Full Circle

It never ceases to amaze me how God uniquely works. Mary Klein’s story began in 1959, and my memories of my grandmother are still vivid and clear as if it was yesterday. When I would visit her, the aroma of fresh bread and caribou stew would fill my nose. After she came to hug and kiss me, I’d hear, “Go eat, beebe!” with her thick Native Alaskan accent.

Love poured from my grandmother to my mother, Cecelia; her two sisters, Marilyn and Linda; my cousins; siblings; and me. 

As Christians, we knew that this love developed through a deep communion with God. My grandmother had a unique love for Jesus, and her walk with Christ affected everyone she came into contact with.  

It wasn’t always like this though. She grew up with a rough upbringing, surviving sexual abuse, a broken home and numerous tragedies. How did the love of Jesus overcome and conquer her brokenness? That became her life story.

There were incredible missionary families that came to Dillingham, Alaska: Kenneth and Evelyn Wren, Clarence and Mae Wren, and John and Phyllis Libby, as well as many more who made great sacrifices to spread the Seventh-day Adventist gospel. These couples were closest to my family and modeled so wonderfully what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Specifically, John and Phyllis Libby supported my grandmother during a really tough transition. An Adventist, with his own agenda, came to Dillingham proclaiming his opinions about the health message. My grandfather grasped his twisted teachings and fanatically threw away the majority of their food, which wasn’t easy to come by in those days, especially in bush Alaska. All that hard work of preparing fish and meat for the winter … out! Unclean! Dirty! These familiar words once beat the Native culture out of my grandmother when earlier (non-Adventist) missionaries came telling the natives they were savages who needed to clean themselves up.

There were some who portrayed Jesus in a terrible light, introducing child molestation and alcohol into our culture. When my grandmother spoke her native Yupik language in school, her hand was hit by a ruler; if they were really bad — behaving in a cultural manner — the children were made to kneel on rock salt. These memories surfaced just as my grandmother was falling in love with the true Adventist gospel that was warming her heart from the brokenness she’d experienced. But fanaticism has a way of destroying that.

As she was about to give up on Adventist Christianity, John and Phyllis Libby ministered to her by sharing that Jesus doesn’t judge us by what we eat but “looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). As they continued to disciple my grandmother, a beautiful relationship developed between her and her Savior. As time went on, the love she showed her family was the fruit of what Jesus did through the Libbys.

My grandmother was one of my main spiritual pillars along with my mother, Cecelia Angasan, and through their discipleship the Lord called me into ministry. After graduating from Walla Walla University with a bachelor's degree in theology, I was called to my first church in Togiak, Alaska. I am now a Master of Divinity student at the Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich.

I had the privilege of baptizing John and Phyllis Libby’s great-grandsons, Ellison and Grayson Libby, in July 2016. The two boys were in my primary class at the Southcentral Alaska Camp Meeting for two years before they made their decision to follow Jesus. The previous summer (July 2015), I made an altar call to these 7- to 9-year-olds, asking, “Who would like to give their heart to Jesus?” Ellison and Grayson were the first ones to stand as the Holy Spirit moved their hearts. In my absence, fellow pastor David Shin gave them Bible studies, and on July 23, 2016, I had the pleasure of baptizing these two wonderful boys.

Who would have thought a missionary couple would come to Dillingham with compassion for my grandmother’s broken heart and in turn God would circle the overflow of that ministry back to the missionary couple’s great-grandchildren? The Lord has a beautiful sense of humor.

The moral of this full-circle story? It all started with compassion: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32, ESV).

Editor's Note: As space allows, the Gleaner provides the You Said It section for Northwest Adventist members to share their personal testimonies or inspirational thoughts. The views expressed are those of the writer and may not fully reflect those of the North Pacific Union Conference or its leadership. We welcome submissions of 500–900 words for You Said It.

Featured in: February 2017