The sun was warm but the breeze still bit with winter fierceness. Dead oak leaves lifted off the ground, swirling madly, and then were unceremoniously laid to rest a few feet from where they started. Meanwhile, delicate green spears raised their heads tentatively above the leaf cover. It seemed as though life and death were in a perilous struggle all around me.

This morning I learned that my good friend, Esther Spieth, who served as librarian, taught English, and mentored at IBC, had passed into eternity. In addition to her other ministries, Esther ran a plant rehab just for me. When I didn’t have time or energy left to take care of some of my more fastidious plants, Esther would rescue them from certain death. After she revived them, she would return them to me and the cycle would start over. When I went away (such as when I was gone for over two months at a time), she took care of my birds.

On a few occasions when Esther took a trip, I stayed at her house and took care of her birds and dog. We exchanged gifts at Christmas and birthdays. Esther was an only child, never married and had no children, and her parents died many years ago so there was no one with whom to celebrate special times, other than with our mutual friend Juanita and myself. Juanita was much more consistent in her friendship with Esther, but I considered Esther one of my good friends, too.

Esther lived a long life of service and ministry. In the past few years she continued to play piano at her church and still helped out with occasional projects, such as proofing the IBC newsletter. She will be missed.

It seems that death is on our minds a lot these days. All around us are people on the verge of panic over the Coronavirus. Our lives are in upheaval. Our entire world has changed drastically. Dire warnings and terrifying forecasts dominate the news. Our mortality is ever in the forefront. And yet, there is hope. Esther Spieth was reported to say to the nurse who alone accompanied her when she passed from this life, “If I live or if I die, either way I win.”
The Apostle Paul’s words echo back, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21)

We have had to cancel classes at IBC for the remainder of the semester but will attempt to fulfill requirements through on line classes. Nineteen of the twenty-three students are still on campus but the instructors will be teaching from their homes for the third term. The ministry trip was cancelled. I pray the students are more aware of their own mortality in the midst of this crisis.

Winter has been slow to give up its grip this year in Flagstaff. Even today when the thermometer registered a balmy 50 degrees in the sun, the wind boldly mocked it. It felt more like 40 degrees. As I ascended to 9,000 feet today, I found snow dripping gently to the saturated earth. Yes, life was winning. Spring is coming at last. Life will win in the end.

“Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Cor. 15:54-55)

I’m sure this Easter will be different from any others we have ever experienced before or ever will experience again, but the triumph of the resurrection remains. Death is indeed swallowed up in victory.

Please join with us in praying that the students would walk in that victory even though we do not have the personal interaction we desire and with which  they thrive. Pray they would be “steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that [their] toil is not in vain in the Lord.” (I Cor. 15:58)


Martha Gushee