I first met Missy in 2010. We were both attending a Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia gathering. At lunch that day, Missy was presented with the Sara Owen Etheridge Scholarship. During the presentation, the BWIM of Georgia president briefly shared about Missy’s work with refugee women and about her dream to make that her life work. The story touched my heart in ways I can’t even explain, and when the lunch was over, I made my way over to Missy and said, “I need to give you a hug.” And so our friendship began—with a hug.
Over the next few years, we shared a good number of hugs. Missy was a student at McAfee School of Theology, and my office is on the McAfee campus. She often made her way to my office, and we sat and talked. During those years, she began her work in Uganda—living there for a summer and then for a semester. Traveling as often as she could to the country that had captured her heart, to minister with and to the refugee women with whom she had fallen in love.
When Missy was back in Georgia, she always returned to my office, teaching me about the geopolitical systems that had such a devastating impact on women and children, telling me heartbreaking stories about the women she had grown to love there.
In the summer of 2012, Missy was commissioned to serve in Uganda as field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Her passion had officially become her life’s work. On December 31, I attended her ordination service, a beautiful, simple service. Near the end of the service, I made my way to the front to participate in the laying on of hands, but when my turn came, I instead wrap my arms around Missy, hugging her close to me and offering her a few words of blessing.
Missy spent the early months of 2013 traveling and raising funds for her new ministry role. I saw her occasionally during those busy days, thankful that she made the time to visit with me. A few weeks before she was scheduled to leave for Uganda she stopped by to see me. Missy walked into my office wearing a lovely black coat. My first words to her were, “Oh, Missy, tell me where you got your coat. I have been looking for a black coat and haven’t been able to find one that I like.” And Missy replied, “When I leave for Uganda, I will give you my coat. I won’t need a coat there.” A few weeks later, on her last days in the states, Missy came by for one last visit, one last hug—and she brought me her black coat.
We Atlanta folks had an unusually harsh winter this past year—we lived through Snowocalypse in January 2014 and experienced much cooler temperatures than is normal into April. All winter long, I took my “new” black coat out of the closet and put it on before heading out the door. And every single time that I slipped my arms into that coat and pulled it around me, I thought of Missy. I felt her presence. I imagined her arms around me, hugging me close.
Missy’s black coat was a gift, and not a just a gift of warm clothing. That coat is for me a symbol of love and the mysterious ways in which God connects us with each other. It is a reminder of grace and friendship. It is a reminder that no matter how far away Missy is—she is still close in my heart.
Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.