Ninety years ago this month Betty Colburn was born in Kansas City, Kansas.

Sixty years ago she agreed to be my wife, and became Betty Colburn Henderson.

Fourteen months ago my Betty died, and I have now had time to reflect on the enormous impact she had on so many people, what with her quiet and authentic love for Jesus Christ. During this past year I have begun giving thought to a request, by many who are close to me, to write my memoirs (so they can figure out why I think as I do—or maybe why I am as weird as I am?). In the process of initiating this project I come back inescapably to the reality that Betty was the most dominant influence in my whole adult career, and yet was so wise and modest in her ministry to me. And our four children quite agree.

Wisdom and prayer may be the virtues that defined her the most. I depended upon her wisdom and her evaluations and her judgments far more than my own. But this evaluation is not mine alone. In these intervening months messages continue to come from a wide spectrum of her former young friends of what a transforming influence she was on them. She was to them a mentor, a wisdom figure, a mother-figure, a teacher, a model, and a prayer-partner … but always in her quiet self-effacing way.

I think it was Henri Nouwen who taught us to: “Seek littleness.” That was Betty. She eschewed anything that would bring attention to herself. But she loved people genuinely and quietly.

At the same time, she was part of some pretty impressive and influential councils on the larger church scene, but always doubting that she was having any influence on them. But that doubt was countered by those who have reported back to me that it was her quiet authenticity and wisdom that had huge influence on the rest.

She was always the prayer warrior at my back. She was always my champion, but she was also one who could guide me with her eye. A look from her could halt me in my tracks when she thought I was being hasty or unwise (which was frequently). She was thrifty with her complements about my teaching and my writings as a more public figure, but her contributions were all the more appreciated when she evaluated them because they were both affirming and substantive.

She was a woman of prayer. Ask her children! She was a mentor to numerous, primarily, young women (though she taught many groups of both men and women) both by her teaching them in small groups, or her one-on-one conversations. She prayed with them.  Sometimes when someone would ask Betty to pray for them, she would refuse only to offer to pray with them. Over coffee, over lunch, over the phone she quietly bore fruit right down to the day she died at eighty-eight years. At the reception after her memorial service the words of appreciation kept coming of how her quiet example and wisdom had transformed lives (that she even, unknowingly, kept one person from suicide). You would never have learned this from my Betty.

She was a giant. She was the most significant factor in my adult life and career. She is the one who deserves credit for whatever I may have accomplished.

My latest book (soon to be published by Wipf and Stock under the title: The Church and the Relentless Darkness) is dedicated to her, because literally her last spoken words were her prayers for the completion and fruitfulness of this book, and for my health to be able to finish it. It is dedicated to her.

I could not resist offering this tribute to this remarkable woman—partner, wisdom figure, lover, wife, mother, friend, and model of authentic Christian discipleship and love—on this blog.

May Jesus Christ give to his church a great host of such incarnations of his New Creation.


About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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