Many Christians can testify to the wonderful comfort that the Holy Spirit gives us when we go through hard times, how we receive an extra dose of his grace. Missionary John Ridings has one such testimony. God truly has given him a peace and strength to go through the deaths of two wives and a child on the mission field and still he keeps on serving strong for Him.
Testimony of Missionary John Ridings
I gave my life to Christ when I was 16 years old. On that day God began to work in my life and change my goals and my ambitions for His honor and for His glory.
It was my extreme desire to become a farmer. For a portion of my early childhood I was raised on a farm in Alabama with my brothers and sisters. It was there that we worked hard on the farm picking cotton, growing corn. The love for the farm has always been in my heart and seemingly a part of my life until I reached the age of 16.
We moved back from the farm to the city in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there that I was finishing my high school years with the desire that when I finished school I would pursue a career in farming. I graduated from high school in 1965 and in June of the same year I was drafted in the United States Army. I did not want to go into the Army. I wanted to be a farmer. After reading the letter from the United States government and seeing the small print of imprisonment or a heavy fine, I thought it was best to go into the Army. Little did I realize that the plan God had for my life was about to begin.
I entered basic training with the purpose of finishing up my two years duty in the United States Army and then my plans were to pursue my career and my dream to be a farmer. It was there in the second week of basic training while sitting on a footlocker one night reading my Bible that the Holy Spirit touched my heart and called me into the ministry. I tried to tell the Holy Spirit that I did not want to go into the ministry, and that I wanted to be a farmer. Well, it did not take the Holy Spirit very long to convince me that this was God's plan for my life.
I continued my training in the Army and was later shipped off to Vietnam. It was there are that I spent almost a year overseas serving my country and my God. As my two years began to come to a close I began to make preparation to leave Vietnam to return to the United States of America.
Shortly before that, my pastor had written me a letter and mentioned that a young lady had just recently started attending our church. Se loved the Lord and had dedicated her life for whatever God would call her to do. In this letter, he mentioned that he would like for me to meet her. Little did I know at that time that the hand of God was beginning to move in my life for a wonderful wife and several years of marriage.
I came home from Vietnam, arrived on Monday, and went to church on Wednesday of the same week. I met this young lady named Martha Jean Powell for the first time. Her father was a farmer in Hampton, Georgia and grew cotton and corn. On Thursday, the very next day, I went up to see my brother and told him I had met a young lady in church for the very first time and I believed in the near future I was going to marry her. Three months and two weeks later Jean and I were walking down the aisle to be married.
We dedicated our lives to serve God in whatever capacity He would have us to serve. We became very involved in our home church, McDonough Heights Baptist Church. Our church had a love and a burden for missions and missionaries. No one had ever been called out of the church at that time. I continued serving the Lord there in my home church for several years, and attended Bible College at the same time preparing my life for whatever God would have us to do.
It was in my last year of college that a missionary, whom we supported in Peru, came and presented the work of Peru to our church. His name was Tom Pace. On that night, Jean and I surrendered for a lifetime calling to the mission field and to be missionaries.
Finding the perfect will of God was the greatest thing that ever happened to us. It was shortly after that God gave us our first precious child, Rebecca. Knowing the will of God and His calling upon our lives, we finished college and made preparation to go to language school in San Jose, Costa Rica. It was there that Bill and Cindy Murdock came into our lives and were such a great blessing and help to us in language school. After one year of studying the Spanish language, we were ready to pursue the divine will of God for our lives in the country of Peru, South America. Our daughter Rebecca was almost three years old at this time.
We saw God move in many ways. While on deputation it only took seven months and two weeks to raise our full support for language school, living expenses, and all that goes along with the trials of getting to where we were called. God had finally got us through this part of the ministry. Amen!
We were finally on our way! The day came, with all our dreams, excitements, and expectations and we finally got to the field where God had called us, to the highlands of Peru. It was the most exciting time of our lives. Little did we know that there were great trials ahead beyond our comprehension.
Two months after arriving in Peru, my wife Jean was expecting a child and another daughter was born. Our newborn baby passed away in just a few hours. It was a very difficult time for Jean and me. In those days, most of the arrangements had to be done as soon as possible. I remember putting a little white casket on the kitchen table and taking my little baby girl, dressing her, and laying her down in the casket. Having said our goodbyes, I closed the lid, and went out and buried her with the help of Brother Tom Pace. Our hearts were broken, but God gave us great grace in that depressing hour. Our daughter, Rebecca, had been separated from my wife and me due to the hepatitis we contacted.
At about the same time, my wife was very sick with hepatitis and, sad at the loss of our new born, her condition worsened, and brother Pace and I had to transport her to the city of Lima. The 6 hour drive was long and hard. We lived at 11,000 thousand feet above sea level in a city called Juaja. We had to travel over about 16,000 feet of mountains, and on the way up somewhere around 12,000 feet my precious wife Jean, went into a coma. Little did I know that more trials were on the way. We arrived in Lima and hospitalized her in the American clinic. It was there that I also fell sick with hepatitis and had to be hospitalized. On the fourth day, after burying our baby, the nurse came and told me that my wife had passed away. Oh my! It seemed that my world had come to an end. With the help of other nurses they helped me to get up and to visit her in the next room over.
I did not know what to do or say. I have read and heard of many who had passed this way, and I was not the only missionary in the world that had lost loved ones.
As I looked at her body, I turned and walked out of the room. Weak, discouraged, confused, and broken hearted, I leaned against the wall, bowed my head and cried out to God. "Lord what do you want me to do now? We have given our lives for the work of Christ, and I have lost a child, and now my wife. "What do you want me to do now?" I shall never forget that day, because like a ray of sunshine, like falling rain on a parched desert, like cool water to a thirsty soul, the Holy Ghost spoke to me and said, "But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength….Isa. 40:31". With that verse in my heart, I returned to my room and some missionaries came and buried my wife while I was still in the hospital.
My daughter Rebecca had been separated from me due to my illness. It was about two weeks later I was able to return to the mountain to reunite with her. These were some of the most trying and difficult days. Many times Rebecca asked "Daddy, when is momma coming home?" I can remember sitting at the table eating along with her and she would ask the question again. The only thing I could tell her was the truth! God had called her mother and her sister home to be with Him and some day we will see them again!
I made preparations to return home with Rebecca for a short furlough and to recover from my illness. It was there that I became very ill again and had sores all over my body. My body was in pain, my heart was broken, and trying to get my life together, I was once again reminded of the fact that Isa. 40:31 was still true.
After a few months I was on my feet again, getting ready to return to Peru with my daughter when I received a letter in the mail from a young lady named Betty Anderson. I did not have any plans to remarry anytime soon or even begin thinking about it. As I opened the letter and began to read of how she suffered the loss of her husband just 7 weeks after they were married, God spoke to my heart and said, "I want you to marry this young lady."
"Whoa," I thought, "I do not know this lady nor have I ever seen her before, and I did not even know she existed!"
She was working at Camp Joy when she heard about the death of my wife and child. She wrote me a letter to share with me some Scriptures that the Lord gave her on the home going of her husband. As I talked to my pastor of this matter, he wanted to send me to a "head doctor." I told him that this was the will of God for my life, and I accepted the challenge.
The letter came on a Wednesday. The next day, I called her to make an appointment to see her. With special permission from Dr. Lee Roberson, and Dr. David Braggs, the director of the camp, I drove up on Saturday.
I met her at what was call the "happy corner" for the first time. I took her out for lunch, and then drove up to the top of Lookout Mountain. Betty and I have often said that if we knew then what we know now, we would have both jumped off the mountain. As we approached a park bench, I asked her to sit down.
I began to explain to her, "Mrs. Anderson, I do not know anything about you. I have never seen you before in all my life. I have only known you a little over an hour. I do not even know your whole name, but I feel like God wants us to get married."
Her response was, "Well, I will have to pray about this."
I then told her I would give her two weeks to pray about it! Rebecca and I were going back to Peru with or without her. Well, she began to pray and of course I helped her. I bought her flowers, candy, jewelry, etc. After two weeks she said okay, and then after about three months and two weeks we were married. Some pastors said it would not work, that I was crazy. I lost financial support over this matter, and one pastor even commented that I hadn't even let the grave get cold. Oh, the trials we went through from pastors and churches! However the verse in Isaiah 40:31 was still there!
Rebecca and I returned with Betty to Peru. We labored there for two years and our son, Timothy was born. My wife had a disease call Lupus, a blood disorder which attacked the immune system, and became very ill and almost died. I had to fly her out of the country for extensive medical help. My heart was broken, but I knew it was my God given responsibility to take care of her.
We lived in Chicopee, Massachusetts and attended the Tabernacle Baptist Church and worked with the Spanish people there. We lived with Betty's mother for a short time and it was there that Melissa was born. We then settled in Waterbury, Connecticut and began another work with the Spanish people. God blessed and in few short years we were able to establish a church.
For the next several years God had called us to the Mexican border of Juarez, Mexico. We had to move back and forth to the north east a few years due to Betty's health and lack of medical help on the border. After medical help was finally available on the border, we return and continued to labor there until God called her home this past August 16, 2004.
Over the years, my wife had battled great pain and afflictions in her body. We had just started furlough in July of 2004 and were excited about visiting our churches. We had made a trip to Florida and had a wonderful time! We enjoyed resting and meeting new people as well as seeing old friends. We arrived back in El Paso late on a Friday. We had such a good time. We went to spend the night in a motel, and about midnight she woke up with a sore throat. It grew worse and I rushed her to the hospital. Her condition worsened. Six days later she went home to be with the Lord. God had given us just short of 30 wonderful and eventful years of marriage. My heart was broken once again and the trials of life continued. I lost another wife, mother of my children, my friend, and a real help in the ministry. My children, Rebecca, Timothy, Melissa, my two son-in-laws, my pastor Dr. James West and his wife, my home church McDonough Baptist Tabernacle, were such a great help and encouragement to me along with all of our supporting churches and a host of others during this time. My plans are to continue on serving the Lord here in Juarez, Mexico. I have lost a wife, not my burden or vision.
I am not the only one that has gone through these kinds of trials. There are scores like me who will continue on in spite of the trials, and heartaches. There is one thing that we all have in common and that is GOD MAKES NO MISTAKES! God has touched my life with a lifetime calling and there is no place to retreat. I shall continue to serve Him and enjoy my children and my three grandchildren. Some days are very difficult knowing that Grandma will not get to see her grandchildren grow up, but then again, I may not either! Behold He cometh!
God is with me and is helping me day by day to overcome and for this I praise His name for the love He gave me for my wife, the love for the ministry, and many, many memories that will be with me the rest of my life! I shall serve Him whom I love and adore until I pass the way of my wives and child or until He calls me home!