Saturday, November 10, 2012


I'll bet there were hundreds of people like me, people who ran into Rachel only occasionally, but whenever they did, they felt like a wilted potted plant who had just received a soaking cupful of cool water.

I don't think we talked much the first time we met.  Her husband, Ernest, was the guest speaker at our mission's annual "Staff Fellowship," and Rachel and a baby or two came along.  It was held way up north at Stirland Lake High School, back around 1990.

We were living at Round Lake then, deep into challenges far too big for us; lonely, overwhelmed, and exhausted.  Ernest spoke about "The Wilderness."  I recall this because his stories of the Israelites in the desert paralleled my own life, and I remember sitting there in tears while he spoke of the hardships of the wilderness, and of a place of water and palm trees.

Those of you who have been there will recall how the chapel at Stirland Lake was on the top floor of the main building, and you came up the stairs at the back of the chapel.

I was sitting there in one of the back rows listening to one of Ernest's talks when I saw movement out of the corner of my eye and turned to see Rachel coming up the steps and standing at the top.  I think she was holding a baby, and she stood there looking at her husband with a face I can only describe as "glowing," a rapt expression that said, "That man is the most amazing guy in the universe and I am so proud of him and I am the luckiest woman in the world to be his wife.  And just listen to him speak, did you ever hear anything so profound?"

Her face also said, "I am totally content and happy to be completely anonymous in the background."

It was not a face you'd forget.

I got to know Rachel a lot better many years later when she, my cousin Kay, and their friend Karen organized a women's retreat that I spoke at, in northern Minnesota.  Rachel was a quiet ministering angel in the background, making sure that my needs and a hundred other details were taken care of.

She and her daughter also spoke at that seminar, an amazing story of their journey through the daughter's medical issues, and of their faith and humor through it all, and of looking for--and finding--an unusual number of rainbows throughout the journey.

When the Witmers moved to Los Angeles, they travelled through Oregon a few times and came to our house for a meal or visit.  They were people we felt comfortable with from the minute they stepped in the door, and the conversation went right to the heart of things.  Again, we felt like well-watered plants on a hot day.

On their last visit, Rachel asked me about my writing and speaking.  She seemed intrigued by it, with that life-giving interest that was neither awestruck nor gushy, just interested.  And then she did something no one else has ever done, before or since.  Nonchalantly, as though she were offering to give me a recipe or do some other simple good deed, she said that if I want to, I can email her a list of prayer requests before I give a talk, and she'll pray for me.

I thought, wow, she's a busy woman, she probably has pages of people to pray for every day, and just as no-big-deal as that she offers to add me to her list.

I took her up on her offer.  It wasn't that often, but it was so nice to know that I could send her an email and ask her to pray without feeling like I was imposing, because it was her idea, after all.

Rachel was suddenly, shockingly, taken from us this last week.  A car accident in Colorado, just days before her son's wedding.

It still seems impossible, that she was ripped away from family, friends, ministry, everything she was so deeply invested in.

I considered going to the funeral, but I was committed to giving a talk at a church in town the next day and didn't want to cancel.  I knew she would have understood.

I watched the funeral online.  It was a beautiful tribute to her, a mix of grief and glory.

I remember her face at the back of the chapel at Stirland Lake, and I imagine her gazing at Jesus, at all of Heaven, still happy to be in the background, still rapt and glowing, full of love.


  1. Thank you Dorcas. So precious!

  2. Oh Dorcas.. I have relived so many of those memories that you mentioned..esp. when we first learned to know the Witmers there in Stirland.. There are meant things I have forgotten from Stirland.. but that week has always stuck with me! It was the beginning of a relationship I will always cherish and thank God for!! Thank you for expressing what so many of us having been recapturing in our mind/thoughts! What a beautiful tribute!

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  4. This is so beautiful, Dorcas! You captured her loveliness...

    Kathy Nisly

  5. Wow, Thanks for writing this tribute about Rachel. I did not know her but I have been challenged again with the fact that I am leaving a legacy and it is up to me what it is and what people will remember about me!! I want to be the kind of person God wants me to be and live selflessly as it sounds like Rachel did!!

  6. I can just imagine Rachel's expression while listening to Ernest. She was a lovely lady. I too, could hardly stand not being at the funeral. I'm so grateful to those who arranged for it to be online.~e

  7. what a legacy she left behind!I have never met her but she's an inspiration to me to love well.(Lord,husband,life)

  8. Yes, Dorcas , that tribute was well done and really put into words of my memories of Rachel. I also recall those meetings at Stirland Lake and sitting in the back with small children. Yes,and the memories of the ladies retreat testimony with the calmness and the confidence that God is with us through the journey. Thanks,Marian Chupp

  9. The Baritone11/12/2012 7:53 PM

    Good post, Dorcas. I never met her personally, but I did know two of her children pretty well, and I was hurting for them all last week...