Irene Walker’s Thanksgiving Service | Hamilton Road Baptist Church, Bangor | Tuesday 18 October 2011
I was asked to give a summary of Irene’s years with Wycliffe: here is an edited version.
We are told that people today will typically have at least four careers. This is contrasted with previous generations who tended to have a job for life and a gold watch presented to them on retirement.
Irene Walker broke the mould.
It has been fascinating to read the four page document that was hand written by Irene and simply entitled My Life Story. As I look through it I count at least four careers and at least two retirements. The first retirement came in 1974.
Irene simply says: “At age 55 I took early retirement and went to Papua New Guinea with Wycliffe Bible Translators. Both my parents had died and I had no responsibilities so it was easy for me to take this step.”
And so in 1975 Wycliffe had a new short term member with many years experience in primary teaching and secretarial work .
During her first 3¼ years in Papua New Guinea, Irene was part of the support team mixing administrative roles with teaching the children of the translator families. Her role as pay clerk at the Ukarumpa Centre enabled her to get to know many of the nationals who worked there. Irene also visited Wycliffe families in remote village locations and attended several New Testament dedications.
As a short termer she returned home after this first term, but quickly sensed God guiding her to return for a further 3½ years with an assignment in the aviation department looking after the accounts and statistics. If the day job sounds routine, the other activities sound more adventurous.
Colleagues have found some extracts from her prayer letters during that second term in PNG.
November 1st was a very special day for the people of villages on the banks of the Sepik river for on that day their own Yessan-Mayo New testament was dedicated!…The previous day some of us had flown out from Ukarumpa and then travelled upriver in two canoes joined by planks of wood, enjoying the beauty of the river, the birds and foliage, and the little villages on the bank. It was a wonderful experience to rejoice with the people in song and prayer and reading from their own New Testaments.
I have acquired a car; bits of it are held together by tape but all vital parts work and it successfully negotiates mud, a flood, a plank bridge and herds of water buffalo between the centre and the aviation department.
This will be my last circular from PNG! I expect to leave here on 29th December, spend some time in Australia and London, and reach home towards the end of January. I shall be sorry to leave the many friends I have made here but look forward to renewing friendships at home. Several very dear ones have gone to be with the Lord during my time here; I shall miss them but know there will be a glad reunion in Heaven.
People at home ask me if I am coming back to PNG. I have no plans to do so. People here ask, ‘’What are you going to do at home?’’ I usually tell them I intend to put my feet up and have a good long rest. Just now I feel I need that but I know that in a few months I will be ready for fresh adventure! I am praying constantly for the Lord’s guidance and recently I have had some indication of His leading.
And in her Life Story Irene wrote: “Again I had visits to translation projects, travelling by plane, heliocopter, speed boat, canoe and motor bike. The most exciting dedication was on the island of Goodenough, where I had previously spent 6 weeks helping the translators and enjoying the beautiful island with its grass-skirted ladies.”
Several Wycliffe colleagues who knew Irene in PNG e-mailed me when they heard that she had passed away.
Irene left a very special legacy in the PNG Branch. Heather Patrick
I just want to respond to the news of Irene’s death and to say what good and positive memories I have of her. She was a dedicated, enthusiastic and much valued member of the team. Hamish Ralston
I have known Irene for many years. She’s been a dear, faithful friend. Those of us in the flats often got together for morning tea/coffee on Saturdays. Irene would open presents sent to her and then give them to others as gifts. She’s been a faithful financial and prayer supporter ever since leaving here. I’m going to miss her, but I know she’ll be glad to be able to move around in heaven. Lynn Wood
So having retired at 55 and spent 7 years as a “short termer” with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea, one would have thought that it was time to retire properly. Not at all! Irene’s fresh adventure was another career as part of the N. Ireland based team of Wycliffe UK.
And just like in PNG, Irene had a varied contribution to make. From 1981 to 1989 Irene:
- Spoke about Wycliffe in various churches and prayer meetings
- Did office work alongside the then N. Ireland Coordinators Ian and Claire Gray
- Was secretary and later a member if the Wycliffe N. Ireland Committee
- Ran the Wycliffe Bangor prayer group
- Coordinated the Call to Prayer project
- Spent a few months in Pakistan doing office work and again teaching missionary children
Paul and Linda Farncombe were Wycliffe members in Pakistan when Irene visited:
We and the girls really enjoyed her being in Hyderabad and have fond memories of Aunty Irene.
Paul now works at our centre in England and he passed on some records about Irene’s time with Wycliffe
9 December 1975 – Accepted as Short Term Assistant of Wycliffe Bible Translators ‘to serve as a bookkeeper in the Papua New Guinea Branch for a period of two years.’
31 March 1989 – Completion of Short Term service
Irene’s “short term service” with Wycliffe Bible Translators lasted almost 14 years!
By the time my wife Ruth and I were joining Wycliffe, Irene had reached 70 and had retired from the Wycliffe N. Ireland office and so we had very little official contact with her. However we remember a kind and generous lady who took a very prayerful interest in us and our two young children as we went off to Ivory Coast to teach in a mission boarding school.
Her interest in Wycliffe children is well illustrated in this message from Kenny and Andrea Woodrow, Wycliffe N. Ireland members currently in Tanzania:
We have very fond memories of time with Irene. When we first joined she invited us to visit her a few times and she was always interested in what we were doing, praying for us and interacting with [our son] Josh.
Many Wycliffe N. Ireland colleagues would have wished to be here this afternoon to share in giving thanks to God for a colleague, a friend, a prayer supporter, a selfless servant of God who brought her skills, experience and her passion to being part of the worldwide Wycliffe team bringing God’s Word to people in their heart languages.
Perhaps this last e-mail extract from Mary Endersby in Cameroon can act as a summary:
Irene was a real champion; she kept in touch with me steadily over many decades, even when my replies weren’t very forthcoming. It was always an encouragement to receive her letters – so well-written, informative and always carrying traces of that special sense of humour of hers . And she always reminded me of her prayers, and those of the Bangor prayer group.
It was a privilege to have known Irene and be blessed by her untiring ministry through her faithful partnership in prayer and correspondence. And I know I wasn’t the only one …!
Towards the end of her Life Story, Irene wrote these words:
“I am very thankful to God for an interesting and varied life.”
What more can I say, but echo Irene’s words and thank God for all the ways in which she served Him in His mission to His world.
John Hamilton 18 October 2011
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