In May of this year, I completed 36 years of ministry among Native Americans, 27 of which have been at Indian Bible College. How grateful I am for the lifelong friends God has blessed me with both in Flagstaff and in New Mexico. Those I left behind when I came to teach at Indian Bible College continue to challenge and encourage me by their lives, though we are separated by miles. I would like to share with you the life of one such individual who has provided for me an example of steadfast courage, perseverance, wholeheartedness, and faithfulness.
In 1986 God blessed me with my first mobile home. Above is a photo from the home dedication. In front, second from the left, is my good friend, Navajo language and culture advisor, and Bible study student, Joyce Tennyson.
Although, like me, Joyce never married or had children of her own, unlike me, she helped raise several nieces and nephews. Joyce and I traveled together the journey of youth to middle age and beyond. I watched her grow deeper in her faith. I marveled at her ability to teach, her depth of intellect, her questioning curiosity that rivaled my own. Even after I moved from New Mexico to Arizona, Joyce remained part of my life. Actually, she and her sister and nieces helped me make the 200-mile move, providing front escort for the house as it rolled down the highway. I tried to convince Joyce to attend IBC, but she believed God had called her to serve in her home area. When I bought my new manufactured home, I told her the front bedroom was for her. I think she used it only a couple of times, but one of those times was as recent as last April.
Joyce was there for me in several milestone events in my life, including my graduation from NAU in 1999 and my 60th birthday two years ago. One summer she lived in my house and took care of the dog while I traveled the country. Another time she accompanied me to Montana and on to Washington State to pick up my new niece from South Korea.
When little Kristina arrived, she was inconsolable until Joyce wrapped her in her arms and spoke softly into her ear.
Joyce’s nickname was “Rejoice.” She was known for her ready laugh, but, did she ever know how to weep! She was all in, no matter where she was or what was happening. Though orphaned as a child, she determined not to wallow in self-pity or allow anything to interrupt her progress toward Christlikeness. She was a hard worker and put everything into whatever she was doing.
When I saw her in April, she shared about a recent unexplained weight loss but she seemed to be doing well at that point. We enjoyed a hike, some stimulating conversation, and a few meals together before she headed back to New Mexico. I saw her briefly again on September 14 when I traveled back to Broken Arrow Bible Ranch for a wedding. She wasn’t feeling well enough to attend the wedding, but she asked me to stop over and see her newly remodeled house.
On October 28, while I was attending a ladies’ retreat, I received a call from Joyce. She and her sister and niece were on their way to Phoenix. She continued to struggle with an inability to keep food down. The doctors were sending her to a larger hospital for more tests. Her voice was strong and her infectious laugh still rang in the voice message, but the direction things were going sounded ominous. I prayed with her when I returned her call and then rejoined the retreat activities. A few days later she called again to tell me they had diagnosed her with stomach cancer. It was in an advanced stage, from what I understand. I prayed fervently.
Surgery was largely unsuccessful. And then, suddenly, she was ushered into the presence of Jesus on November 5.
It has been hard to say good-bye for now, but I thank God He didn’t ask Joyce to suffer excruciating pain for the next several years.
Surely she is one of His special children whom He welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” In the program from her memorial service Proverbs 31:25 aptly proclaimed, “She is clothed in strength and dignity; and she laughs without fear of the future.”
I don’t remember when Joyce made this crossstitch below, but I already treasured it. I just treasure it even more now. Yes. Count it all joy whether in hard times or easy. Often I look at that snippet of a verse and am reminded to count the trials in my life as joy, to follow Joyce’s example in this area too. May God use me through my service at Indian Bible College to help raise up a new generation who will take her place.
“Fear not,” the angel said on that night so long ago when God Himself identified with His creation by becoming one of us. “For behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” We still rejoice. God is still with us. And one day we will be with Him. A blessed Christmas to you. May we prove faithful, as Joyce did.