The “Call” came early on – her life-purpose spelled out plainly on her heart. What the young girl could not foresee was the learning curve ahead.
“I felt the call to the mission field very early, around 7 or 8 years old,” said Ofrieda Chastagner of West Richland remembering the moment she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up. “It was in my heart. God put it there.”
But nothing could prepare a child’s heart for the adventures light years away in the bush of West Africa, or later near the city of Ouagadougou. These were future events – some bringing fear, others tears; still more, great joy.
But God could prepare a woman’s heart to trust him always.
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“While we’re sitting at our kitchen table having tea and homemade cookies with one of the villagers he told us, ‘I really like you,’” but then added that if the leader of his religious sect asked him to kill the missionary couple, he would have to do it. Ofrieda recalled her husband Paul’s shock as well as her own, “We didn’t have a way to lock the door very well, so it was always on our minds.”
This wasn’t the only threat to the family’s safety. Yellow fever, measles, whooping cough, leprosy and other illness were constant companions. Only after years living on the mission field did the U.S. Embassy begin inoculation for communicable disease.
Even so, their four children thrived – sometimes with a little help from above.
“I heard a knock at the door and there stood a native who had found our toddler wandering down the road,” Ofrieda said with a note of exasperation, knowing how wild animals roamed the region. “After that, I figured out how to lock the door!”
However, nothing could guard against her greatest loss in the third term on the mission field. Paul, who had faithfully taught classes for years and was president of the Bible school, was killed in a 1976 head-on crash with a potato truck while traveling a narrow road.
Suddenly, it was another learning curve for the grief-stricken widow who had been married more than 20 years and served as a missionary since 1961. The question loomed large: Would she forego the calling she received as a little girl, leaving the mission field and its work permanently?
Ofrieda is quick to explain that a “call” is more than just going overseas.
“It can be anywhere God calls you to serve,” she explained. “Some are called to go, some are called to stay and give so others can go.”
But for Ofrieda, her call to return to West Africa lay heavily on her heart.
“I came home to the states, but then I felt the Lord wanted me to go back again,” the energetic woman reflected on her decision to raise support money for herself and her children’s boarding school. “Just the fact that the mission board would send a widow back was a miracle.”
Her new role was overseeing a Bible correspondence school in the city of Ouagadougou. Although still grieving for Paul, she discovered new joy in West Africa.
“When they graduated from the school, they’d go to villages and plant rice and other grains,” said Ofrieda as she told how villagers would almost starve during the dry season. “The graduates also taught them how to irrigate and draw water out of a well, and even how to grow hybrid cabbages they’d sell a leaf at a time or put in their own stew.”
The missionary life provided opportunity to see Africans’ lives change both physically and spiritually – at times through what some might call a coincidence.
“One day, a man came into the front of the building that was a bookstore (our printing press and my office were in the back) and asked, ‘Do you have a booklet that says "The Great Questions of Life"?’” Ofrieda remembered clearly. “They said ‘No, but maybe in the back.’”
The individual had been on the train and sat next to an older student who was reading the booklet. Although the student couldn’t part with his copy because it was part of his lesson, he told the young Muslim where he could get one. The tracks ran right behind the correspondence school’s office and the man jumped off the train just to get the booklet and then hopped back on – a decision that led to a newfound faith in Christ.
“He had the biggest smile and I wish I’d have had a camera,” said Ofrieda about what will always be a “Kodak moment” of someone being called in a dramatic way. “It was a miracle and if you’re a Christian, nothing is by chance.”
A tried and true way of thinking learned by this woman of faith who, at 80 years of age, still remembers God’s call – one she is so glad she answered.
If you have a story idea for Light Notes, contact Lucy Luginbill: 509-551-2191; firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lucy on Twitter @LucyLuginbill