Sometimes young people heading for ministry ask my advice. Some of what I say is obvious, but there is one item that always makes them laugh with surprise: “You should collect old ladies.” When they realise I am being perfectly serious and the laughter stops, I tell them a story.
There had been a service at a downtown church celebrating the anniversary of the student ministry for which I worked. Afterwards, I was chatting to people over coffee when a friend came up, and said, “Come with me. I want you to meet someone who prays for you every day.” And the friend introduced me to Bessie Crompton.
At the time, she seemed to me, then in my 40s, very old, probably in her 90s. How did Bessie even know I existed? To this day, I don’t know. I presume she had seen my name in mailings from our national office, and just decided that I was someone who needed to be prayed for—I did.
Not only did Bessie pray for me, she also donated monthly to my support. The ministry was supported entirely by donations. So we developed a tradition whereby I would visit her and her husband Ted once a month, ostensibly to pick up her donation.
I can only remember two things about those monthly teatimes. One was the moment when she poured the tea. If that sounds like an odd thing to remember, you don’t know how severe her Parkinson’s was. How the tea got from the pot to the cup without the majority of it going on the tablecloth, I will never know. The other thing that sticks in my memory is that she had always made cookies for my children, and wrapped them in the waxed paper lining of a cereal box. “Bessie Crompton cookies” were a favourite in my house for years.
Eventually, Ted and Bessie had to move into an assisted living facility, and that was where I saw them for the last time before we moved to Hamilton. They were as cheerful as ever, and Bessie remained confident that Jesus would return before she died. He didn’t—but I’m sure she was glad to see him anyway.
At some point in our friendship, Bessie gave me a colourful crocheted blanket she had made. That “Bessie Crompton blanket” remains one of my most prized possessions to this day because of the love that it represents.
I have come to believe that people like Bessie Crompton are the true heroes of Christian faith. They are unknown outside a very small circle. They do not preach or write books; they are not bishops or seminary professors; they do not create homes for the homeless or run food banks—though they may have done so when they were younger. They are hidden heroes whom God loves because of their obscurity. I sometimes say that it is one of God’s best jokes that the world is run by little old ladies who pray. I suspect that there is more truth in that than we ever appreciate in this life.
Of course, you may already be one of those people the world dismisses as “a little old lady.” If so, rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven. And, in the meantime, be prepared to be added to some young leader’s collection. They need you. You will know what you need to do: pray for them every day, love them in whatever way you know best, and invite them for tea once a month. Making cookies and blankets is optional.