Saturday morning after cereal out of a box while watching Popeye, Dudley Do-Right, Yogi, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Bugs Bunny, I’d go to the kitchen. Under the sink were the dust clothes to be used for my weekly chore of dusting. I must have been in the First Grade at PS94 when my mother and father told me it was time to work. I was part of the family and my contribution was necessary. No more free handouts of money for candy. I had to earn my money.
Every week I would move the white elephant planter, the amber vase, the candy dish with candy for company only, and the furniture scarves to complete my job of dusting. For my labor, I received 50¢. Candy bars were only 5¢, for that same 5¢ I could get three long pretzel rods or a candy necklace, some wax lips or even a box of candy cigarettes. If I chose the latter I’d have to consume them all before I got home. Sugary candy cigarettes were forbidden. I might end up smoking.
I still have that white elephant planter and the amber vase. What I’d like to have is the scarves. They spoke so much of our world. Someone in my mother’s family had made a few crocheted ones. There were several from Norway that said “Hilsen Fra Norge.” As I'd flip them over, the stitches were as good on the back side as the front - a sign of good embroidery work. And then there was the one from Swaziland. Combined, these scarves told part of the story of our family.
Norway was always represented, we prayed in Norwegian, we sometimes sang in Norwegian, we ate Norwegian food. Everywhere I went I heard Norwegian. Hilsen fra Norge didn’t seem so far away.
We saw my mother’s relatives at least once a year. I feasted on such odd delights as pickled eggs and beets, Armatha’s amazing mashed potatoes and roast beef, we drank root beer that tasted so much better than Brooklyn’s, rode in cars, and went to see the battlefield at Gettysburg. One year, we even toured the original Hershey chocolate factory where they actually MADE the chocolate bars I loved. For months, I dreamed of swimming in those vats of chocolate. Long before Willy Wonka, I was dreaming of the chocolate factory.
But Swaziland? That was in Africa. On this simple furniture scarf were several lion cloth clad warriors with spears. While they didn’t look too intimidating, I’d always think of Tarzan movies that I would watch on TV on a Saturday afternoon. I wondered when was the last time they used their spear? Was it to kill a person or an animal? As I’d move the scarf, I’d think of my Tante Ruth. I had never met her. But she was very real in our house – it was if she was always there.
Tante Ruth was actually my cousin, but since she was so much my elder, she was always Tante Ruth. My father’s niece was a missionary. For 30 years, she labored in South Africa. She was sent from a mission board in Norway to spread the gospel. Several times a year, my father would gather all the religious material in our house, including my Sunday School papers and quarterlies, roll them, cover them with brown paper, tie a string on either end to secure it and off it would go to Africa. He would tell me that I was a missionary too.
My parents often talked of missions and missionaries. My mother took me to roll bandages and help with packing missionary barrels. One year, a book was given to me to read. The title: “Malla Moe.” I thought it an odd book and an odd title. All I could think about was Mallo Cups from the candy store. Malla Moe was Norwegian and a missionary for 55 years to Africa. She died in Africa. Her story told of hardship, long treks in the bush, sacrifice, and love for Jesus. Heaven will only reveal how many people came to Christ because of her. I wondered if my Tante Ruth dealt with such hardships.
Sometimes on Saturday afternoon, as we did some shopping on Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn, we’d hear music. It was a Street Meeting being conducted by the local Salvation Army Corp. There she was, Girly Johnsen – Captain Johnsen, then Major Johnsen in her bonnet and uniform. She was preaching the gospel on the street. She was asking people to come to the Corp worship service to hear more. She’d be preaching on Sunday morning as she was the commanding officer of that Corp. I saw a picture of her recently and it made me weep. She was bigger than life to me, the strongest of the strong, revered by my dad, a role model for a little girl who loved Jesus.
I suppose it never really occurred to me that as a girl, as a woman, I couldn’t preach the gospel. Recently, I have been told again that preaching is for men only. Does this mean that these great women of faith, who suffered hardship to spread the gospel to the neediest of people were sinning? Were the people who came to Christ through their efforts charmed and deceived by a woman only to meet with a fate of damnation in eternity? Or is it only “Western educated men” who can’t hear the gospel from a woman? It’s okay for simple heathen but the educated heathen need a man to lead…
I know the scripture better than most. I understand the arguments. But from my perspective, there are a lot of people who need Jesus – those that know Him and those that don’t – they need encouragement and love. They need the gospel. I’m following in the footsteps of giants – Malla Moe, Tante Ruth, and Major Girly Johnsen. It’s a call I’ve had since I was dusting furniture in Brooklyn. Nothing will stop me.
Maybe I'll go dust that white elephant planter and amber vase. I need to be reminded of strong women who didn't bow to the culture but bowed only to God, His will and His call.