What's Next for Home Missions?
An Interview About Learning Life Lessons...
High Risk and Hard Times
By Bill and Brenda Evans
If you live on the plains in a high-risk area, coyotes howl and tornadoes blow away property and lives. Husbands and sons die. Wives get divorced and have breast cancer. And that’s just your town, your street, your house.
Virginia Bunton has experienced all that. She is 84, a Christian laywoman, visionary donor, and great-grandmother in Liberal, Missouri. Recently, we asked what she has learned from the hard times she has faced in her life.
EVANS: Do you think hard times really make you a better person like people say?
BUNTON: Not always, but I’ve learned that good things can come out of hard times. I turned 16, graduated from high school the same day, and ran away from home with a girlfriend. Then I married a 21-year-old former sailor. Bad choices from the beginning! He drank, went off for days at a time, needed more women than me, and put everything on credit, so there was always debt. I’d get $2 here, $2 there, but when I shopped for groceries, I’d have to put some back because I didn’t have money to pay.
Then he’d make promises or do something nice. One time he left with the truck and came back with my grandmother’s old piano. I got piano lessons in exchange for a dozen eggs each time, and I still play.
It wasn’t all bad; a year into the marriage, my mother-in-law led me to the Lord. I also had my first son during that marriage. But I lived in fear, and after seven years, got a divorce. It was a difficult time.
EVANS: You’ve survived breast cancer as well. Then six years ago you lost Stephen, your first-born. Is the death of a child the worst thing a parent ever faces?
BUNTON: It has been for me. After the divorce, it was just Stephen and me, so we formed a bond. Later, I married Lee and we were blessed with Rodney. But Stephen and I stayed close, went for walks, talked. He had a heart for God but was bitter and lacked the discipline to restrain himself, so his family broke apart. It was also the suddenness. He died in a truck accident—no other vehicles involved, no witnesses. So there were never good answers about what actually happened.
But God is there, and He doesn’t make mistakes. I’ve learned you have to go through hard things, see hard things, before you know just how good God is.
EVANS: In 1982, you also experienced the suddenness of a Mid-western tornado. How does it feel to physically lose everything?
BUNTON: God was so good. I didn’t lose everything. One person was killed that day, but my husband Lee and my son Rodney, were spared. Oh my, I could have lost them! They heard it coming and ran into the garage where the door to the basement was. Just as they went into the basement, the twister blew the garage away, then the house. It also took three barns, most of our machinery, and the trees. That’s one thing I learned. God can pull up a tree like I pull up a weed. I also learned He can take one thing but leave another. The kitchen was mostly spared, and even the dishes were not broken. When we rebuilt, we put those cabinets in the new house.
EVANS: How did you deal with that kind of loss?
BUNTON: I was hurt. It was like my parents had whipped me, and I thought, “God, what did I do that you did this to me?” I don’t remember going to see the devastation but once. Lee was there every day, and I think he was hurt that I wasn’t out there more. But I couldn’t dwell on what was lost.
We were already building a house here in Liberal. I was wallpapering the new house the day the tornado hit the farm. I was better off getting this house ready and not thinking about the one we had lost. I remember quoting Job: “The Lord gives, the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Tribulation brings understanding, you know.
You also learn that you are not alone, that you need people. Probably 100 different people helped us—neighbors, relatives, even strangers. They moved everything that could be salvaged into shelters or barns then spent days and days picking up debris strewn like salt and pepper over our fields—pieces of buildings, trees, bits of machinery. That was early spring. We could not have planted crops if they had not done that. Our pastor and his wife and my mother-in-law brought food every day for the volunteers. But I think the best thing I learned is that what you think you own is not really yours. It’s all on loan from God.
EVANS: Sometimes when things are hard, we let our hearts go after our eyes and trust in physical things or even in other people rather than the Lord. Has that been an issue for you?
BUNTON: Let me say it this way: I’ve had nothing, and I’ve had everything. I’m not attached to things, but I am attached to people. We were poor as dust when I was a child, moved around a lot, then lived with my grandmother. Dad was never good at making a living and didn’t believe in government help, but he was a good father. We’d talk, and he was affectionate. I sat on his lap even after I was married. He taught me how to love my family.
When Lee and I married three years after my divorce, I learned how to take care of money. He wouldn’t buy anything but land on credit, not even houses. We always talked ahead of time: what to buy, where to put money. We didn’t buy what we didn’t need. We planned, saved, and looked forward to things. We were thrifty, not stingy. As the Lord blessed us, I began to feel a compulsion to benefit the Lord’s work.
EVANS: How did that compulsion begin?
BUNTON: When I got saved at 17, I went to a church that taught tithing, so it started there. Later, God sent me a Christian husband, Lee, and we tithed. Then in the late 1960s, I read God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew, and the Lord gave me a compulsion to give that I’ve never lost. I’ve run a Christian thrift shop, volunteered at a Christian radio station, and still volunteer at a hospital. We also began to give to our favorite ministries. When Lee died in 2001, I kept giving.
And that’s another thing; Lee and I made plans. Everything was in the safe—funeral plans, end of life plans, a living trust. At the end, Lee suffered so much and so long, that when his doctor told me that Lee wanted to die, I said, “Whatever Lee wants, we will do.” All our family gathered, and they removed the ventilator. Lee seemed happy, but still couldn’t speak. He lived on for maybe ten days. When the Lord took him, we were at peace. It was what he wanted. He was ready; everything was ready. But I still miss him sitting in his favorite chair.
Since then, I’ve made additional plans, including a gift annuity at Free Will Baptist Foundation. The income helps me with extra things like health insurance, long-term care insurance, things I need from Wal-Mart. When I’m gone, the residue benefits our denomination. My trust also gives some inheritance money to ministry. The compulsion to give just doesn’t go away. My granddaughter sings a song called “Sow Mercy.” That’s what I want to always do, and I know I still have things to learn.
About the Writers: Although retired from denominational leadership and teaching English, Bill and Brenda Evans still dabble in the things they’ve always done: reading, writing, speaking, debating, and enjoying their children and grandchildren. They live in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. Learn more about charitable giving options (as mentioned by Mrs. Bunton) at www.fwbgifts.org.