This is our Guon-Sā-Nim. This phrase was accompanied by my introduction to an older women, often bent and wrinkled, but also full of a quiet joy and peace. She would smile quietly, even shyly as the women of the church surrounded her and spoke of her dedication to prayer and service to others. The first time I met this woman, I just smiled and nodded as if I understood what was going on. But, when the experience was repeated, I became especially curious.
I was in South Korea with one of our graduate students and his wife visiting churches and holding classes and seminars. When we had a quiet moment I asked my hostess what a Guon-Sā-Nim was. She said,
She is our Anna. She is a widow who has no family so she lives at the church and is constant in prayer. She attends to other women who do not have husbands and to young women who need to learn how to be good wives.
I was stunned.
These churches took seriously the instructions from the Pastoral Epistles on how we are to treat widows who have no family or other means of support. This “Anna” met regularly with the elders to report on what she was doing and to represent the needs of the women of the church. I have thought about this practice for years now.
I have been widowed twice.
The first experience was through the death of my spouse at age 21. and the second by the death of my marriage through divorce at age 62. Each time I felt an emptiness and lack of purpose or direction that is hard to explain and very painful.
Where once I had been part of the core of the church, I found myself in each instance on the margins. In fact church became a painful experience that I dreaded or avoided it entirely. That is until I thought of Anna.
My experience in the Korean church had given new life to this ancient story and new hope to me. Through much prayer, fasting, and support of others I came to realize that my place in the church may have changed, but I am still a vital part of the body of Christ.It is never too late in the Kingdom of God for me, or anyone else, to find renewed hope and purpose. And it I owe much of this insight to the first Anna and the many others I have encountered.
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment [the dedication of the infant Jesus at the temple] she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38, emphasis mine).
May each of us in this season of Advent realize once again the privilege of knowing Jesus and speak of the redemption he offers to all who will listen whatever our situation in life.
Jeanene Reese Highland Church of Christ Abilene, Texas