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Mission worker comes full circle, testifies, “God guides blindly”


October 5, 2004
-by Bethany Keener


By tracing her family history, mission worker Linda Oyer has made some startling discoveries of how God's unseen hand has guided her to fulfill a promise her mother made before she was born.

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Paris — The diary dated back to before mission worker Linda Oyer was born. In her mother’s handwriting she found confirmation of God’s purpose for her life fulfilled over generations.

“After my mother died three years ago, I was going through all her things,” Oyer said. “I found out that her grandfather came from the French Mennonite Church in Montbéliard, a church I have preached in.”

Searching further, she found her father’s ancestral roots — also in France. But it wasn’t until her mother’s friend disclosed the story about her birth that the words her spiritual director, a Carmelite nun, had spoken a year before became clear to her. “God guides blindly.”

Oyer’s mother married later in life and though she wanted to have children, her first attempts were unsuccessful. Like Hannah of the Old Testament, she asked God for a child. But not just any child — her specific request was for a girl. “She never told me that she had asked God for a girl, saying if she had a girl she would give her over to his service forever,” Oyer said in amazement.

As she looks back over her life and the paths of her ancestors, she wonders at God’s work. European Mennonite churches were weakened by the constant immigration from the 18th century on. A church split when Oyer was a child left her frustrated with religion. In college she traveled to France to buy drugs, but instead became a Christian and returned as a mission worker. “That’s why God guides blindly ? without even knowing that I had French Mennonite roots I was led to return to minister in the church there,” she said.

“What amazes me is seeing God’s hand and long-term activity… not just over one generation, but over several generations. I have a deep sense that this is where I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to be doing.”

She quips that her mother could have “saved me a lot of hassles” by asking the Lord for a boy, as “especially in my younger days being a woman in ministry was a struggle because I was often the first to do things as a woman.” It is her leadership, however, that is giving other French-speaking European women the chance to expand their horizons and use the gifts God has given them in ministry.

The first woman in the French evangelical world to receive a doctorate in theology, Oyer serves on the pastoral team at the Lamorlaye Mennonite Church, teaches at the Vaux Evangelical Seminary and is developing the curriculum for a French-speaking program in Anabaptist theology.

In France there is a saying, “métro, boulot, dodo,” (metro, work, sleep), that describes the busy life of many French people – especially Parisians. In this city of 12 million — almost the population of Ontario — it takes some commuters close to two hours to get to work, making it easy to become disconnected from the things in life that really matter.

This busy environment is where Oyer works. Along with her other duties, she accompanies women in leadership on their spiritual journeys, helping them find rest and reconnect with their faith, while making way for younger women to step into leadership roles. Her work is supported in part by Mennonite Church Canada Witness in partnership with Mennonite Mission Network.

“I’m seeing more and more the need to accompany people who are in leadership and who just don’t have other resources or people to turn to,” she said. “Often people ask to be accompanied when they are in a total crisis, ready to give up everything. You walk with them, listen and cry with them, pray with them and for them. Then slowly restoration and healing come about and they are ready to continue in ministry. Accompanying people in ministry is a real heartbeat of mine.”

Oyer says that the behind-the-scenes work of many of these women is never recognized, but, “to be able to encourage them, walk beside them and open doors for them is a real privilege.”

She also speaks at many women’s retreats and on occasion is allowed to see how blindly following God’s guidance impacts those around her. A year ago Oyer spoke about the importance of times of silence before God and wondered if anyone really heard what she had to say. This year she was again invited to be the speaker and discovered that her words had not fallen on deaf ears. One woman told her that her suggestion from the year before to take a silent retreat had begun a regular habit, contributing to spiritual renewal and refreshment.

Following another women’s retreat a participant wrote in an e-mail, “I was blessed, enriched and strengthened. ... It was exactly what I needed to hear at that precise moment, and it surely didn’t happen by chance.”

“I travel so much that I often don’t hear feedback like that,” Oyer said. For someone who has been brought such a long way, it is refreshing to hear that God is still guiding, though sometimes blindly.