Monday, July 2, 2012

Betty Dunnevant 1930-2012

I was ten years old when I discovered that my mother was crazy. We had just moved back to Virginia after three years in New Orleans. Dad had become the Pastor of Winns Baptist Church in Hanover County. It was a blazing hot Saturday around lunch time and someone was ringing the doorbell. I was half way down the steps when Mom opened the door. There stood the scariest, dirtiest man I had ever seen. Instead of slamming the door and calling 911, Mom imprudently invited the man inside. He smelled worse than he looked, a mixture of kerosene and cigarettes. As a ten year old boy I remember being afraid. Dad wasn’t home, Donnie wasn’t home, so by default I was the man of the house. I made my way down the stairs, looked out the front door and saw an old rusted-out station wagon, belching smoke out of the tailpipe with a woman and several equally dirty kids in the back seat. The man began telling his story. He and his family were on their way from New York to Florida. They were almost out of gas and totally out of money. He had seen the church next door and was hoping we could spare him some money for gas. That’s when my mother was transformed before my eyes into a cross between Billy Graham and Paula Deen.

“Why, bless your heart!” Mom smiled..”What good is money for gas going to do without something to eat? Bring your wife and kids in here right now and let me fix you some lunch!”

He protested, but Mom wouldn’t take “no” for an answer.


Soon there were five exhausted, scared and hungry people sitting around our dining room table where Mom had miraculously whipped up a serving plate full of sandwiches, a bowl of potato salad and a tray of water melon. There was iced tea and peach cobbler and they all ate like they hadn’t had a meal in days. All the while Mom was telling them about the good news of the Gospel. For my Mother, the words..”Do you know Jesus Christ as your lord and savior” were not words you had to take an evangelism class to learn how to say. For Mom they were conversation starters with total strangers. After the meal, Mom encouraged them all to wash up in the bathroom while she packed the rest of the sandwiches along with some apples and oranges into a grocery bag. Then she disappeared into her bedroom and soon emerged with a wad of money. I don’t know how much or even where it had come from but I was pretty sure it was all she had. Soon there were big hugs all around and Mom leading her new friends in a prayer. We stood there in the yard waving as their smoky car disappeared down the road.

That scene would be repeated over and over again for the rest of her life. Mom viewed her life as a series of divine appointments. She believed that she was placed on this earth , as she used to say, “for such a time as this”. My Mother’s life was filled with great irony. Although possessed with profound generosity, she never had much money. She created her famous “Give-Away Fund” one year at Christmas when right at the top of her Christmas list she wrote…”Money to give away”. Thus began her career as a small town Andrew Carnegie. She would patiently collect contributions, often from anonymous sources ,then sit back and wait for a glorious opportunity… to give it all away. You know…money laundering. When she passed away Friday morning, there was nothing left in the account.

Another major irony of Mom’s life was that despite the fact that she had only a high school education, there never existed a better Bible teacher than my mother. Every Sunday School class she was ever given to teach immediately became the biggest class in the church. Many of those classes may have started out as women’s classes, but before long they were couple’s classes, and bigger rooms were needed. For ten years I was lucky enough to teach a Sunday School class of my own…high school boys. Many times while preparing my lessons I would call Mom to ask a question…”Mom, I can’t find the verse about when King David wanted to pay for the threshing floor but the guy didn’t want to take his money… where IS that?” Without a moments hesitation, and with that special lilt she would get in her voice when quoting scripture, Mom would blurt out..” I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing…1 Chronicles 21: 24. I would always marvel…how does she DO that?! Before the internet and before…my mother was my concordance.

The final irony of Mom’s life was that she never got to travel the world. When she was a little girl her favorite song was..”Those Faraway Places With Strange sounding names” Unfortunately, during her active years she lacked the money to travel, ( perhaps because she was always giving it away!!) and during her retirement years, she lacked the health. Instead she read mountains of books about the world. She poured over every book she could get her hands on about Africa, India, South America, and China. The reason we have asked that in lieu of flowers today, gifts be made to the International Mission Board, is because since she never got a chance to go, Mom was committed to doing whatever she could to make it possible for others to go. The quickest route to a robust Sunday dinner argument in my house growing up was to say anything negative about the Cooperative Program. Sometimes I would needle her just to get her going. “Mom, the Cooperative Program is over-rated!” Then I’d just sit back and watch the show!! Mom had zero tolerance for anything that diverted funding from missions, even , and especially television ministries. I mention this to honor my Mom’s conviction that every worship service should make us uncomfortable at least once. Once, when I was a kid, I asked her why Dad said such hard things from the pulpit. She answered that it was every Christian’s job to comfort the afflicted,…and afflict the comfortable.

My Mother was never shy about offering anyone who would listen her rather strong opinions on a variety of topics. Theology, politics, the proper type of church music…and the appropriate decimal level for it’s performance. In this and many other ways, Mom was a woman born before her time. With her cooking skills she could have been Paula Deen, with her preaching skills she could have been Billy Graham. Even though the stage upon which she performed was smaller…my Mother was Lottie Moon without China, she was Amelia Earhart without the wings. But today, she is with her savior. All her pain is gone, there are no more tears, and she finally has wings like eagles. To those of us who remain, her legacy lifts us and our memories of her great life are more than enough to sustain us until we meet again.