A heavy cloud of sorrow settled over the Fort Wayne community this week. We learned that beloved friend, volunteer, and prayer team leader Violet (Egly) Ringenberg g45 passed away on Monday night after a long battle with cancer.
Photo via Michael Mortensen
When I first met the team a few weeks ago, they spoke about Violet in reverent tones. They shared stories about her personal influence in their lives. Her life testifies that famous, flashy titles aren’t a prerequisite for being esteemed as a spiritual giant. Because of simple, everyday acts of love — from sending cards to her “prayer kids” to feeding the homeless — her legacy spread across the nation, and perhaps even the world, through the lives she touched.
In The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis talks about the kind of woman who becomes the “mother” of all who enter her door. Violet was this sort of mother, for whom “every young man or boy that met her became her son . . . Every girl that met her was her daughter.” In the book, Heaven celebrates her with a great, golden fanfare. Because the quiet, sacrificial service of a mother has enormous spiritual influence: “like when you throw a stone into a pool, and the concentric waves spread out further and further. Who knows where it will end?”
Photo via Inreland
The stories I heard about Violet reminded me of Bertha Lugibihl, wife of Founder B. P. Lugibihl and one of the original “Matrons” of the Fort Wayne Bible Institute. A Vine of God’s Own Planting: A History of Fort Wayne Bible College describes her as a radiant person, “with the glow of heaven on her face,” whose spiritual influence was carried into the uttermost parts of the earth. It seems to be more than coincidence that Fort Wayne has produced two such spiritual mothers. I wonder how many more of them are touching the world right now.
These women’s stories reinforce how organizations like the Fort Wayne campus produce an exceptional kingdom impact, outside the classroom as well as within. It’s through relationships with people like Violet, and her dear husband, Gerald g45, that we encounter Christ in action. Violet’s sacrifice is that much more incredible because she invested in students — people she would only know for a season, who couldn’t give anything back. That was true faith: trusting God to see the results through. And that was true love: giving without expecting anything in return.
This is a bittersweet time for me as I hover between being an outsider and being an insider, not quite sure how to grieve. It’s a bittersweet time for the staff as well, but for a different reason. I see a mix of joy and pain in their eyes when they talk about Violet: the joy of knowing her and celebrating her homecoming, the pain of losing her. And while I can’t join them in their sorrow, I do feel a hint of sadness. Because I wish I had known someone like Violet. A prayer warrior, a mentor, a mother figure. Bless you, “Ma,” for the many lives you have touched.
Did you have a “mother” like Violet during your student days? How did this relationship have a lasting impact on your life?