At the age of 104, retired missionary Pauline Stammers still has a sparkle in her eye.
Incredible though it seems, her love for the peoples of the Middle East spans almost 90 years and remains utterly undimmed.
Now living in sheltered accommodation in Suffolk, her home is filled with the memories of a life spent serving God by taking his gospel to the Middle East.
On the wall hangs a plaque with John 3:16 in Arabic, there are notes and letters from friends and colleagues tucked away in bookshelves, along with several photograph albums, scrapbooks put together to celebrate milestone birthdays, and a timeline of her life. Close by her side is an obviously much-loved and well-read Bible.
The impact she has made on people’s lives is clear – as is the impact she has made for Christ.
Pauline, pictured right in the late 1930s, served in Syria and Lebanon from the 1930s to the 1970s but her call to mission came even earlier.
Her heart was stirred by hearing a talk on the beach at Southwold during a Scripture Union outing in 1928. The preacher talked about God’s love for the Syrian people, focussing on the white stone mentioned in the letter to the church in Pergamum in Revelation.
He challenged the children to find a white stone and write their own name on it if they wanted to serve the Lord on the mission field. Aged just 16, Pauline responded to that challenge and joined the junior branch of the British Syrian Mission, the Friends of Syria.
She kept that flame burning through university, through her early teaching jobs and through Bible College in London before finally heading out to the Middle East in 1938 with BSM, which later became MECO and is now part of Serving In Mission.
She still vividly remembers parts of her early life in the Middle East, long before the conflicts which have scarred the region in recent decades blew up.
Pauline lived first at a mission school in Beirut and can recall needing help to put her mosquito net in place and having to supervise a daily drill class for the teachers.
She soon moved out to live with a Lebanese family and begin studying Arabic, which she picked up very quickly. Even today, she still has a great command of the language, speaking and writing it beautifully. Once she had picked up enough of the language, Pauline, pictured above (back row, centre) with some of her British Syrian Mission colleagues in 1949, started teaching in mission schools, serving in Damascus, Tyre and Beirut.
She said: “In Damascus, I taught at St Paul’s School, which was in the old Christian quarter of the city just off Straight Street, where the apostle Paul once stayed.
“We lived and worked in the city but would often take the bus out to visit the nearby villages with the evangelists.
“They would go into the market place and talk to the men, while I and the other women would go into the houses to talk to the women.
“It was all so easy back then – we had complete freedom to share the gospel and talk about Jesus.”
Pauline’s first home assignment did not come until 1945, once the Second World War was over. When she returned to the Middle East, she taught in Tyre and then in Hasbeya, a small village in the south of Lebanon near the Syrian border, where she spent much of the next 25 years. (Her school there is pictured above). She worked among the Druze community, mainly with the women and children, and was greatly loved there. Always, she was on hand to help mission workers learn Arabic.
The civil war which ripped Lebanon apart in 1975 forced Pauline to move to Beirut, where again she ministered to many women.
A year later, most of the team were evacuated to Cyprus, where Pauline took on the dedicated role of Arabic teacher to the mission workers. She certainly did a good job, because after she retired in 1978 she was invited back to care for and supervise the language students.
Pauline set up home in Suffolk with her sister Joan, who had been a missionary in India. They had a flat in a house they shared with Pauline’s cousin, Helen Rose, and her former colleague from Lebanon, Lottie Farquharson.
During retirement, she was often asked to act as a translator for Arabic speakers involved with the police or in court. Pauline and her friends organised regular prayer meetings for the Middle East and remained very active in the church. They always encouraged churches to be outward-looking and mission-minded.
Eventually, Lottie and Helen moved to sheltered accommodation and when Pauline could no longer manage at home she followed them into Finborough Court, where she lives surrounded and supported by her many Christian friends and relatives.
Her love for the Middle East is as strong today as it has ever been. She prefers not to think about the terrible wars which are destroying parts of the region today and is visibly moved by looking at pictures of her time there and of the people she worked among.
She clearly had a huge impact on the lives of many children, several of whom keep in touch with her by phoning her and sending her birthday cards and letters, some from as far afield as America.
In a tribute for her 100th birthday, one of them paid a special visit from Lebanon while another described her as ‘a true missionary, demonstrating the love of Jesus to everyone’.
It is impossible to think of a more fitting way to describe a woman who has spent her life serving the Lord and the people of the Middle East.
Give thanks for Pauline’s work in the Middle East and her years of service there.
For more Middle Eastern people to come to know Christ.
For more mission workers to be raised up to work in the Middle East.