Even after becoming a believer and sensing a call to full-time ministry, being a missionary was never really on my radar screen. But throughout my childhood my life was profoundly shaped by a missionary and friend, who also happened to be my grandmother.
Eula Ockwell, my Dad’s Mum (I called her “Ma”), went to be with Jesus at the age of 89 on November 11. She was sick and ready to go home. It was an undeniable blessing for her but still a big loss for the rest of us.
She was a classy lady who spoke with an Australian accent reminiscent of its English origins. For those who’ve heard me talk about my grandmother, you’ve probably heard me draw the parallel to Maggie Smith’s character in Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess. Like the Dowager Countess, Ma was not always at the center of the conversation but when she entered, you knew about it!
As a missionary she took a six week trip by boat to serve in Kenya in the 1950s. She knew the pain of losing loved ones and being far from home. Both her mother and father passed away while she was on the mission field and she found out by telegram with no chance of returning to grieve with her family.
In 2016 I found out about Ma’s passing by iMessage and was able to speak to my parents via FaceTime almost immediately after she passed. I was so blessed to be able to offer a short tribute to Ma via this video (I’ve included the text of my tribute below too).
She was indeed the missionary I’ve known all my life and I am so thankful for the way the Lord used her to shape who I am today.
Tribute to Eula Ockwell (November 18, 2016)
My name is Peter Morris and I am Eula’s oldest grandchild. I am very sorry not to be with you today but my family and I are praying for you all and I am very thankful for the chance to share this tribute to my grandmother.
One of the great joys and blessings of my life is to have counted my grandmother as a friend. She was always so kind, so patient, such a sharp wit. I don’t know a single person who met her – even if just for a few moments – and didn’t like her.
One of the enduring stories of my childhood is the time Ma took me to a cafe after I’d watched a particularly captivating episode of Play School about menus. She patiently read me the whole menu before I decisively and creatively landed on “lemonade and chips, please!”
Throughout high school, almost every Friday night I would catch the train to Gordon after school and have an early dinner with Ma before she’d drive me to Bible Study. The kitchen table was always ready with crumpets or a special biscuit and Ma was ready for conversation.
There were, of course, specific conversations where we talked about the strengths and weaknesses of the Anglican church, and many conversations where Ma assured me that Australia would be a much better place if only Bob Menzies were still Prime Minister.
But what stands out in my memory is not the specific conversations but the fact that this kind, patient, precious woman, was willing to sit and be present with her teenage grandson. I certainly didn’t fully appreciate the gift it was at the time and even now I’m only starting to fully appreciate her generosity in welcoming me into her home on those many Friday nights. Hundreds of hours, maybe thousands, just being present.
And that presence went well beyond Friday night dinners. When I reflect on many key moments in my life – she was there. Birthdays. Grandparents days. Airport farewells. Christmas. Uni graduation. My wedding. She was there.
She was a person of profound influence in my life. She was the one who found the postage stamp sized advertisement for a Rotary Scholarship that took me to America, setting me on the path that now has me sitting here in Costa Rica, serving as a missionary with my American wife and three dual citizen children.
I consider it a precious gift to have seen my grandmother play with my three children. For them to have memories of Mala. For them to recognize her in photos, to remember what she was like.
She was also a person with a sharp wit who – even to the end – would surprise you with a quotable one-liner. The most memorable line for me was when she was talking about the nature of modern worship songs. She looked at me very seriously and said, “the songs these young people sing today, they keep saying the same thing over and over again, and I think to myself, “do they think God’s deaf?””
Having lived away from Australia for more than 15 years, a precious memory has been how Ma answered the phone. A little clearing of the throat, almost a hint of surprise that someone was calling, then that familiar, “9498 4438.” I would often say her name in a funny way and she would instantly respond with such kindness in her voice, “hello darling, how are you?”
And as someone who trusts Jesus and knows that my grandmother trusted Him. I mourn her loss today with such joy and confidence in the fact that she is with Jesus now. I also mourn with the confident assurance that one day, I will see her again and hear her say in that kind distinctive voice, “hello darling, how are you?”