The next time I saw my future mother in law was at our rehearsal dinner the night before our wedding. It was a Hawaiian Luau. We got married, put our wedding gifts in storage and drove our old white Mercedes Benz pulling a trailer to Southern California where we were to live for 3 months in an apartment attached to a home of a couple who had 5 children, all under the age of 9. We were working with them to raise our funds to go to Africa. Turns out, the apartment ended up being a room just off the kitchen, and to top it off there was no lock on the door! For a newlywed couple, with curious toddlers around, it was more than a little awkward! The highlights were a deepened friendship with the host family, watching the nearby Disney World fireworks every night on the front lawn and long walks on the beach.
After that, we took our wheels and moved to Denver, Colorado where we were to settle into a charming apartment (just the 2 of us!) and spend 3 months on our next project to get us closer to the African Continent. We had no sooner gotten settled in and got to work, when we received a call from Kentucky. Pat had gone through a personal crisis and needed to get away and make a new start. When Jerry’s dad had left in his teens, it was pretty much just he and his mom. They had to sell the family civil war farmhouse and move into town. She was a kindergarten teacher at the time and Jerry was still in High School. In some ways, he helped take care of her during that difficult time. Once again, she needed him. I was the first to say, “sure, come on over!” So she did. She came with her bags and we moved her into the other bedroom of the apartment. It was right across from ours. What I didn’t know is that she never closed her bedroom door because of being locked in the basement as a child. You see, her mother died when she was very young and her sister, 20 years older than her took her and raised her. When her sister got married, Pat was subjected to some pretty cruel practices, such as being locked in the basement when she was naughty. She was a ring-tail-tooter with a vivid imagination, but no one deserved that, and it did have its effects on her.
Something I didn’t anticipate was having my mother-in-law across the hall with this very shy, newlywed wife within earshot of our bedroom! What was worse? The toddlers or this? She was easy to get along with, and I think we all just had a special “grace” to live together like that. It was just a matter of time till we ended up in Houston for our last event. We managed to get her into an apartment and a job as Principal for a church where I was formerly a Youth Pastor. They were starting a Christian School and I introduced them to Pat and she successfully grew their school over the next few years.
After our first few years in Africa, I had a growing desire to start our own Christian School in the Village of Maun, Botswana, where we had settled. I wanted something that would remain after us and it was, after all, at a Christian School where my life was changed and my life purpose discovered. Who better than “Miss Pat” to come and be our founding Principal, or Headmistress as referred to in Africa. The school in Houston was doing well and so during our next stateside visit, we asked her if she would be willing to move to Africa with us and help us start our school. Her response was that she would pray about it. It took some time for her to decide. She didn’t want to do it just because we were there. It had to be a word from God to her to do this next assignment. Not long after, we went to a church near Galveston, Texas. Just before the service ended, a Pastor named Rusty Martin got up, not knowing anything about our school or her plans. He said that he felt the Lord was speaking to him that (Pat), out of the hundreds of people who were there, was in conflict about a decision to go to the mission field in Africa. He said, “The Lord says to tell you that He is asking you to go, and it is not because of your children, but because of my heart for the many children that will one day, call you a “Mother” on the continent.”
She packed her bags and came over with me shortly after our second son, Jordan, was born in 1991. We started the school together in January of 1992. Pat lived in our small house with us until we fixed up a cute thatched rondovel for her on the property we rented. She put all her energy, expertise and efforts into the school we named, Ngamiland Christian Academy. The school was in its second year, located in the London Mission Society house that was owned by the UCCSA church of Botswana. It was a historical building in which Jerry’s office was housed. Originally, it was the office of Robert Moffit, where the bible was translated into Setswana, giving Africa its first bible in an African language. Those early years were filled with joy and growth! And to have a grandma nearby for our two boys was a bonus!
She was the kind of Grandma that would go on long walks with the kids, pick up bugs and look at things through the kids’ plastic detective magnifying glasses and experience the wonder of the great African outdoors together. I had friends that would ask me what it was like having your “mother in law” always around and so close. Really, it was great. She helped me so much with the kids and never interfered with the way I did things. I was (am) a good cook, and she would watch the kids while I did the cooking and always helped with clean up afterwards. I rarely felt my space encroached upon and we generally got on very well. Life with Toddlers is very busy as well as building a ministry from the ground up. She and I were at the helm of the school while Jerry was busy with outreaches to even more remote areas than our own village of Maun.
On school holidays we went on outreaches together, sleeping in tents and cooking over the open fire. We had recently bought a new tent that had a divider in it and went out on one such trip. Pat slept on the one side with Remick, our firstborn son, while Jerry and I slept on the other side. I had the baby nicely tucked against the side of the tent and held him close as he was still nursing. I had a sudden urge to move Jordan, and out of that instinct, I moved him in between me and Jerry when all of a sudden, I heard a crash outside the tent! A crack in the zipper revealed a pack of Hyena’s that had made their way into our camp site and were rummaging for our leftover food right outside!
There are many, many stories I could tell about unusual times together. On that same safari, we were snugly tucked in when we heard a loud cracking sound, then the buzz of voices. When we looked out the tent, we saw an elephant straddling a small pup tent that contained two frenchmen who were no doubt, terrified at the thought of what was overhead! While the elephant dug his long ivory tusks into the side of the pulpy baobab tree and shook its fruit with his long nose, they hung on for dear life, all the while wondering if, at any moment they would be crushed. But alas, the friendly mammal was just looking for a midnight snack. In the morning, the two frenchmen left that site with a story to tell for the rest of their lives!
……..to be continued!