I was a first semester freshman at Southeastern Bible College, walking down the hallway minding my own business when the young lady with big brown eyes called to me, "Hey, can you wait here and open this door for us when we get back?"
Now, it was just seconds until curfew and the excitement level in those eyes spoke of mischief not a prayer-meeting; she sensed my hesitancy.
"It's okay. I'm Sandra Bass! I'm a proctor!"
So, I waited by the door and obediently opened it when she and her roommate came running back in breathless and squealing with laughter. (They had gone out to "roll" the car of a young male ministerial student who had caught the eye of the roommate.) I turned to walk away. They were busy giggling and congratulating themselves; this party didn't need other attenders.
But Sandra noticed and called out, "Hey, thanks! What's your name?"
For me, this was a divine appointment. A friendship was born between the naive, wide-eyed freshman (me) and the popular, vivacious, lover of people (Sandra) that would develop and span decades.
We seldom ate together in the cafeteria - she was an upper class man. We had no classes together - different majors. But our assigned chapel seating placed her almost directly in front of me (Bass-Burke) so we saw each other there. And I was able to watch her worship (singing wasn't really her thing - smile) and I observed her during sermons that obviously impacted her and I watched her giggle at some of the most "inappropriate moments" (Bro. Jones leading songs in monotone as though he were still in Kuala Lumpor).
She would occasionally see me in the hall and invite me into her room; I jumped at the chance. I would sit quietly curled up in the corner on her bed and watch as all manner of ladies came by to visit with Sandra. We were all drawn to her because she made each person feel as though she genuinely cared about us; probably because she did!
Sandra told me that Frank (who was from her home town) would be a much better guy for me to date than the basketball player I was dating. She made me do my first devotion at a hall meeting. She pushed me to apply for the proctor position when she graduated. And when I graduated, she pushed me to apply for a teaching position at the school where she taught.
Sandra was a missionary at heart, in love with Latin America and she soon headed overseas. Her first appointment was in Belgium; then came time with STAR ministries producing TV programing for children all over Latin America; finally NC called her to serve as director of women's ministries.
We loosely stayed in touch during the early years; her official missionary photo gracing each of my refrigerators so I would remember to pray for my friend. And she would always take time to contact me when she was in the states. When she came back to NC, I was thrilled and offered to once again "assist her" in any way needed. That's when our friendship grew even more.
Sandra loved pushing people forward. I've never known anyone else that derived such delight from watching others be pushed into the "limelight" like Sandra did. And that familiar "pushing" started all over again for me.
"I want you to serve on this committee with me, Sheri."
"Prepare a devotion for the next committee meeting."
"Hey, I need you to teach this workshop."
"Sheri, it's time for you to apply for your own license as a minister."
"Open this conference with prayer."
"I can't preach for this conference. I told them to call you."
(Notice the progression? This lady was very good at her game!)
She brought me close enough to watch how she did it; walked with me while I tried; then pushed me out to do it on my own. All along offering genuine encouragement (never useless flattery); creating opportunities for me to stretch; asking the difficult questions that made me examine my own heart; laughing when I laughed; crying when I cried. (When Mom passed away, Sandra was one of the first ones to call. She also had a gift for comforting those who mourn.)
Even when she moved to TX to become women's director for a much larger region, we remained friends. Talking less often but still in contact. She brought me out to speak for two of her early events there. No one knew who I was but she threw caution to the wind and once again provided a stretching experience.
And when she finally found the love of her life (at age fifty) you better know that we threw common sense aside and all five flew to Houston to celebrate the wedding day with Sandra, Mark and five hundred of her other closest friends. (Smile.) Mark is such a fine man that we all wept with joy over God's abundant provision!
So when the unbelievable news came to us on Saturday that Sandra had been killed in a car accident, I once again experienced what it is "....when sorrows like sea-billows roll." (Still this morning, it seems impossible and the tears come like a flood.)
Thankfully, Frank got the news first and was able to tell me in private. He knew this would be hard. I was scheduled to preach Sunday and readily accepted his offer to take my place. But a couple of hours later I thought of what Sandra would say, "Are you kidding me?! You'd better preach!"
And so I did. Not my best, of course. But our precious congregation listened and wrapped their arms around me in this sorrow; knowing that no words were really necessary or sufficient.
I had always found the scripture odd that says, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the home-going of his saints." Then I finally read it in a different version, "Costly... is the home-going of his saints."
I think that is much more accurate!
Sandra and Mark were building a home for women who are rescued from sex-trafficking slavery. (Yes, that does go on here in the U.S.) And on Friday she had flown to PA to present the ministry to a church wanting to become involved. As was their habit, she looked at Mark at the Houston airport and said, "I'll be right back."
The pastor's wife was waiting when she arrived in PA a few hours later. Half a mile from the airport, traffic slowed, a box truck didn't - striking the back of their van at full speed, and Sandra opened her eyes to the face of Jesus.
That's what she would have preferred I guess.....to meet Him while she was in the middle of working for Him.
Another friend has generously offered to pay for a plane ticket. So on Wed. I will once again fly to a celebration for Sandra. Only this time, the weeping will be an expression of deep sorrow and loss. There will be an incredible void in all our lives from the passing of this wonderful woman we knew. And we will come together, all feeling like her dearest friends, finding comfort with our shared hugs and stories remembered.
And even as I write this I can hear Sandra say, "Hey, can you celebrate with me? I'm safely "Home" and it's great up here!" Smile.