Friday, November 22, 2013

Meet Mary Shaw!

Mary Shaw was kind enough to send me this write up that she used at a recent women's retreat. She said that after reading it, that she hoped we could still be friends. My response was that I am honored to be her friend. I think her testimony shows how God uses ordinary people with their flaws and weaknesses to do extraordinary things in order that we will be amazed by Him. Time to meet Mary Shaw!

A recent photo of Mary Shaw


                           “You want to be a success?  Know what you want to accomplish!”
                                           “Keep your eye on it! Don’t get off track!” 
                                       (That’s what they tell us; but nobody told me!) 

            I was born and ‘growed’ in Pittsburg, Kansas… did my ‘growing up’ during the Depression Years… went through elementary school… high school… had no great expectations, just supposed I’d work awhile… get married… raise a family.  No romantic ideas about it.   Life was all right, and I was happy just ambling along.  Pittsburg, Kansas, suited me just fine, and I expected to spend the rest of my life right there.
            I went to church from the time I was born.  I loved church… the singing… the nice people… the love… the social life….  It was comfortable, and I was happy just to be a part of it.  When I was about nineteen, we had a special speaker: Dr. Vincent Bennett, a Bible teacher from John Brown University.  He was a little Englishman with a delightful personality and a British accent that was fun to listen to---so I paid attention.   By the time he finished, I was thinking seriously about what Jesus had done.  God loved me… I knew that.  But He wanted to be a vital part of my life….  That night, I asked Him to make me the person that He wanted me to be.
            Dr. Bennett suggested that I ‘come to John Brown University.’  What?!  Out of the question!  I was working!  I had to work!   I had an important war-time job… sputter, sputter.  None of my siblings had gone to college… and… and… and on and on….   The real reason was that I was afraid to go to college.   I hadn’t taken college preparatory courses… didn’t think I was smart enough.  Besides, I was afraid to leave Pittsburg, Kansas. 
So, Dr. Bennett left town, and I continued helping Montgomery Ward customers apply for war-time-rationed plumbing and heating appliances.  That went on for two or three years, but every time Dr. Bennett came through town he’d call and urge me to reconsider.  In late July of 1944, he called and said: “Great news, Mary!  Mr. and Mrs. Huff said they’ll pay your way for a year if you’ll go to JBU!”  I groaned and muttered to myself, “Why don’t people let me alone!”  I didn’t want to go, but how could I refuse?   I struggled for weeks: yes – no-- yes – no – yes – no – well... okay. 
Huffs were to drive me to JBU on Sunday, one day before registration for the ’44 fall semester.  The Saturday night before, I couldn’t sleep.  My bags were mostly packed, but I was miserable… I felt I was being shoved around against my will.   The next morning, I went to church, faced the Huffs, and told them I was not going to go.  I took my place in the choir, at peace with myself and the world.  Just before the sermon, the selected hymn was “I’ll go where you want me to go, dear Lord; I’ll be what you want me to be.”  Ouch!  I slipped out the side door of the choir loft, went home, finished packing and got back to church as the service was closing.  I stood in the back of the church, tears in my eyes, and told the Huffs I’d go.  I had my last Sunday dinner at home, and they drove me to Siloam Springs, Arkansas.
 John Brown University was a little bitty Christian college… just right for me!  Everyone was gracious, and I felt right at home.  Because it was war time, enrollment was low, especially among male students, but I scarcely noticed.  To keep expenses down, all students had to contribute three or four hours a day in a service assignment… what would mine be?  Good friend Dr. Bennett went to bat for me, and they assigned me to KUOA, the 5,000 watt commercial radio station on campus.  I loved it.  I also loved the Bible courses and the Christian atmosphere…  they were just what I needed to grow spiritually.  I went for a year—and stayed four.  Because I had worked for six years after high school, I knew how to work and how to study.  That helped me win scholarships for the next year… and the next, and the next.  During the summers, I was hired by the radio station, earning cash toward my following year’s expenses.
By May of 1948, I had earned a bachelor’s degree in English, a natural follow-up from my high school major, English.  I still had a little debt, but the Lord fixed that for me—the school needed an interim registrar for part of the summer, and I was named to fill the slot.  Fun!  After the new registrar arrived, there was a void in the English department and…guess what?  the head of the department said, “Put Miss Shaw in… she can do it.”  So I taught Freshman English that year.   I loved that too.  It went well enough that they told me I could have the job permanently if I wanted, but would have to get something more than a Bachelor’s degree.
Years before, I had been afraid to go to college in my own home town.  Now, since I was ‘experienced,’ I marched right up and enrolled in State Teachers’ College---in Pittsburg, Kansas!  I enrolled in the Language and Literature Department, and by May of 1951, I had earned a master’s degree: “I’m an English teacher!”
Just then, I got a letter from a former JBU friend who was in Peru with Wycliffe Bible Translators.  She was having a great time in Peru and said, “Mary, you ought to take that course at the University of Oklahoma, the ‘Summer Institute of Linguistics.’  It’s run by Wycliffe Bible Translators, but you don’t have to be a missionary!”  Why such a remark?  She knew I had always avoided any possible urge to be a missionary….   However, ‘Descriptive Linguistics’ was a standard graduate course offered by the university, and in my career as an English teacher, that credit would look good on my resume.  I had the money, and the time… “I might as well go!”  I didn’t notice at the time, but I was being shoved around!
At the Summer Institute of Linguistics, we ate, slept, and breathed linguistics---for eleven weeks.  For me, it was hard work.  I just wasn’t made for all that theoretical stuff!  But I liked those Wycliffe people, and their goals.  It made sense to provide the Bible for people who always had to rely on somebody else to tell them what it said.  Oral transmission of God’s Word was often warped, or intentionally biased.  Not fair.  They should be able to read it for themselves.  At the end of the summer, some of those people I admired were saying, “Mary, I wish you’d join Wycliffe!”  Me?  I’m not spiritual enough.  Not smart enough.  Not brave enough.  I’d have to submit a statement of faith… they’d never accept me… but I probably should apply….  I did apply, halfway hoping I’d be refused.  I wasn’t... I was in!
I spent another full summer in linguistics, and learning the principles of Bible translation.  After that, it was time for jungle training camp.  What?!  I’d never been an outdoors person… never even gone camping.  But I was supposed to learn how to live in an environment I’d never known before… how to meet problems I didn’t expect… how to survive if I should ever be lost in a jungle!  The training camp was in the southernmost tip of Mexico, a good place to learn skills I had never cared to pursue.  I loved it.  We had a wonderful Wycliffe staff who knew how hard to push us, and when to pamper us.  After twelve weeks they (and we) knew whether we should forget about being Bible translators.  Surprise…they didn’t tell me to ‘forget it.’
The Lord provided me with a great buddy through all my Wycliffe training (if He hadn’t, I doubt that I’d have made it).  Helen Neuenswander was a registered nurse, another Kansan, and also a graduate of JBU.  We almost automatically formed a team, and in July, 1953, we were sent to the Achí (ah-CHEE) people, Mayan descendants in Guatemala.  We moved into Cubulco, a little rural town that was ‘half Indian and half Ladino’ (about half of the inhabitants  spoke Achí; the other half were ‘Latinized’ and spoke Spanish).  But the mountains around town were full of Achí speakers.   What was that line in The Wizard of Oz? … “We’re not in Kansas anymore!”  
Our aim was to live among the Indian people, but the only place was in a Ladino house on Main Street.  We moved into two rooms, and found an Achí girl to come and help us learn the language.  Though Helen was a nurse, we kept that a secret--- we were there to translate, not medicate!  Surprise our landlady ‘forgot’ to keep it a secret….  That became clear when one ‘visitor’ after another came “to see the nurse.”  Those visits soon were taking all our time… not the way it was supposed to be.  (Shoved around again!)   But it wasn’t all bad.  We made friends and learned two languages.  Our Spanish was muy poquito… and our Achí was starting from scratch… (or itch, or colds, or tummy aches…  you learn a lot of anatomical terms when all your visitors are sick.)  For instance: we learned that in Achí, you can’t say ‘head’… or ‘hand’, or ‘foot’… it has to be ‘my head’, ‘your head’, ‘his head’…. body parts have to belong to someone! So do many personal items… clothing, homes, relatives.  ‘Husband’ is literally ‘my man,’ ‘wife’ is ‘my woman’… so if anyone gets married, he must be ‘possessed’!  (Joke!)   But, weren’t we thrilled when we found out that same rule-of-possession applied to ‘Lord’… one has to say ‘my Lord / your Lord / our Lord’….   Beautiful!
            We found other ‘treasures’ in the Achí language… ‘my heart hurts for you’ is the way to say ‘I love you’… ‘I lost it out of my heart’ means ‘I forgive you’   ‘my heart sits down in you’
This picture was taken around 1957. Mary Shaw is playing a recording of a Christian message in Cubulco Achi and the women are amazed to hear a machine speaking their language. While many things have changed in Cubulco the people look pretty much the same as their dress has not changed much.
is the way to say ‘I have confidence in you; I believe in you.’   God gave us that one when one of Helen’s patients told her: “I don’t understand, but I’ll take the medicine the way you say, because my heart sits down in you.”   With those treasures, here is the way John 3:16 comes out: God’s heart hurt so much for the people on earth that he sent his son this way, so that anyone who sets his heart down in him would not be destroyed, but would have a life that never ends.”  I didn’t really like ‘linguistics’… but I loved translation… what a joy to work full time with Achí speakers putting God’s Word into their language!    
            Thirty years later, we published the New Testament.  We had a big celebration in the city hall, with participation by state and city officials, the Catholic priest, and pastors of the two
Protestant churches.  When it was over, Helen said, “Now we can build that hospital.”   What hospital?!  The one she’d had on her heart for years… one to serve the local people in Cubulco…
one in which the Achí language would be spoken and understood.  “Helen, that’s crazy… we don’t have the funds… we don’t have the personnel… we’d never get legal permission … and., and…” I don’t think she heard me… and besides, she had God on her side.   
            They say, ‘If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’!  In November, 1984, we began to build.  The work went on sporadically (as we had help) through ’85, ’86, ‘87, ’88, ’89.  Helen was fighting Hodgkin’s disease, a losing battle, and she died January 9, 1990.   The hospital wasn’t quite finished, and I thought, “Lord, it’s not fair!  I didn’t want this hospital in the first place!”  But I didn’t say it.  If I had, He’d have said, “Mary, there’s no way I’m going to let you try to run this hospital!”  He already had someone waiting in the wings.   Helen had previously talked to Bob McRae, the Guatemala director of “Advancing the Ministries of the Gospel.”  Director McRae and his staff stepped in, finished the hospital, and put it in operation.  It was beautiful!  And I was as proud as if I had thought of it myself.  Today, it’s still a lighthouse in Cubulco, as the “Centro Medico Christiano, La Señorita Elena” --- Helen’s vision, and God’s fulfillment.   
Yes, I’ve been shoved around, but isn’t that what I asked for when I was nineteen?   The Achí have the New Testament in their language, churches are flourishing, and the Old Testament (by native translators) is almost ready to publish.   It’s been a satisfying life. But, what would it have amounted to, if the Lord hadn’t shoved me around?!                   
                                                                                       (Mary Shaw, September 15, 2013)

Meet Helen Neuenswander!

My previous posts have been on the history of the translation work and hospital in Cubulco which was started by two ordinary women: Helen Neuenswander and Mary Shaw. Below you can read a little bit more about these ordinary women who were called to fulfill an extraordinary task in Cubulco. Enjoy the read!
Helen Heuenswander (left) and Mary Shaw (right). Picture taken in 1998 during the construction of the hospital. Helen's cancer had returned and was going to start chemotherapy again so this picture was taken before she lost her hair.

Helen Neuenswander:
Helen was the daughter of a Methodist minister (later:'Evangelical Methodist').
Born in Willis, Kansas.... Nov. 30, 1926      (Farming community)
Fifth child, (3 girls, then Paul, then Helen)  11 children in all.
Standard schooling through High School, then entered 'Cadet Nurses' training.
Nearly through that training when War ended, but finished and became a professional registered nurse.
Worked professionally in Bethany Hospital, Kansas City, KS until 1949 when she enrolled in (interdenominational) John Brown University so she could TEACH nursing arts.  Earned Bachelor's degree.      Felt called to mission service.
Summers of 1951 & 1952 studied at  Summer Institute of Linguistics at University of Oklahoma.  Became member of Wycliffe Bible Translators (1952)
Assigned to Guatemala...   arrived there in July 1953.