Some of you older folks may remember the days before cell phones. When I was in college and wanted to talk to my parents, I put my finger in the dial (no buttons to push…) at “O” for operator and actually heard a real live voice ask “May I help you?” I would say “person to person collect call to Geraldine Willcox.” My mother had the option of accepting or refusing the call. I am glad to say that she always accepted her daughter’s call. Have I answered the right calls throughout my life?
As a young person, I always felt a special love for children. One summer, my friend Amy and I went around the neighborhood each morning, gathering up the children and bringing them to my back yard to have summer play school for 2 hours at the bargain price of 10 cents an hour. As a child, I never went to Vacation Bible School, and we didn’t teach Bible lessons in our play school, but now I realize that this experience was preparing me for a bigger calling later in my life. I didn’t attend a Christian college, but I still found ways to serve and to share my gifts. I was a member of the Scarlet Key Club that extended hospitality to new students on campus. I tutored very needy neighborhood children, referred to by most as nuisance “townies,” but, for me, they were precious. God was leading me to a later calling.
There was very little Christian teaching in my childhood and I attended public schools. Our family didn’t talk about God. We didn’t pray together or read the Bible. I have no memory of my being baptized as an infant, so, unlike believer’s baptism, that event did not play a very immediate role in my spiritual formation! I attended Sunday School now and then, but what I remember most is the disrespect some of the boys showed for their teacher and the humiliation I felt when laughed at for incorrectly answering the question “Who wore a coat of many colors?” with “Jacob” instead of “Joseph.” To this day, I have a fear of confusing the many Old Testament names beginning with the letter “J”!
My first job was teaching French and German in the Allentown School District, where, instead of leading devotions each morning as is done at Penn View Christian School and Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, I was required to lead in the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance. I did sneak in a limited Bible lesson, however… when a French student misbehaved, I had him write the Golden Rule ten times in French: “Tout ce que vous voulez que les autres fassent pour vous, faites-le de meme pour eux! Mathieu sept: douze.” All of my students could recite it from memory by the year’s end.
As I immersed myself in the demands of a first year teacher, I somehow found time to meet and fall in love with my husband. In saying “yes” to this call to marry a Mennonite man who embodied the values I knew I wanted to live by, I gradually began to understand and trust my life-long call to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Ray came from those “peculiar people” who did not conform to the world. I came from the elite college town of Wellesley, Massachusetts, where appearances mattered most. Now I was free to become all that God was calling me to be.
My call to children’s ministry has brought it all together. I knew as a young girl that I wanted to become a teacher and never wavered from that goal. As I became a part of the Mennonite Church, I realized that my gift of teaching also fit into this area of my life. Employment in a public school for most of my career allowed me to use my gift of teaching, but ministering to children in a Mennonite church feels like the culmination of where I have been heading all my life. Now I can teach the whole story – of God’s love for all of creation and of God’s desire for forgiveness, redemption, transformation, and healing for all.
There are many calls in life. We cannot answer them all. It’s OK to let the answering machine get a few. Maybe it was the wrong number anyhow. I am grateful that I picked up when the call to children’s ministry came! As I serve as Director of Children’s Ministry at Salford, I rejoice that God knew my number and that I picked up.