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I Want To Be Like My Savior PDF  | Print |  E-mail
“I Want To Be Like My Savior”
A Tribute to Mrs. Hedwig Jemison

(November 25, 1912—April 5, 2005)
Friday, April 8, 2005, at 11:00 AM, Greeneville SDA Church, Tennessee
By
Samuel Koranteng-Pipim, Ph.D
Director Public Campus Ministries, Michigan Conference


At this solemn hour, I cannot help but call your attention to two great, but contrasting, funerals being conducted today for two influential personalities. The first funeral is taking place in Europe for an 84-year old man. The other is being conducted in this country (USA) for a 92-year old woman. These two individuals live in two super-power nations.

250,000 people are attending the first funeral, with an additional 2 billion watching the event on TV screens around the world. But less than 100 close circuit friends and family are attending the other funeral.

Without doubt, Pope John Paul II was a remarkable man—one who greatly impacted the world and his church because of his religious and political convictions. At his death, millions of his admirers in Rome and around the world are urging his church leaders to put him on fast-track in making him a saint. His followers prayed for him while he was alive; but now that he is dead, they are praying to him, believing that he is right now in heaven.

Mrs. Hedwig Jemison was also a remarkable woman—one who touched many lives by the force of her biblical convictions and by the beauty of her Christian character. Consistent with biblical teaching, she was a saint when she was alive—having been justified by Christ’s forgiving grace and sanctified by Christ’s sustaining grace.  While alive, she was a woman of incessant prayer, and now in death she is resting peacefully awaiting the resurrection when the Lord Jesus shall return the second time for all the saints throughout the ages.

We have gathered here in Greeneville, Tennessee, to pay our last respect to this remarkable “Mother in Israel.” Hundreds who would have loved to be here this morning are unable to do so because of several reasons.  However, some of them have already phoned or emailed the bereaved family to share some of their fondest memories of her. A few of them have asked me to share with you some of their memories. I will incorporate their words in my own tribute, which I’ve titled “I Want To Be Like My Savior.” Mrs. Jemison uttered this statement to me at a particularly difficult period.

Before explaining why I have chosen this phrase as the title of my tribute, permit me to share with you what others have asked me to pass on to you.

How Her Friends and Colleagues Remember Her

 One person who was greatly impacted by Mrs. Jemison was Eld. William Fagal, currently an Associate Director of the E. G. White Estate in Silver Springs, Maryland. He remembers Mrs. Jemison as a woman of “many talents and strengths.  Her energy, her enthusiasm, her regal poise, her infectious laugh, her deep commitment to the Lord and His work, her willingness to stand firmly and openly for what she believed to be right--these are things we will treasure.  She had a deep and selfless interest in people that is worthy of emulation.”

Indeed, Mrs. Jemison’s interest in people extended to hundreds of international students who, over the years, came to study at Andrews University. Her Berrien Springs home on Kimmel Street was open to anyone who responded to her invitation. With a contagious smile, Mrs. Jemision would say to them “Come on in,” as she would usher them though her side door that had a little sign on it saying, "Backdoor Friends Are Best."

My wife Becky and I were recipients of her kindness and love. In fact, Mrs. Jemison practically treated us as her own children. She insisted that our children called her “Grandma J.”  She showered us with gifts and generous pieces of advice. She was a caring mother who counseled us and rebuked us—whenever we needed them. My wife Becky recalls that Mrs. Jemison was one person who always visited or called on the phone to pray with her and for her and myself anytime I was out of town.

A Studious Bible Student

Kathy Usilton (who worked closely with Mrs. Jemison  for 7 years at Adventists Affirm) remembers her in this way: “Usually every morning, she began her day very early in order to read the Bible, Spirit of Prophecy, Sabbath School lesson, her prayer book; she did this before the phone started to ring, and visitors to call. . . .She could go to the Bible and the Spirit of Prophecy and find passages to read according to the subject of conversation while talking to you. . . Her favorite topic to study was Grace. And next to the Bible her favorite book was Patriarchs and Prophets.”

A Woman of Prayer

Laurel Damsteegt, one of the first female MDiv graduates from the Seminary at Andrews University considered Mrs. Jemison as a true model of what a woman’s role ought to be in ministry (in contrast to those who are pushing for the unbiblical practice of ordaining women as elders or pastors). Laurel remembered many precious moments. But she describes one of her fondest memories of Mrs. Jemison in this way: “Aunt Hedy was a real pray-er. What a comfort to know she was praying for me, for the church! I remember when she fell, got broken, and couldn't walk. For awhile some of us were staying with her night and day. I had the opportunity of sleeping in her room one night. Midway through the night I heard this whispering. As I lay there in the darkness I realized in her pain she was praying and reciting the Bible. The whispering went on and on. They were her songs in the night.”

An Encourager

Dr. Raymond Holmes remembers her as one lady who greatly encouraged him when, as a converted Lutheran minister, he became an Adventist, and came to study at the Seminary. . . .

A Real Christian Lady

Our Michigan Conference President, Eld. Jay Gallimore, wants me to mention that Mrs. Jemison left behind an example of true Christian nobility and lofty ideals.

Perhaps I need to mention parenthetically that, indeed, Mrs. Jemison was a Christian lady par-excellence, and that her Christian nobility and lofty ideals continue to shape my life and that of hundreds of young people on secular university campuses in Michigan and beyond.

You see, Mrs. Jemison’s shiny white hair was not simply a reflection of her years of wisdom and Christian maturity, but also revealed a woman who cherished Christian grace, courtesy, and poise. She was exceptionally clean and loved the beauty of simplicity (this was reflected in how she kept her home well-organized, her carefully-manicured flower garden, her graceful dressing, and how she carried herself in her deportment).  

Mrs. Jemison was a very cheerful woman. Her favorite refrain in response to the question “How are you doing today” was “I have so much for which to be thankful.”

I recall the occasions when she tried to instruct me on how to be a gentleman and a decent minister. She went out of her way to give me lessons on how to dress properly at all times and especially for the pulpit, how to walk, stand, and sit erect, how to speak clearly, distinctly, and with conviction, and how to conduct myself at all times as a minister.

In 1998 when I was invited by the Michigan Conference to begin a new ministry to secular university students, I sought counsel from Mrs. Jemison on what she expects me to accomplish in this new ministry. She advised:

“Teach the young people to be clean, brilliant, and godly. Inspire them and model for them what it means to be Christian gentlemen and Christian ladies. And teach them how to be ready for their soon coming Savior.”

Mrs. Jemison’s advice has led us to adopt for our Michigan Conference Public Campus Ministry department a:

Vision: “A Bible-based revival movement in which every student is a missionary.”
Philosophy:  Excellence--“Academic excellence and spiritual excellence.”

Today, that missionary spirit and excellence is being manifested in the lives of our students and graduates wherever they go. This same spirit is shaping the General Youth Conference (GYC), a grassroots young people’s movement that originated from our secular campus ministries.

A Woman of Discernment and Courage

Mrs. Jemison had the gift of discernment. She clearly understood what Biblical principles were at stake on any given theological issue or practice, and was never afraid to do something about the situation.

For example, in the late 1980s, when troubling theological issues started to unfold in our church, Mrs. Jemison got a group of scholars and church leaders together to offer biblical and Spirit of prophecy direction to these new trends.  It is in this way that she became the “founding mother” of Adventists Affirm , a publication that has blessed the church worldwide. [1]

Those who were intimately connected with the production of the Adventists Affirm  magazine will readily confirm that, indeed,

“Mrs. Jemison WAS Adventists Affirm . She picked up the mail, served the subscriptions, wrote thank you notes, deposited the money, and shipped out the Affirms. If you called Affirm you talked to Mrs. Jemison. If you wrote to Affirm she saw the letter first. Not only that, she served on the editorial board, as its treasurer and secretary. But more than the physical opening of letters and running the mail route, Mrs. Jemison was backbone of Affirm. It was she who called you to remind you to get working on an article and pushed us busy people along on the editorial schedule. The years she selflessly gave to Affirm have held the tide on many an issue being faced by our denomination. What this one woman gave to our church cannot be calculated.”[2]
It may interest you to know that, in recognition of Mrs. Jemison’s great contribution to Adventists Affirm, last night (April 7, 2005), the Board of Directors of Adventists Affirm  met and voted unanimously to dedicate a new book to her memory. The book is entitled Here We Stand (and subtitled “Evaluating New Trends in the Church”). Written by some 36 respected thought leaders of the church, this forthcoming volume is scheduled to be released next month, and is destined to be one of the most important volumes to be published in the church in recent times. The title of the book—Here We Stand—aptly captures Mrs. Jemison’s deep commitment to the Lord and His work and her willingness to stand firmly and openly for what she believed to be right.

How I Remember Her

 A Woman Who Sought To Be Like Jesus

I identify with much of what others have said about her. But there is one event that I will always cherish in memory of Mrs. Jemison. It happened about 10 years ago, when this godly woman literally broke down before me in tears, saying “I want to be like my Savior.” That event led me to see another aspect of the courage and humility of Mrs. Jemison. The circumstances that led to this event is as follows:

Shortly after the 1995 General Conference session in Utrecht, The Netherlands, the Adventists Affirm editorial board was preparing an issue on readiness for the second coming. Typically, after assigned articles are submitted, every member of the editorial board is given copies of the article to read ahead of time. Then when we meet together one person would read the articles aloud and thereafter we shall offer our comments.

Now the editorial board had an unofficial policy to not publish any article unless everyone agreed. This may seem like a very simple policy. But it can be very challenging when you are dealing with very opinionated Bible scholars and students.

My assignment for that particular issue of Adventists Affirm was to address a sensitive and explosive subject in this country—namely, racism in the church. I wrote an article titled “The Triumph of Grace Over Race” and submitted it to the editorial board for their comments.  I would say that, on the whole, the article was well-received by the members of the editorial board. However, there was one sentence that Mrs. Jemison urged me to take out. That sentence read:

“When we truly get to know people of other races as real human beings,, we shall treat our fellow Christians of other races not only as brothers and sisters in Christ, but also brothers and sisters in-law.”
Mrs. Jemison objected to the inclusion of that sentence in the article because she felt that I was taking a position that went contrary to a particular statement in the Spirit of Prophecy, and that it would encourage people to pursue unwise interracial marriages. Since she felt that my statement went against an important principle in the Spirit of Prophecy, she urged me take that sentence out of my article.
 
I felt otherwise, and considered that sentence to be an important part of my argument, and a concern that was at the heart of the issue of racism. This was the first time I had to disagree with this saint—a woman, whose views I highly respected.
 
--She held out for 2 weeks. It was an agonizing period for both of us, delaying the time of publication (since Adventists Affirm would not publish anything until there was consensus among its editorial board members). During this difficult time, we both studied and prayed . . .

Our disagreement was not only delaying the publication of that particular issue, but also seemed to be fracturing the otherwise excellent spirit of consensus  that had been established at the editorial board.

After two long weeks of agonizing stalemate, I went to visit Mrs. Jemison in her home. I say “agonizing” because it was a period of intense prayer, study, and heart-searching for both of us (and Bill Fagal, who as editor was trying to find a way out). I was very relieved when she met me at the door and said she had been praying that day that somehow I’d stop by for us to talk.

After we discussed the need to find a resolution to the problem, I asked her:  “Mrs. Jemison, if your daughter and I were eligible singles, would you have objected to my marrying her, simply because I’m an African and black”?

Without any hesitation, Mrs. Jemison responded with pain in her voice: “Oh no, Samuel! I’d give my daughter to you in a heart beat!”

Then I asked her: “If so, why do you find it difficult to accept the fact that believers who treat their fellow Christians as a brothers and sisters-in Christ cannot treat them as brothers and sisters-in law?

At that point, Mrs. Jemison literally broke down in tears, saying: “Samuel, I’m so sorry. These past two weeks  have been one of the most painful and agonizing weeks in my entire life. I have wrestled with the Lord, His Word, and the Spirit of Prophecy. And as I asked the Lord to search my heart, I discovered how much I needed to surrender all to the Lord.”

She proceeded to explain to me some problems she had personally observed in the experiences of those in inter-racial marriages, and how the problems in one such marriage really hurt her.  . . . Then she added, “Samuel, will you forgive me? I want to be like my savior. I want Him to take away from my heart all hurt and anything that will stand between us.”

That statement “I want to be like my Savior,” and the circumstances that surrounded her uttering that statement, will forever stay with me. In that theological & emotional crisis, I saw a woman who  was not afraid to stand up for what she believed was right, but who was also humble enough to surrender her deeply held feelings and convictions when the Holy Spirit convicted her through the Word of God and the Spirit of Prophecy. I saw a woman who sought to please her Lord above any other thing.

(When, in the Fall of 1995, Adventists Affirm eventually published the article “The Triumph of Grace Over Race,” we modified that particular troubling sentence, taking into consideration Mrs. Jemison’s legitimate concerns. I believe that because of her we were able to articulate carefully how we should deal with the issue. The published sentence reads:
When we truly get to know people of other races as real human beings, we shall carefully evaluate our attitude toward them if, despite our strong and wise counsel to the contrary, they enter into interracial or intertribal marriages with those of our race; they will need our care and our support, and, no less than as our brothers- and sisters-in-law, they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.[3])

This event, along with many others, stamped in my mind Mrs. Jemison’s motivation in life: She desired above all else to please her Lord.   Thus, she was willing to stand up alone, if needs be. And in humility, she was willing to surrender her opinions and views—if inspired writings dictated that she did so.

A Real Saint

I share the conviction of Dr. Mercedes Dyer (retired professor of Educational Psychology and Counseling at Andrews University, and a member of Adventists Affirm Board of Directors), when she wrote this concerning Mrs. Jemison:

“Hedy Jemison was one of God’s true saints.  . . She was a humble, dedicated Christian lady, with courage to stand for the right under all circumstances. She lived as in the presence of God and inspired those who knew her to be loyal to revealed truth. She would not allow compromise to truth to sway her. She was as firm to truth as the needle to the pole.
Only eternity will reckon the full impact of her life. Though we shall greatly miss her, we look forward to a soon and joyful reunion when her loving Savior returns. Until then, let us pass on to others what Mrs. Jemison generously shared with us—her courage of biblical convictions and the beauty of her Christian character. And may her words “I want to be like My Savior” be our prayer every day. MARANATHA.

Endnotes

[1]    The description of Mrs. Jemison as the “founding mother” of Adventists Affirm is by William Fagal, the first editor of the publication.

[2]    Laurel Damsteegt’s tribute to her.

[3]    A explanatory endnote to the above statement read: Adventists contemplating interracial marriage need to be cautioned by Ellen White’s judicious “Counsel Regarding Intermarriage” (Selected Messages, 2:343-344), which points out some of the problems and pressures experienced by couples and children of interracial marriages. These factors add to the stresses commonly experienced in marriage. In most parts of the world, such factors make interracial marriages inadvisable at best and impossible to recommend. My concern here, however, probes the racial attitude that frowns on interracial/intertribal marriage or adoption for the wrong reasons, such as assuming that (1) some races are inherently inferior, or (2) intermarriage results in “blood mixing” or “mongrelization,” or that (3) it is a case of spiritual “unequal yoking together.” Such assumptions lead to the faulty conclusion that it is wrong or sinful for converted, Bible-believing Adventists of different tribes or races to be married. Too often this conclusion results in their rejection and isolation. Is it possible that some of our opposition to interracial marriages has more to do with our own racial biases than with Ellen White’s judicious counsel—a counsel that goes beyond the color line to include any kind of incompatibility (be it of religion, age, social status, ethnicity, etc.) that is likely to adversely affect the couple and the children who are involved in the marriage relationship? This question calls for honest searching of heart.