When we think of those who have the greatest influence on the church of Jesus Christ around the world, we often think of those who are famous, those who have authored many books, those with podcasts that reach many, those who are artists or musicians. Yet not all who have impacted the growth of the church throughout history are famous.
My story begins in a home filled with anger and emotional abuse. I am child number three of four with one older brother and sister, and one younger brother. My parents were not believers, though they did drop us off at church to have time away from us.
But there was a refuge, a person who not only influenced my life, but who impacted the church around the world. She attended school only through 8th grade, wasn’t a world traveler, married a man who gambled, so money was tight, never lived more than 75 miles from where she grew up, and she never even learned to drive. But she loved Jesus and was faithful to what He asked of her.
This wonderful woman, Leah Danner, was my grandmother.
I Knew I Was Loved
Leah read Scripture daily and prayed, by name, for each of her three children and 11 grandchildren. As a young girl, when I spent the night at her house, I sat at the top of the stairs outside her bedroom and listened for my name. When I heard it, I knew I was loved.
One evening, as I was listening, I shifted my weight and the floorboards creaked. My grandmother discovered me sitting outside her door, but she wasn’t angry. Instead she invited me in, teaching me to pray for others. While I didn’t understand all that was happening in this spiritual world of hers, I knew it was special and that I was loved.
Leah was faithful in her local church, gave regularly, and served as janitor. She loved and showed Jesus to her neighbors and at her job in the sewing factory, choosing to follow Jesus no matter the circumstances. Her life reminds me of Colossians 3:1-17:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. …
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
Serving with Joy and Quietness
My grandmother’s life was filled with the qualities Paul describes. She was full of mercy and kindness, helping others in any way she could, evident every time she baked for or took flowers to a neighbor, and in the many cards she wrote. I saw humility in action as I watched her clean toilets, wash floors, and empty trashcans at church. Leah served with joy and quietness, not to be recognized, but simply to serve and do what she could.
And she did it all with a gentleness that only comes from God. Leah showed patience while she waited for rides and as she prayed for the salvation of her family, and she taught me to be quick to forgive. Everything she did was motivated by her love for God and for her family.
At age 13, I gave my life to Jesus, and three years later, my parents gave their lives to Jesus – fruit of Leah’s faithful prayers.
I am who I am today because of her influence and prayers. Together with my pastor, Leah encouraged me to go to Bible college, and though she never had much money, she always made sure I had stamps to write home.
Was she perfect? She would be the first to say, “Absolutely not!” but she was faithful.
Encouraging One Another
My grandmother prayed for God to direct my steps, that I would follow His will for my life. And I have. For 28 years, I have served alongside my husband Randy, first when he was director of missions and then as a pastor in the Evangelical Congregational Church at various pastorates. Over the years, I had the privilege of traveling with him to Japan, India, Nepal, Mexico, Liberia, and other countries, where I was able to share my story and encourage other pastor’s wives.
At conferences in Liberia and Nepal, I was asked to share about the role of women in church growth. As I stepped onto the platforms, looking out at between 250 and 350 Nepalese and Liberian believers, I was terrified to be sharing with such large groups, yet I also sensed my grandmother standing beside me, encouraging me, and I remembered all those prayers she faithfully prayed for me to follow God’s direction. At that moment, I realized her influence was part of my encouragement to the nations. Though Leah has been in heaven for more than 20 years, her impact on the church around the world continues today.
Not all who influence the Kingdom of God are famous. Many are those who faithfully pray, humbly serving right where they are, however they are able. While their names may not be known and their impact unrecognized this side of Heaven, God sees all they have done and rejoices in their faithfulness.
Impacting the World
How did Leah Danner impact the church around the world?
Faithfully. Humbly. Generously. And joyfully. With mercy and kindness. Reading Scripture daily and praying for others by name.
How can you serve with joy and generosity today? Who can you pray for by name?
Carla and her husband Randy of 32 years have two grown children Caleb (30), who lives in Columbus OH, and Leah (28), a teacher in New Stuyahok, Alaska, and a cat named Boomer. Carla is a pastor’s wife at Bethel EC Church, where she teaches Sunday School classes for grades 3, 4 , and 5. In January, 2014, Carla and her husband moved from central Pennsylvania to Dixon, Illinois, where they enjoy riding bikes and hiking in the woods. Carla has a passion to mentor young moms and encourage pastor’s wives.