February 28, 2011

“For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.” -George Eliot, Middlemarch

Last night, we saw the Academy Awards broadcast to over 33 million viewers.

Last week, Denison hosted a Holocaust survivor who spoke to a room packed full of students.

I’ve been thinking about the juxtaposition of these two events. Movie stars with household names making millions of dollars to entertain us, and then this man who lived through one of the most horrific events in human history with tenacity and resilience, quietly unnoticed except on rare occasions like this. Most people’s lives fall into that latter category.

Two summers ago, I spent months researching and writing the story of an ordinary woman named Hulda Stumpf. Born in Pennsylvania, she attended college in New York, and then moved to Indiana where she taught shorthand for several years. Hulda’s story was not really the kind that people make movies about.

When she was 39, her life took an unexpected turn after she heard and understood the gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time and realized that following Jesus wasn’t about being a moral church person but rather about living in relationship with God. Three months later, Hulda applied to be a missionary and moved to Kijabe, Kenya where she worked for 22 years as a secretary to the local mission director. Alongside her administrative tasks, Hulda volunteered at a girl’s home where young women took refuge from abusive situations and the practice of female circumcision. She probably would have continued her life in this ordinary way, but in the anger against missionary opposition to female circumcision, Hulda was attacked and martyred in January 1930.

Hulda’s story, however, did not end with her death. A man I interviewed in Kijabe who was born in the 1930s and knew of Hulda told me: “Even though she was killed for helping many girls, that work didn’t end when she died. The girls kept coming, and other teachers continued her work. A lot of people in Kijabe moved to other places in the country and this good work spread. This work was so good, that even today we are thankful for what she and others did… Hulda’s work is still remembered.”

I visited the foundation of Hulda’s house two years ago, and took away a small piece of red stone from it. This sits on my desk here at school as a reminder of a woman who very few people know- an ordinary secretary who moved to Africa at age 40 and eventually gave up her life in obedience to Christ.

Hulda’s tombstone reads “Faithful Unto Death,” and I can’t help thinking what a beautiful inscription that is. When I look at that faded etching, I feel a desire to live a courageous and faithful life, secure in the love of my Savior, with no need for other applause. And one day when I finally arrive home, I too will hear those sweet, sweet words: “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

-70 days