By The Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Back in the 1920’s,
a young girl named Lois Secrist
felt a call to the mission field.
However, she did not follow that call.
Instead, she got married and stayed home.
Many years passed.
Her husband died,
and Lois again felt the call,
but she was hesitant.
“Lord,” Lois said,
“I’m too old to go now.
I can’t do this.”
But God kept calling her,
and finally Lois answered.
She left in her eighties, moved to the Philippines,
and established an orphanage,
a home for 35 children
who otherwise would not have a home.
Where did these children come from?
Some had been abused by their parents.
Some were living on the streets.
Who knows whether these children
would have survived
had it not been for the orphanage.
When Lois decided to answer her call,
she found no denomination
willing to provide financial support.
They told her what earlier she had told God:
“Lois, you’re too old to go now.
You can’t do this.”
But she went anyway.
Lois found people who would help.
She answered her call.
In doing so, she has saved 35 lives.
35 children are safe and healthy
because one old woman believed
that with God,
nothing is impossible.
Did she miss a call early on?
There’s no point to that question now.
What matters is that she heard a call in old age,
and chose to respond
in God’s time
to make a difference in 35 lives.
There’s the story of one old woman.
Now let me tell you another story,
this one about a young woman,
a girl really.
She’s a nobody in a nowhere town.
She lives in a society
that honors men and honors old age,
but does not respect females or the young.
She has several strikes against her.
On the other hand,
she’s engaged to be married,
and looks forward to
a quiet, obscure, domestic existence
there in the little nowhere town
where she was born.
She hears a call,
and it shatters her expectations.
One day a strange figure appears before her,
this girl who rarely lays eyes on
anyone she does not know.
This strange figure
does not treat her
as an inconsequential teenager.
“Greetings, favored one!
The Lord is with you.”
The girl is so startled that she looks behind her
to make sure the stranger
is not speaking to someone else.
Nobody else is there.
“What silly language,” she thinks.
“This stranger is mocking me.”
She faintly recalls Bible stories
where such language is used.
At the burning bush
God says to Moses:
“I will be with you.”
An angel addresses the hero Gideon:
“The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior.”
Jeremiah the prophet is consoled by God:
“Be not afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you.”
“Greetings, favored one!
The Lord is with you.”
Nobody uses language like that
with a teenage girl in a nowhere town.
The stranger keeps talking.
He tells her not to be afraid,
for she has found favor with God.
She’s going to have a baby,
and she’s to name him Jesus,
a name that means “the Lord saves.”
This won’t be just any baby.
He’ll be great.
They’ll call him the Son of the Most High,
And God will give him the kingdom
of his ancestor David,
and he will reign, not just for a lifetime,
She knows she’s not about to be a mother.
She’s a virgin!
The girl finds herself stuck
between the simple fact of her virginity
and the stranger’s powerful message.
She wants the stranger’s words to come true,
but cannot imagine such a thing.
Not even in the holy city Jerusalem
do virgins have babies.
Confused, she asks how this can happen.
The stranger replies
that she will be overshadowed by the Holy Spirit.
Thus she will be herself another tabernacle,
Her child will be holy,
God’s own Son as well as hers.
If this were not enough,
then the stranger mentions Elizabeth,
the girl’s elderly relative.
Elizabeth is pregnant.
Barren, old Elizabeth,
of an age when other women are great-grandmothers,
is about to have a baby!
She’s three months from delivery.
This girl from a nowhere town
had it all figured out
in her teenage mind.
Marry a decent guy named Joe,
settle down, have some kids,
live like most every other woman
A stranger with a startling message
was not part of what she intended
for her life.
Least of all did she ever imagine herself
becoming pregnant before marriage.
Her nowhere town has a zero tolerance
for single mothers.
The very few girls who end up that way
know that their lives have been ruined.
She is smart enough, afraid enough,
never to let that happen to her.
And what would her fiancé say?
She imagines his good, decent face
overcome by disappointment and rage.
But the stranger’s voice has to it
the sound of heaven,
the ring of truth.
He speaks for one far greater than himself.
She knows she can refuse.
Dim memories come to her
of Moses trying to back out,
saying that he was too poor a speaker
to lead the Exodus;
of the Israelites bellyaching out in the wilderness,
wishing they were slaves again;
of Jonah, heading to Tarshish
in a vain attempt to run away from God.
Better memories come back as well.
Abraham’s statement, “Here I am.”
Isaiah’s response, “Here I am. Send me.”
The child Samuel, years younger than her,
responding to the call with “Here I am.”
That’s what it is!
The stranger’s words are no joke, no lunacy,
but a call from the Most High
like those of figures from the past,
only this time it comes to a teenage girl
in a nowhere town.
She’s free to refuse, of course,
while as she pauses, angels hold their breath.
She recalls the last thing the stranger said:
“For nothing will be impossible with God.”
In the subdued voice
of a nervous teenage girl she says:
“Here I am, the servant of the Lord;
let it be with me
according to your word.”
All the common sense,
the peasant prudence inside her
had said: “You can’t do this.
You’re too young. You’re not married.
You’re just a girl.
This guy must have come to the wrong address.”
But she went ahead anyway.
It did not turn out to be easy.
and him not believing her at first.
(Who could blame him?)
That horrible donkey ride to Bethlehem,
the birth in the stable,
then running away to Egypt.
The local gossips who kept too close track
of her son’s birthdate and her wedding date.
The time the boy got lost in the big city.
Years later, his execution as a criminal.
Yet all along
she could not let go of her heart’s belief
that answering the call was the right thing to do.
It had not come at a good time.
But it had come in God’s time.
She said yes.
And so can we.
1. Gail Wood, “Mission Delayed,” Virtue, June/July 1999.
Copyright 2014, Charles Hoffacker. Used by permission.