Monday, February 5, 2018
“Grey hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.” – Proverbs 16:3
Early one morning in June I went to my Providence mailbox not expecting much to pick up. To my surprise, there was a small envelope with a beautifully handwritten letter inside. My generation has mostly given up on the hand-written form of communication, so holding this letter truly made me feel like I was holding a treasure.
Inside, the sweet words began with, “I have procrastinated long enough to thank you for sending me the Eye Witness (the Providence magazine) so regularly.” The letter was from Bertha Lowen, who, having turned 102 today, is likely our oldest alum. She graduated from Winnipeg Bible Institute (WBI) in 1935. I was able to learn more of her story through her letters and from our librarian, Terry Kennedy, who recently visited her. I am honored to share this story of a woman who followed God’s calling step by step. She has reminded me the simple truth to always “turn to the Lord for answers” and “when a problem comes up, think and pray.”
Follower of Christ
Bertha’s journey as a follower of Christ began when she was 17. Working at the Canadian Sunday School Mission Bible Camp in Gimli, MB she met Henry Hildebrandt (WBI 1933) who encouraged her to attend Bible school. WBI was the only Bible school she knew of and even though she was a year too young and had only a seventh-grade education she began attending in 1932.
Every day she walked three miles to the college. She says she “saved a mile” when the river froze in the winter because then she could cross it! During her time as a student she attended a meeting where missionaries were looking for a married couple and a nurse to serve in Cuba. Bertha’s friend poked her: “You’re not a married couple!” So she decided to train at St. Boniface Hospital to become a Registered Nurse.
Prior to leaving, however, Bertha was having health issues that affected her nose, and she received inadequate medical attention. Upon her arrival in Cuba she began work in an orphanage that served about forty children between the ages of three and twelve. Children who were neglected, poor and famished came to their small building for attention. After nine months she became ill due to heavy mold present in the building. Her nose became severely infected and a doctor told her she would have only a month to live if she chose to stay. “The missionaries didn’t have time to dig a grave.” So she went home.
Love for Writing
“I felt like I was an absolute failure,” she says, recalling her return from Cuba. “I pleaded with the Lord to not put me on the shelf, useless!” But in this time of confusion she discovered a love of writing. “My mission was writing letters to missionaries—especially new missionaries,” she explains. She endeavored to write a letter per day to encourage missionaries as they endured hardships in the mission field. “Many recipients responded to my letters by telling me their problems,” she says. “I always replied with their letter at hand and a prayer.” She continued writing these letters as she pursued a career as a Public Health Nurse for her local school district. She worked in this profession for 20 years.
Bertha currently lives in her three-bedroom home in Chilliwack, BC, where she cooks for herself and awaits a phone call every morning at 8 a.m. from her great-niece. She has company over almost every day and enjoys painting.
When asked what advice she would give to current students, she recalls a guest speaker she once heard in WBI chapel: “Unless you know the Bible, don’t go on to other education.” Bertha believes this advice still to be true. She also has specific advice for the younger generation: “Don’t go to the Internet for information on everything, but learn to think for yourself,” she says. “Think and pray.”