Gwen Liddell has been one busy lady.
During the span of her nearly 102 years, she has taught hundreds of elementary school children, worked as an accountant, volunteered thousands of hours in a hospital, facilitated prayer and Bible study times for seniors, served in her church’s Awana club, and participated in a mission prayer group. And that’s just on her home mission field.
Through her support of TEAM missionaries and ministries for over 60 years, Gwen’s generosity and compassion have also reached more than 6,500 miles around the globe from her home in Winnipeg, Manitoba, all the way to the nation of Pakistan.
A Dream on Hold
Raised in a Christian home, Gwen first started to think about getting involved in missions in her early 20s. After completing Bible school, she applied with one organization to serve overseas.
“They turned me down,” Gwen recalled. “They said my health wasn’t good; I wouldn’t live that long on the mission field.”
And just like that, Gwen’s dreams for missions were put on hold. This unexpected rejection came just as much of the world entered “the war years,” as Gwen calls them, and nearly a decade would pass before she would pick up that vision again.
‘It’s a Relief’
Gwen was first introduced to the work of TEAM through her good friends Andrew and Olive Karsgaard.*
They had sensed God directing them into medical mission work and joined TEAM after Andrew completed medical school. The end of World War II meant that travel restrictions were lifted, and the next year, Andrew and Olive sailed for India. They arrived in November of 1946, and that’s when Gwen joined their support team.
“It’s a relief,” Andrew said in April 2016. “To know you have faithful supporters … just takes any worry you’ve got off your shoulders. You can’t carry on if you don’t have support!”
Gwen supported the couple in prayer as well. And the Karsgaards couldn’t help but see God’s provision and answered prayer.
“Over and over, the timing of God was evident,” said Andrew.
Gwen faithfully supported Andrew and Olive during the tense days following the creation of the new nations of India and Pakistan, the subsequent communal violence, and Andrew’s work among tens of thousands of refugees suffering from dysentery, cholera, typhoid and other illnesses. Her support was there through Andrew’s additional training in ophthalmology, Olive’s careful supervision of anesthesia during each of Andrew’s surgeries, and the founding and development of Bach Christian Hospital in northern Pakistan ("Legacy: Andrew & Olive Karsgaard," page 31).
Part of a Praying Community
After the Karsgaards returned to Canada in 1962 to care for Olive’s health needs, Andrew told Gwen about Bob and Madeline Blanchard, another TEAM couple who needed support. They, too, were preparing for medical missionary service. When Bob and Madeline left for Pakistan in April 1966 to serve at Bach Christian Hospital, Gwen was part of the team that made it possible for them to go.
Throughout the six-and-a-half years the Blanchards served in Pakistan, Gwen’s prayerful and financial support steadily continued. Having a support team was not just a valuable asset, the Blanchards learned; it was a vital necessity.
“It put us in touch with a praying community,” Madeline said. “It connects you with so many people.”
Bob remembered one instance when God provided a special piece of medical equipment called a Stryker frame. Less than a week later, a woman was brought to the hospital, paralyzed from the neck down, unconscious and barely breathing. Tuberculosis had eaten away at a neck vertebra until it collapsed on her spinal cord, threatening vital functions. She was barely alive, and Bob wasn’t sure if she would make it through the night. The newly arrived Stryker frame was just what this woman needed to hold her spine in its proper place and free the nerves from compression.
When Bob checked on the woman the next morning, she was not only alive, but fully conscious. Over time, and after several other procedures, she made a full recovery. The experience this woman and her extended family had at the hospital made a profound impact on their hearts and changed their lives forever.
Gwen’s investment in the Blanchards’ lives continued when Madeline brought their youngest son to Minneapolis for major medical treatment. When Gwen heard the news, she took time to travel from northern Minnesota, where she was teaching at the time, and visit Madeline at the hospital.
miles and time zones vanish when his children reach out to love and strengthen one another
Friendship and Kindness
When the Blanchards first arrived in Pakistan in 1966, they were joined by Eunice Hill, a school teacher and fellow TEAM missionary. Gwen first connected with Eunice through a missions prayer group in the Winnipeg area — Bob and Madeline were on the list of missionaries the group prayed for, and so was Eunice.
Through her 40 years of service in Pakistan, Eunice’s responsibilities ranged from elementary school teacher to boarding school dorm mom (both at Murree Christian School for missionary children) to missionary care and hospitality. When terrorists attacked the school in 2002, she saw the value of trauma care and counseling for missionaries and their children. The scope of her experience on the mission field gave her a deep understanding of missionary needs that served her well when she entered retirement and began serving with the Timothy Network, a part of TEAM's member care program.
In addition to supporting Eunice through prayer and finances, Gwen was also a source of great encouragement. During Eunice’s furloughs, Gwen would take her out for meals, ask her questions about her missionary life and simply show kindness and concern.
“Gwen was just always there,” said Eunice, “and she was an amazing person. She was a terrific role model, because no matter how much she had aged in the five years I’d been away, she was still doing her thousands of hours in volunteer work.”
Since Eunice retired in 2006 and returned to Winnipeg, Gwen has continued her support and stayed connected; their friendship has been a real blessing to Eunice.
An Impact that Continues
When Gwen Liddell was rejected for missionary service, it did not stop her from becoming a missionary. Indeed, it’s almost as if she took that pronouncement as a dare.
Through her prayers, donations, letters, visits and encouragement, Gwen has restored sight through cataract surgeries, repaired intestinal ruptures, delivered babies and grafted bone to strengthen a collapsed spine. She has narrowly escaped death from rioting mobs, traveled on sooty trains, hiked the foothills of the Himalayas and cared for suffering refugees. She’s comforted tearful boarding school children who were away from home for the first time, watched students grow up to be international diplomats, and provided a listening and compassionate ear to missionaries following traumatic events.
And this is only a glimpse of Gwen’s impact, which continues to this day!
So it is for each member of the family of God who follows his command to “love one another.” Somehow, in God’s economy and by his grace, miles and time zones vanish when his children reach out to love and strengthen one another; his purposes are accomplished, and his kingdom is established all around the world.
*Olive passed away in May 2001, Andrew in June 2016.