilled all her food, she broke the dishes. When she got up to the cashier, the cashier told Joy she owed $5.15. Joy paid the cashier, rejoicing that she had enough money to pay her debts, but she was still hungry. She went into the bathroom and shed a few tears, then washed her face. She prayed to God and asked Him to take care of her. He knew her needs. When she walked out of the cafeteria, she noticed a bank she had not seen before. She decided to canvass the bank president. She saw his name card as she went into the bank. She asked the cashier to speak with him. The cashier must have thought she had an appointment because she led Joy straight into the president's office. After hearing her canvass, he told her that he was looking for such books, and he made a large purchase.

Joy walked out of the bank with the much-needed money and headed back to the cafeteria. She purchased some food and enjoyed a good meal as she continued to thank the Lord. From that experience, Joy said she learned that it was not until she was empty—totally empty—and she had nothing left that she fully trusted the Lord to provide. She treasured this experience; it was a turning point in her faith and her trust in God.

We have an emptiness now that Joy is gone. We miss her sparkle, her laugh, her sweet spirit, her lovely sing­ing voice, her prayers, her self-sacrificing ways, her cook­ing, her ministering beside her husband. But we will re­member her most for her complete trust in the Lord; Joy had a deep desire to see "The Restorer."

Three months after Joy's death, I received a letter from her husband. He said, "The Lord is good. He has tre­mendously blessed our crusade here in Abilene. I'm sure if Joy were still alive, she would be happy, too. When I originally presented the idea of an evangelistic meeting to the church board, the result was not good; only 2 percent pledged to support it. I'll admit I was scared because of that response. It was Joy who encouraged me a lot. I vividly remember her saying, `This is the Lord's work. If it is God's will, it will be done even though there's not support from the church. Besides,' she con­tinued, `we have the backing from Jim and Rita. Go for it!' In August 1998, Joy started the Vacation Bible School, which resulted in 55 graduates, then she was actively involved in the Next Millennium Seminar up to the time she had the accident." Rodel shared with me the article "There's a Blessing in the Storm." He shared with me that the 70 people who had been attending the evange­listic meetings experienced a real revival. So far, 109 precious children of God have been baptized. I agree with Rodel when he says, "It is just another manifesta­tion that God is still in control amidst the storms in our lives."

Rita Stevens writes from Amarillo, Texas, where her husband has been the president of the Texico Conference since December 1996. They have two adult sons, and Rita works as a medical technologist.