Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…
Solemnly, one by one, we filed by and tossed dirt and flowers onto her casket, which had already been lowered into the ground. I marveled at the weather; even on this chilly, windy January day, the sun was shining. She would have been pleased.
The eclectic gathering represented a broad swath of geography comprising her relationships: family, friends, co-laborers, church members, missionary colleagues, three adult children and spouses, eight granddaughters, and her beloved husband. From the present to the distant past, each had a reason to celebrate her life.
The Anglican priest, Father Michael, encouraged our group to linger. I lingered. I wanted moments alone to think about her life, and about death’s demand that I bid farewell. Though I could not literally be alone, I was alone in my thoughts. A day in 1979 came to mind, a day when she walked into my home and into my life. Now standing here at her grave, I wanted desperately to sing: Till we meet, till we meet, till we meet at Jesus Feet.
Connie sensed my need for a hug, and in a tearful embrace, we marveled at the beauty of the trees around the site. Our friend loved the forest, and the stately trees would always be a reminder of her appreciation of nature’s beauty.
This one-of-a-kind woman was Gosia Stiff, a woman of faith who made a habit of saying yes to God. Born in 1955 in Łodz, Poland, Gosia represented a generation of Poles whose parents suffered severely in World War II, who themselves witnessed the dramatic fall of Communism, and whose children grew up in a free and democratic nation.
After university, when her illegal choice could have sent her to prison, she was one of the first—in our living room—who said yes to God, and joined a clandestine global mission organization operating in subterfuge for the purpose of helping to fulfill the Great Commission.
When her beloved Poland threw off the yoke of Communism and its subservient rule to the Soviet Union, she said yes to God and moved her family to the heart of that very nation which had ruthlessly oppressed her own people, lo even her own family. All of those years of being forced in school to learn Russian would now be redeemed. Her language expertise equipped her to shine like stars in the universe as (she held) out the word of life (Philippians 2:15-16).
When her body suffered the ravages of cancer she said yes to God; not my will but Thine be done.
Unique features about her funeral service bear comment. Her husband Roy gave the homily. How often does that occur? This had been her request, and he somehow managed to make a powerful presentation, which glorified God and honored his wife.
Later, we collectively listened as her children and their spouses (with eight sweet granddaughters nearby) paid tribute. One could not escape the realization of Proverbs 31:28: Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her…
Throughout the day, over and over again a phrase—The Gospel—occurred. For Gosia, the gospel framed her life and the gospel framed the comments about her life. She heard the gospel, she believed the gospel, and she gave her life for the spread of the gospel. Relentlessly, she shared her faith in Christ, and she trained countless others to do likewise.
Four bouts with cancer and twenty years of suffering failed to dampen her obedience to God and to His sovereignty in her life. She would take pause for treatment, and then she would persevere in her calling.
Gosia was direct, once asking a colleague if his sleepiness indicated boredom with the Scripture passage she was teaching. She was humorous, asking her husband what effort he was making to try and become an interesting person. She was determined, taking her family to visit art museums and attend operas in Moscow in order to fully embrace the Russian culture where they lived.
Swirling inside of me now is sorrow at our loss, and yet joy for her gain. Death is our destiny; Death is demanding; Death is final—unless, like Gosia, we live our lives saying yes to God.
Małgorzata Hanna Stiff
21 February 1955 – 21 January 2018