A Missionary Who Doesn't Leave Home
ORION – At 99 years of age, very few persons are still active missionaries. But for Orion’s Bernice Stropes, her mission work began in her late 80’s.
Inside her home, a second bedroom has been converted into a one-woman sewing operation that has provided clothing for the children of Haiti for more than 10 years. And while Bernice doesn’t leave home, she is making a significant impact in the life of newborns at Grace Children’s Hospital in the Haitian capital city of Port-au-Prince.
With the help of the Midwest Mission Distribution Center in Chatham, Bernice’s boxes of sewing along with other seamstresses across the conference are providing the hospital a steady supply of clothing.
“Bernice is one of the most remarkable women I have ever met,” said Orion UMC pastor David Schultz. “We’ve called her for years our missionary to Haiti and although she hasn’t gone there, she sends her handiwork. Usually, I have occasion to go to Springfield a couple of times a year and whenever I go, I always ask Bernice if there is anything I can take (to the MMMC). She always has a box or two or maybe three for me to take filled with clothing she makes.”
Bernice said she makes a variety of tank tops and shorts for the boys and A-line gowns and shorts for girls based upon patterns which are now available at the Distribution Center. She has also sewn layette gowns for newborns and school bags for school supplies.
MMDC Director Pat Wright, who recently returned from a trip to Haiti, met the head nurse at Grace Hospital, who was well acquainted with Bernice’s handiwork. “The nurse said to me, ‘Thank you for shipping these clothes for the children because without them, they would have nothing,’” Wright said.
Bernice said she was encouraged to hear that her sewing was making a difference. “For some reason, the Lord has kept me going and I need to be doing,” she said. “There’s a lot I cannot do, but this is something I can do.”
“I first heard about the children’s hospital in the 1960’s from an Ohio couple who went there,” Bernice said. “Much of the medical care centered on the treatment of tuberculosis at that time. The couple returned to the United States, sold their farm and returned to Haiti as missionaries.”
During this time, Bernice sponsored a Haitian child through World Vision International, but she has lost contact with the child after she moved out of the area. “I still pray for her though,” she said.
Schultz said the Orion congregation has also gotten involved with Bernice’s ministry. Many in the congregation provide financial help in purchasing material for Bernice or donating supplies.
“She’s an inspiration to us. We watch her and marvel. It’s something that goes beyond her sewing,” he said. “She has a heart for God and a heart for giving. She’s not one who says, ‘I’m retired now.’”
Bernice will celebrate her 100th birthday on Dec. 23 but it is doubtful that she will be slowing down. Schultz said Bernice fell several years ago and she continued sewing – sling and all. And she walks daily at the local Lutheran Church gym. She says she does that in order to keep going. And she also participates in another ministry of the church by driving others to church that would have no other way to get there.
“The way Bernice gives of herself is one of the best examples of extravagant generosity. As a pastor, one of the thing I have tried to do is encourage people to be involved in mission and it doesn’t have to be through a $5 bill or a $20 bill; sometimes it’s a matter of getting out to the mission field and if you can get to the mission field, maybe there are some ways you can get your ministry there through other means and there is no one better at that than Bernice.”