Irma Jean Wessels was a friend of my mom while I was growing up in Rockford, Illinois. I had not thought of her for many years until last Sunday when our pastor read Luke 18:28-30 as a part of his sermon. There, in response to Peter pointing out his sacrifice in following the Savior, Jesus responded with these words, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
I am not sure if I heard Miss Wessels talk about this passage in our home or in public, but these words certainly came true in her life as she later recounted. Let’s start from the beginning of her story (based on what I remember).
In the mid 1950’s she was the principal of the grade school where I would later attend. My father was actively involved with the school board of this country school and that is likely where her connection to my family began. God called her to serve as missionary to India and she was already overseas by the time I started grade school.
Knowing that she was single, one day I asked my mom if she ever had a boyfriend. I guess I was just curious. My mom said that she was in love once, but her boyfriend did not feel the same calling to serve as a missionary. Irma Jean remained faithful to her calling although it must have been difficult to leave for India all alone. She felt some sadness, but, I am getting ahead of the story.
Once on the field, things changed dramatically in her location in India. A revolution in Tibet brought many refugees into the area where she was stationed, including a large number of Tibetan orphans. The mission organization under which she served decided to start a boarding school for these orphans. Because of Miss Wessel’s experience as a principal, she became head of the new school.
In the years that followed, she had a remarkable impact on the children who came under her care. Many came to know the Lord as their Savior and her loving devotion to them even caught the attention of the Dalai Lama of Tibet who formally recognized her service in educating these children.
Many came to know the Lord as their Savior and her loving devotion to them even caught the attention of the Dalai Lama of Tibet who formally recognized her service in educating these children.
I remember attending a PTA meeting at the grade school I attended. Back on furlough, Irma took up the entire time telling the parents about her time as a missionary in India. As the former principal of the school, she had the opportunity to share her story of what had happened and about all God was doing for these Tibetan children.
She later brought one of these orphans to the United States to train at a Bible school so he could later return and minister among his people. Since I was close in age to him, I spent a day with him while Irma Jean and her mom visited with my mom.
But how, you might be wondering, does her story relate to Luke 18:29-30? Miss Wessels later recounted how she felt sadness as she arrived in India. Because she remained unmarried, it seemed unlikely she would ever have any children of her own. It was not long, however, before she became a surrogate mother to scores of Tibetan children.
These verses came vividly to life for her one day as she was teaching several Tibetan girls how to sew. She suddenly realized that the Lord had given her an abundance of children. When she left for India, she thought she was giving up hope of ever being a mother. God, however, rewarded her with many more children than she could ever have imagined. He turned her sadness into great joy.
I have long since lost contact with her. I know that after many years of leading the school for these children she returned to the states and became active in missions at home. She also married later in her life.
While we look forward to rewards in eternity for our faithfulness, it’s not beyond the love and grace of our Father to reward us in this life by giving us a taste of the joys that will forever be ours once Jesus returns to take us home to be with Him.