July 3, 2017

You Call this Ministry?

All about my first woman in ministry.

Nancy Vyhmeister

Seminary taught me many things, but what I learned about ministry I learned from my mother. A 1928 Loma Linda Sanitarium and Hospital dietetics graduate, my mother—Hazel (Ausherman) Weber, later Rippey—practiced ministry for decades in the United States, Uruguay, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Pakistan. No matter where she lived and worked, she ministered in many ways. Let me illustrate.

She Cooperated

When the Second World War affected everyday life in the United States, the Adventist Church designed and implemented a women’s corps. The pastor at the Sunnyside church in Portland, Oregon, called Mother to his office and asked her to cooperate with the effort to start the Adventist Women’s Cadette Corps.

“Well, what do you want me to do?” she asked.

“The cadettes need preparation in first aid and emergency preparedness,” he pointed out. “Besides, we need to have a marching corps. I think you can handle both.”

“But, but . . .” she stammered. “This is all new to me.”

“Our church is grateful for your cooperation, Hazel,” the pastor said, standing to shake her hand over a done deal.

I remember the marching practice—all the women wearing brown-and-white plaid pleated skirts. Those skirts swished back and forth to the rhythm of marching music and my mother’s whistle.

My mother got the Red Cross books, studied them carefully, and taught the women how to prepare for emergencies. On the West Coast of the U.S. the fear of an enemy invasion was strong.

She Took Care of the Sick

When someone became ill, that person sent for my mother. She would drop everything and hurry to face the emergency—usually carrying her fomentation cloths. Her ubiquitous appearance in sickrooms all over the campus of Uruguay Adventist Academy led the doctor—who was called for more serious infirmities from the nearby town of Canelones—to quip: “So, La Señora Weber again got to the sickroom before I did!”

This was before the days of antibiotics, so Mother used water treatments. In the late 1940s Lloyd, an academy senior, came down with an infection. The doctor said there was little that could be done to help him, but Mother was undaunted. She got the hot fomentations going. Meanwhile, she had my father call together the students to pray for Lloyd while the hot and cold treatments continued. Soon the fever broke, and Mother crept home for a much-needed night’s sleep.

She Fed the Hungry

Efin Gaisan lived in a windowless mud hut with a straw roof. The chickens roosted every night on the rafters. Efin was one of the first persons to arrive at Sabbath School each week. Uruguay Academy students left ample space between themselves and the smelly dear brother, but my mother invited him home to have Sabbath dinner with us—more than once!

Another time I looked down the road toward the bus stop and saw people coming toward our house. I called Mother.

My mother got the Red Cross books, studied them carefully, and taught the women how to prepare for emergencies.

Whoever they were, these people were coming toward our house, and since it was nearly lunchtime, Mother decided they should be fed.

Instructions followed quickly as she lit the kerosene stove. By the time the people—whom we hardly knew—knocked on our front door, lunch was well under way.

She Innovated

One day Mother got word that unexpected guests would be coming to our house for lunch. What to feed them? she asked herself. She had started a large batch of cottage cheese, but it would take hours to finish preparation. Her solution? Put the unfinished cottage cheese in a bag in the washing machine, swish it around for a few minutes, then put it through the washing machine spinner. In a few minutes the cottage cheese was ready for our guests.

Once she was asked to teach a cooking class at the Adventist church in Guichón, a country church hours by train from where we lived. She could not take much equipment, and hoped she’d find some of the needed items there. One of the things she required was an eggbeater. No one had one. Two forks in her right hand beat the eggs—not as fast as her eggbeater, but they worked.

“I should have known,” she mused as she told us the story. “If I had used a beater, they would not have been able to replicate my recipe.”

She Did What Had to Be Done

Roberto, an academy student, was sick. Whatever was wrong, the doctor ordered intravenous injections. Roberto came directly to our home for help. Mother looked at the doctor’s orders and the vials of medicine. She had given many shots, but never an intravenous one. She had syringes and needles on hand because my father’s asthma frequently required injections.

As she boiled a syringe and needle, she prayed: “Lord, help me to find the vein and do this right.” When she was ready, she took Roberto out on the front porch where the sunlight was bright so she could see, she told us later.

Within a few minutes it was all over. God had helped her, she affirmed!

Another episode of doing what had to be done happened when the neighbor across the street went into labor with her second child.

“Please go over and stay with Celestina while I get the midwife,” husband Ricardo insisted. The baby, however, was coming more quickly than expected. Fortunately, Mother had recently taught a first-aid/emergency-medicine class about how to deliver a baby. Mother lit the kerosene burner and put scissors and string on to boil. The baby, a healthy boy, was born, and mother tied the cord. Today this baby has retired after a fruitful career as a pastor.

She Led a Serious Devotional Life

Once we left each day for school and work, my mother regularly spent an hour in personal devotions, usually from 9:00 to 10:00. Her reading included the Bible and Ellen White’s books.

The prayer part was amazing to me as a young girl. I remember sliding through the pass-through closet between my room and hers to listen to her prayers, said out loud, often with tears. So that is the way one should pray, I thought.

One day my father came home with a story of a near disaster: after some serious rainfall the well and pump house had caved in just seconds before he was to step into it.

“At what time did this happen?” Mother asked.

“About 10:00,” my father replied.

We couldn’t believe the look on her face. She said, “Just before 10:00 a.m. I was finishing my devotions and was leaving the bedroom when I felt a voice telling me, ‘Go pray for Chuck.’ So I did. I knelt down and prayed for your safety.”

Then they were in each other’s arms, and we all praised God for His protection of my father. Mother was open to the urging of the Spirit, who came so close to her in her devotions.

She Taught

My first memories of Mother teaching are her nutrition classes, taught to nursing students at Portland Adventist Sanitarium. As I listened I would do drawings of the foods she talked about.

Some of her teaching was not in a classroom. Early in her stay at Uruguay Academy, when my father had a bumper crop of tomatoes, she taught the kitchen girls how to bottle tomato juice.

Although she also taught girls’ physical education, English, and first aid during the seven years in Uruguay, nutrition was her favorite class. At first there was no lab, so the students met in our home. In time, Mother raised enough funds to set up a lab, complete with all the equipment needed to cook healthful meals.

In Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, and Pakistan she taught the techniques and virtues of healthful cooking. For many students these were the first lessons in plant-based eating. Her teaching was based on up-to-date science (much of it from Loma Linda, as well as common sense). It was supported by counsels fro
m Ellen White. After she retired, she continued teaching cooking classes in local churches.

Kids loved Mother’s Sabbath School classes. Adults did too. She spent hours reading, making notes, and preparing questions. She didn’t quit teaching her adult Sabbath School class until she was nearly 90 years old.

She Preached

I was about 5 years old the first time I heard my mother preach. It was in the small church in Gresham, Oregon. Her topic was healthful living. She used a flannel board to illustrate her sermon. We all watched and listened and learned. Since this was the early 1940s, she used the lower Sabbath School platform—“because of the brethren’s funny ideas,” she told me when I asked why.

Her speaking went beyond health topics to the practical matters of Christian life. I don’t think she ever studied homiletics, but everyone seemed to enjoy her preaching.

The notes in Mother’s files show different approaches to preaching. All of them are full of Bible texts and stories, among which her personal stories are prominent. Her topics reflected her deep knowledge of Scripture and Ellen White’s writings.

If you had asked her if she was a preacher, she would have said “no.” “But I am sharing God’s Word,” she would have added.

Mother never attended seminary, but she ministered for God, sharing His love in everything she did.

Nancy J. Vyhmeister is a professor emeritus of mission at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan.