Essex Community Church, Essex, NY

The Essex Community Church Fellowship Hall was filled to capacity on June 21, 2017, for the annual Ecumenical Women’s Luncheon. The featured speaker was Peggy Hunn, wife of Reverend John Hunn, ECC pastor, retired. Her talk kept more than 70 people spellbound. Here is the text of that speech:

It seems very strange to be standing up here today as your speaker – for those years since 2007, when we had our first luncheon – I have been the one to find a speaker. You may think that my motive in finding someone to speak was to find a person who would be exciting to hear, someone that would keep you laughing. But that was not my motivation at all. My main hope was to find someone who had a strong faith in God, and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ – someone who would inspire you to get closer to God, so your faith would be on solid ground as you go through each day and face whatever God puts in front of you.

Jesus says to you, “I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore, with loving kindness I have drawn you to Me.” Once you choose Him, there is no doubt about Him choosing you!

I am going to quickly tell you about some things in my life and then introduce you to three well-known Christian women from the past who have had a huge influence on my life.

You probably know that John and I were high school sweethearts and have been married for sixty-six years. God is always at work in our lives. He works for good for those who trust Him. I don’t believe things happen by chance. I cannot control my own destiny. God is always acting on our behalf. I must submit my problems and turn to God. Our real hope is in a living God. There is a saying, “God is at His best when we are at our worst.” So you can trust in Him.

My mother had three prayers for her children. (1) She prayed for a husband for my younger sister. She was 30 years old. (2) She prayed for a good job for my brother. (3) She prayed for a home in the country for us. (At that time we were serving as associate pastor of the Old First Presbyterian Church, in Newark, N.J. – near the corner of Broad and Market Streets.) God was so good in answering her prayers.

My sister was visiting a friend in Fanwood, N.J., when they heard a crash outside. Going out they saw a policeman taking down information and they also saw that one of the cars involved in the accident was my sister’s car. The next day the policeman called my sister and asked her if she believed in love at first sight. Soon they were going together and then they were married.

My brother, for whom my mother prayed for a good job, became the president of General Foods, International Division, in White Plains, N.Y.

And for us and our five children – John received a call out of the blue, to serve as the pastor of the Covenant Presbyterian Church, in Simsbury, CT. The church had just been formed three years before. They had bought 12 acres of a farm, which later became 28 acres, and together the church members transformed the big dairy barn into a sanctuary in the hayloft, and meeting rooms throughout the rest of the building. After living in Newark, serving a downtown church established in 1666, where Aaron Burr had been a member, and where in the early 1960s the church was a melting pot of Chinese, Hispanic, African-American and Caucasian, we found it so different in the Connecticut suburbs. Everybody looked the same and when our kids would see a big home they would ask, “Is that a two-family house?”

We spent 19 years in Connecticut and lived in three different houses connected to the church. And besides having a sanctuary in the hayloft (and also an outside worship center in the hillside overlooking the brook), we had a bookstore in the old apple barn, a library in the hen house, a prayer chapel in the silo, and baptisms took place in the brook. Our kids had horses and raised sheep and chickens with a local farmer, who became caretaker of the property.

We also became a holding station for the Heifer Project: our Junior High Fellowship was responsible for caring for Nubian goats which were sent to Honduras, and 2 bulls which were sent somewhere else. The church was also responsible for starting a Christian school, the Master’s School, now one of the largest and most highly rated private K-12 schools in New England.

I am not bragging about us, but about God. He is able to do great things in and through a church whose members are dedicated to Him. The Bible says, “Put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love, and with Him is full redemption.”

The hardest thing we have ever had to face happened while we were in Connecticut. It happened when our 19-year-old daughter was killed while riding her bike at the University of Connecticut. She was a sophomore working on a pre-vet major. Remember, we go through nothing that God does not know about. Unlike what sometimes happens at a time like this, my faith in God increased. I had nowhere to turn. I knew she was with Jesus. We had seen her on her knees in prayer in her bedroom during January vacation. I remember crying out to God, “My precious daughter!” And then actually hearing God say, “MY PRECIOUS DAUGHTER.”

I remember saying, “I want what I want, Dear God, but I want what you want far me more than what I want. So, I bind my will to Yours, Lord Jesus.” Mother Basilea, who founded the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, once said: “God loves us so much. He loves us too much to leave us as we are.”

Living with Jesus is like linking our fingers with His so, like a zipper, that when the blows of life come we stay connected; otherwise such blows can cause the distance between us and the Lord to grow wider.

Now for a few funny things that happened in Connecticut. I was driving to a meeting when I heard myself say, “Dear God, please take care of these kids until I get back.” How haughty is that!

When in Connecticut, John and another minister believed God was asking them to serve together at the church and the Church leaders agreed. John invited the minister and his family to share our home and salary, plus the salary of the minister’s wife, who was a teacher. So instead of six kids (in addition to our five we had adopted a two-year old boy), there were nine, plus two sets of parents and one grandfather, for over a year. Once when I was shopping at a huge store I had taken more cans of something than I was allowed for the special price. Then I heard one sales girl says to another, “That’s okay, she runs a home.”

One night, around midnight, I was still working in the kitchen. John was asleep, as were the children, when a big charter bus pulled up in front of the house and a man came to the door. He said, “The Lord told us to come here.” My answer was, “Well, the Lord didn’t tell me you were coming!” I woke John and he opened the door of the church so they could sleep on the floor. In the morning some church members made them breakfast and we packed lunches for them and they stayed all day.

A quick addition about the last church we served full-time – the Presbyterian Church in Tunkhannock, PA, on the Susquehanna River, near Scranton and Wilkes-Barre. After 19 years in Simsbury, I remember in my haughty spirit thinking, “Well, we really will be stepping down a peg.” Yet the manse (parsonage in the Methodist Church) was the oldest house in town, formerly “The Old Slocum Stage Coach Inn” – dating to 1814. It was a huge house with front and back stairways, two living rooms, a large dining room, a kitchen and four bedrooms. Before we arrived they had completely renovated it.

Soon we were involved in starting a Christian Book Store in town, called “Reflections,” and I joined with a friend from the Methodist Church in starting a Christian Pre-School, called “Sonshine Nursery School.” During the 11 years we were there as co-founder and co-director, we started with 10 boys and 10 girls and grew to over 100 children. The school is still going on.

Now, about the three Christian women I have admired throughout the years: The first is Amy Carmichael. She was born in Belfast, Ireland in 1867 and lived for 84 years. She served in India rescuing young girls from temple prostitution. She served there for 56 years without a furlough; she never went back home. During her stay, she encouraged the building of orphanages and over 1,000 children were rescued from their former lives. To this day 1,000 people carry on this work. She said, “You can give without loving, but you can’t love without giving.”

They called her “Ama.” She was a part of the Donnavur Fellowship of the Church of England. She suffered many years with neuralgia and had a bad fall. She wore Indian clothing and dyed her skin with coffee. The book about Amy Carmichael, “A Chance to Die,” was written by Elizabeth Elliot, wife of the martyred missionary, Jim Elliot. Of course, I never met Amy Carmichael, but I did meet Elizabeth Elliott.

Elisabeth Elliott wrote the book, “Through the Gates of Splendor,” about 5 young missionaries who were working with the Huaorani Indians (also called the Aucas) in the rain forests of Ecuador. In 1956 the Huaorani attacked and killed all five men. Elizabeth, the widow of one of the missionaries, Jim Elliott, went to live among the Aucas with her 1-year old daughter and Rachael Saint, sister of another martyred missionary, Nate Saint. Elisabeth Elliott worked with that tribe the rest of her life, ministering to the people and leading many to faith in Christ. As Elisabeth said, “God’s ways are mysterious and our faith develops strong muscles as we negotiate the twists and turns of our lives.” She emphasized, “Trust Him and do what He says.” She lectured at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and at Gordon College, north of Boston. When she married for the third time she had only been married a total of seven years. Her second husband, Dr. Addison Leitch, died four years after their marriage. She put an ad on the seminary bulletin board to hire and give rooms to two seminary students to help with the yard work and snow shoveling. Her daughter married one of them and she married the other. His name was Lars Gren, who was with her when she died. Elisabeth also wrote, “Whoever is willing to obey will be shown the way.”

I have also had the pleasure of meeting Corrie ten Boom, well known author of many books. I am sure that many of you are familiar with her biography, “The Hiding Place,” which she wrote with John and Elizabeth “Tibby” Sherrill. I happened to have a seat next to Elizabeth Sherrill on a Lufthansa flight going Boston, MA to Frankfurt, Germany. Elizabeth was going to attend the same conference we were attending, in order to interview Corrie ten Boom for the book, “The Hiding Place.” This book tells how the Ten Boom family rescued Jews from the Nazis, until they themselves were caught and put in the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where all died except Corrie.

Several years later we met Corrie in several different places, including the blessing of having her join us for dinner in our home in Connecticut, with our family. When she spoke in our church the hayloft sanctuary was packed. Corrie was frightened of the thunderstorm that came during the meeting and she prayed for God’s protection. God allowed her to see angels standing above the heads of the people all around the sanctuary. After the service what she saw was confirmed by an eight-year-old boy, who said to her, “Corrie, did you see the angels?” The storm was so close that a nearby church was struck by the lightning.

Another time we were having a meeting in a cottage on the beach at Cape Cod. After lunch Corrie went upstairs to rest, but as she was going up the steps she said, “Remember, Jesus may return before I wake up.”

She had a little suitcase which she carried with her containing objects for illustrations. One was a tapestry with a beautiful gold crown embroidered on a blue background. When she turned it over it was a mess of jumbled threads. She said, “The back is the way we see our lives but the crown is the way God sees us because of Jesus Christ.”

When John asked Corrie if she would come to our church in Simsbury to speak, she pointed her finger toward heaven and said, “Ask my Boss.” She called herself “A tramp for the Lord.”

Let these three women be an example to us all – to be serious about our faith. Let us be willing to share our faith with others. I know I have a long way to go – but let’s covenant together today to renew our faith and our witness to others.

Norma Goff