Monday, July 27, 2015

The Ministry of Virginia Wright

I didn't feel like I should let the passing of Virginia Wright go without some mention here. She is of course the mother of David Wright, the president of Indiana Wesleyan University, who is even more to me a long-standing friend. Her life and the life of my family also have intersections that make her very special to my own pilgrimage. But even if there were no personal connection, her life and ministry, alongside that of her husband Wayne, is too significant not to mention.

It is staggering to me to think of the contribution Mrs. Wright and her husband have made to the kingdom and the Wesleyan Church in particular. She was born on the mission field in India in the 1920s. I have to stretch my mind to think of what it was like to go the mission field in those days. Such missionaries had to consign themselves to the real possibility that they would never return to see their families again.

So when Wayne and Mrs. Wright then later left themselves as missionaries for the Philippines in 1951, they rode a ship rather than an airplane. As David mentioned in the service today, there was no Facebook or Twitter then. They came home twice in an 18 year ministry in the Philippines. There were weekly letters. But when they left, she didn't know if she would see her parents again.

I think of the story of the R. K. Storey family who were missionaries to the Philippines in the 1940s. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time when WW2 broke out and the Japanese took over the Philippines. Hiding in the jungle, they lost a daughter from drinking from a stream on the run. Then he was part of the Bataan Death March across the island as a prisoner of the Japanese.

Joanne Lyon was about 12 years old in the same church as Virginia's mother during those years. She gave a vivid sense of how the reports on the mission work in the Philippines stirred her own heart as a child. What would her ministry have looked like if the Wrights had not been part of her formation? Keith Drury was invoked as saying that if Virginia had been born a couple decades later, she might be the next General Superintendent. That was the forceful stuff of which she was made.

On a personal note, my mother and Mrs. Wright both graduated in the same class from Frankfort Pilgrim College, so that was a strong point of connection for my family. Then Wayne and Virginia taught for a brief stint alongside my grandfather at Frankfort until they went to the mission field. Then the parents of my brother-in-law, Eddie Garcia, were nurtured in their ministries in the Philippines under the work of the Wrights. Wayne installed Eddie's father, Saturnino, as the first National Superintendent of the Philippines for the Wesleyan Church.

In her sermon, General Superintendent Lyon today compared Mrs. Wright to Priscilla in the New Testament. What a model for women ministers Mrs. Wright was! She was a model preacher, a forceful leader, a discerning mentor, a teacher and writer, and much more. How many women saw her preach and thought, "If she can be a minister, I can too." How many men saw her preach and thought, "If then God gave her the same gift that he gave us, who are we to hinder God? Praise God who has given even to women the call to ministry.”

What a rich heritage, not only for the Wright family, but for the whole church! May all who come behind us also find us faithful!

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