What animates your life? What gets you up in the morning? What are you giving your life’s energies to doing? I know the answers to these questions for my dear friend Wanda. She was a woman who had a zest for life. She loved Jesus and she loved people and that‘s why she spent her life telling people about Jesus. I will always remember my dear friend Wanda for her gift of gab and superb listening skills, for her enjoyment of life and her ability to make everyone she knew feel special, and for her boldness to speak about Jesus with gentleness to anyone who crossed her path. Wanda cared about people. Wanda’s witness was authentic, genuine and sincere.
I first met Wanda in 1975, in a sociology class, at Holyoke Community College. The professor was talking about how all religions were basically the same and came from barbaric roots. He gave the example of the Christian “ritual” of Communion which, according to him, stemmed from earlier man and their tribal practice of cannibalism. I was a new Christian and was thinking along the lines, “Oh no! What do I do now? I don’t agree with this guy. What should I say Lord?” Of course, before I could say anything, Wanda raised her hand and identified herself as a Christian and said she totally disagreed with what the professor was saying. I thought, “Oh good! Somebody else stood up for You Jesus. I’m off the hook.” I also thought I wanted to meet this Christian classmate of mine. Wanda told me later, as I approached her after class, she was saying, “Oh no! What do I do? How do I respond to this disabled person? I bet she’s a Christian. What do I do if I can’t understand her speech?” Of course, the rest is history.
Wanda and I became good friends. She helped me so much with my early Christian walk. She would bring me to her house in West Springfield, Massachusetts, for supper. After supper, we would go to a Christian fellowship meeting in West Springfield. Then she would take me home to Easthampton [about 45 minutes away]. We also went to a retreat together, at a place called “Pilgrim Pines” where I had so much fun in Bible studies and listening to worship songs and praying in a group.
In 1977, Wanda became a full-time missionary with Campus Crusade for Christ [now called Cru] and devoted 37 years of her life for the purpose of reaching all sorts of people groups for Christ. She first worked at the world headquarters in San Bernardino, California; then onto Budapest, Hungary, for five years; followed by 17 years with The JESUS Film Project at Cru’s relocated headquarters in Orlando, Florida. Throughout the years Wanda and I kept in touch, through her one-page prayer letters [I envied her ability to write everything that was important on one page!] and our emails. I like to think that my cerebral palsied speech helped her to talk with people from many nations who also had “accents”. I know Wanda helped me with her lasting friendship and genuine concern for me, just as she did with all her friends and even strangers she would meet at airports, restaurants, grocery stores and anywhere people congregated.
Her passion was to give The Jesus Film to people from other countries in their own “heart language.” She also gave away other films from The JESUS Film project. She gave a children’s film about Jesus to parents. She told me the story of meeting a woman from a country where women were not treated well. She sent the woman a film about Mary Magdalene and Jesus. She sent me The JESUS Film in Polish to watch with my father. Wanda was convinced that once people realized who Jesus is [the Son of God] and what He did for them [He died on the cross for their sins and rose from the dead, so that they could have a relationship with His Father now and forever] they could not help but love Him as much as she did.
Wanda started her journey with cancer around 2005. During that time, she went through chemo and radiation treatments. During that same time, she also cared for her mother who was in poor health. The news of her cancer hit me like a ton of bricks. I asked my church to pray for her with me. A friend of mine made two pillows; one for Wanda and one for me. On the pillows Romans 10:11b [N.A.S.] was beautifully written in calligraphy: “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.” I mailed one pillow to Wanda and kept one for myself. Somehow, the pillow made me feel a special connection with Wanda. It was a comfort to me. Wanda said her pillow was also a comfort to her, while she took care of her mother and was going through cancer treatment herself.
I also shared another Scripture that I used in praying for Wanda: Psalm 18:28-30 [E.S.V.]: “For it is You Who light my lamp; the LORD God lightens my darkness. For by You I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall. This God – His way is perfect; the Word of the LORD is true; He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him.” After I sent Psalm 18:28-30 to her, Wanda sometimes ended her prayer letters: “With His Shield, Wanda.” I am pretty sure she did this not only because she believed it, but she was comforting me by showing that the verses I sent her meant so much to her.
After her first bout with cancer and the death of her mother, Wanda went into remission, during which time she came to Massachusetts twice to visit her financial and prayer supporters and friends. In 2008, she and I paid a visit to my friend who made the pillows and she visited the Missions Prayer Meeting, held at my church, to thank them all for praying for her and helping her with some of her medical expenses. We saw the Wanda in the photo above – so full of life and the joy of the Lord. It was good to see her so vibrant.
During her second visit in 2012, I was going through a bout with clinical depression. As always, Wanda listened with caring concern and without judgment. Wanda did not have a judgmental bone in her body. She encouraged me to get help from a professional counselor. She shared a time when she needed counseling. It was so good to talk with my compassionate friend. I did get the help and treatment I needed, though it took three hospital stays “to find the Lydia everyone knew“. I am sure that Wanda’s prayers and the prayers of family and friends got me through the most difficult time in my life. [The candles around Wanda’s photo and the leaf-shaped candle holders are gifts from Wanda that were waiting for me when I came home from the hospital.]
The cancer returned in Wanda’s body before her second visit to Massachusetts. She decided she had enough of the chemo and radiation treatments and used alternative methods to fight her cancer, which included drinking a special water and other dietary changes and sleeping in a special device. On her 2012 visit, she told me about her neighbor telling her that all she needed to do was BELIEVE in her healing and she would be healed. In typical Wanda-fashion, she told her neighbor, “Well [name], I guess you’re going to have to believe for me in those times when I‘m weak.” She said to me, “Peter didn’t have enough faith to keep walking on water to Jesus, but Jesus didn’t let him drown when he began sinking.” Wanda knew that she and I were in the Lord’s hands, no matter what. She lived over two more years after she last visited me.
This past April , she went back to Budapest to see friends she had made 17 years ago, during her five years in Hungary. She did not know whether or not her health would allow her to go, but she made it. Terri, her roommate, wrote in her letter to Wanda’s supporters and friends, about reading a devotional about a man with a terminal illness who prayed “that he would have the courage to live and not to die. That was what I saw in Wanda – the courage to live and not to isolate herself from people.” Wanda’s health declined after her trip. Terri wrote about Wanda’s answer to the question of whether she regretted taking the trip to Budapest. Wanda replied, “Are you kidding me, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
In her last prayer letter [September 30, 2014], Wanda wrote: “I was hospitalized again in the middle of July and have been on hospice care ever since…I’ve been confined to my home with oxygen since mid July. Confined, yet still remaining in ministry, though in a different way. For example, while in the hospital, I had the opportunity to give the JESUS film to my Haitian, Filipino and Jamaican nurses in their heart languages by using the JESUS Film app and emailing a link to them. I do have to say that the Russian surgeon didn’t want a copy, but I realize he was on a busy schedule and didn’t have time to even think about it…My time is short now, but I want you to know how very, very grateful I am for your love, gifts and spiritual support over the past 37 years (and before)…Please pray that the Lord gives me a very peaceful passing. Thank you.”
Wanda loved people and people could not help but love her back. Wanda’s roommate Terri wrote to Wanda’s friends and supporters on October 23, 2014:
“From that afternoon on the 1st, Wanda was very peaceful and needed only the morphine and anti-anxiety medicine every six hours…She was able to answer when we said her name, and when we told her we were going to give her medicine for pain, she always answered, ‘OK.’ When we asked her if she was having any pain at that time, she always answered, ‘No.’…The pastor who led her memorial service came that night and prayed with her and for her friends who were not yet believers in Christ. Wanda was able to respond with an ‘uh-huh’ as he was praying their names. But by next morning (Oct. 2), when I woke at 6:00 a.m., she was no longer able to respond. The nurse told Mary and me that Wanda had been very peaceful through the night…She was feeling very warm, so the nurse gave her a sponge bath to help cool her off. The rest of the day was quiet for her. There were at least two others, and sometimes more, in the house with the nurse through the day. Then, at 6:00 p.m., Wanda’s breathing very quietly just stopped…One of her big worries was that she would be alone when she died, but from the time of her stay in the hospital in May on through the remaining weeks of her life, she had many friends who were able to be with her.”
During this Thanksgiving [Nov. 27, 2014], I thank the Lord for the precious gift of knowing my wonderful friend and sister in the Lord Wanda. She has enriched my life and the lives of so many others with her undying love for the Lord Jesus, her unconditional love for people and her love of life which she lived to the fullest. With Jesus by her side, she was able to keep her “Shield of Faith” high, “run against a troop” [all odds] and “leap over a wall” called “cancer” and continue loving others in Jesus’ Name. The last thing she did was pray for her friends to give their hearts to Jesus. I am thankful that she was not “disappointed” when she saw her Savior’s face for real. I am also thankful that Wanda is finally free from cancer and is at peace for all eternity. However, knowing Wanda, she is not RESTING. She is enjoying Jesus taking her to meet all the people she helped to make the decision to turn to Him and experience His “abundant life” (See John 10:10b) He gives freely to all who believe in Him.
If I were to pick Scripture verses which would depict Wanda’s life most succinctly, they are in Ephesians 4:32-5:2, from “The Message”:
“Be gentle to one another, sensitive. Forgive one another as quickly as God in Christ forgave you. Watch what God does, and then do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with Him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of Himself to us. Love like that.”
Wanda did “love like that.”
One of Wanda’s many friends,
If you would like to honor Wanda’s memory, go to the website, http://www.JESUSfilm.org and check it out. Wanda would have liked that you did. If you would like to give a financial gift to “The JESUS Film Project” in Wanda‘s memory, write a check payable to “The JESUS Film Project“ and write “In memory of Wanda MacLean” in the memo and mail it to the following address:
The JESUS Film Project
PO BOX 628222
ORLANDO, FLORIDA 32862-8222
The Ministry’s Tax Identification Number is 95-6006173