Monday, April 26, 2010

Sandra Bass-Palmer

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 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.


  1. What a beautiful tribute, Sheri. I will miss Sandra too. Everytime she came to Springfield we tried to make a run to Andy's Frozen Custard. Sandra was a great listener. I always told her when she walked into a room, all heads turned towards her. Can you imagine the look in everyone's eyes when she entered into His presence? I can only imagine.

  2. Sheri, you captured the essence of Sandra so poignantly, and I realize how very much like her you are. I love you, girl, and thank God He has allowed me to know beautiful, incredible women like you and Sandra.

  3. I cannot believe she is gone. This was the first I heard of it before calling home. My parents had forgotten to tell me since I'm not right there with them. Thank you for sharing a bit of her personality on here. :) That helps. I love you and I'm sorry for the sudden loss of such a great friend. I'll be praying for you and traveling mercies as you go. I'm so glad she gave you all the nudges and pushes and stretches. I look up to you and now I know I partially have Mrs. Sandra to thank.

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  5. Thank you, Sheri - for posting this amazing story about an awesome woman of God. I too was in a state of shock, as if someone punched me in the stomach. I knew of Sandra from a distance, and followed her on occasion from one event to another. Gloria Budzowski was a friend and colleague, and as chilling as it sounds, Gloria contacted me in early 2009 to speak for this very Spring event. I couldn't do it since I was already booked, but I recall how joyous she was when Sandra said she'd for sure come to PA and share her passion. I was singing/speaking in Brooklyn when I got the news, and we immediately began to pray for the families involved. Lots of questions, but interestingly enough, today's "Laugh Lines" from the national office hit my email box early this morning. I had submitted this story weeks ago, but found the message to be timely, since we all (who either knew Sandra or Gloria) needed encouragement. This scripture reigns true: Romans 8:38-39 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We shall see them very soon!

  6. Sheri, Well written, my friend. I think I could hear the laughter ringing through the dorm hall as I read your post. I just got off the phone with Jeannie Brown and told her that she needed to go to your blog. Sandra lived life so fully that it is hard to capture her in a few paragraphs, but you have done it. See you on Thursday when we celebrate her homegoing.

  7. This is all so beautiful! I've only known Sandra for a few years from our ladies retreats and conventions. She has so touched my life with her spirit & the woman she brought in to minister,I will have her fingerprints on my heart forever . My heart goes out to her husband & friends her presence is going to be greatly missed!

  8. Beautiful post, what a dear loss. Speaking as a recipient of your mentoring, I'm grateful to God for all that Sandra was for you and many others.

  9. NC Indian Section (Native American Fellowship) will never be the same. Sandra Bass Palmer poured so much into the lives of the Native women in our Section. She had a way of making everyone feel apart even tho you looked different. I agreed and understand Sheri the statement of her pushing you to be the leader that she saw that sometime seemed to be unnoticed by others. I was just a indian girl from the south who enjoyed standing in the background, willing to help but uncomfortable with standing in the spot light. But Sandra saw right through all that and pulled and taught me the important of stepping into the will of God. Her words, Carol it's the quite one and those who feel less than that God can use. He sees your heart for the women of your section so just love them and He will show you how to reach them (WOW). Our hearts are heavy for the loss of such a great friend, leader and mentor to so many of us. As Bro. Cookman stated as he was going home (Tell all my friends Goodbye) and we will meet again.

  10. I only knew Sandra for a short while, and not well, but I admired her tremendously. She was an amazing woman, and she will be missed so much here in south Texas. Thanks for the beautiful tribute.

  11. Wow Sheri...what a precious tribute to Sandra! I was to meet Sandra Bass-Palmer that very evening as I was invited by Gloria to join her as she traveled to the airport (one exit from my house) to pick up Sandra, help her get checked into the hotel, and then enjoy supper together, just the three of us. I had to call Gloria's cell phone when she was just 15 minutes from my house to let her know that I wouldn't be able to make it (I'll have to share the story with you sometime as to why I needed to cancel). Little did any of us know that as we were all making our plans, God was ordering our steps. Surely Heaven has gained two amazing treasures. We have suffered a great loss here on earth so (for now) we can all find comfort and peace in Psalm 61. "When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the ROCK that is higher than I." It has been a difficult two weeks in PA as well as immediately following Gloria's funeral, we attended our annual district council and Gloria was not there. I know you didn't know Gloria, but she was such a humble servant of the Lord with a smile that just would not quit. She would do whatever it took to get someone excited about serving God. She was (beside herself) ecstatic about the event that would take place the next day with Sandra (that Gloria planned). Needless to say, Saturday's event did not go at all as she planned, but God was faithful (as He always is) and the lives of the ladies present were touched in a special way. Our District Women's Director drove two hours that morning just to be available for the friends of Gloria and to also honor Sandra. I can always remember Gloria saying to anyone that she planned to meet at another time, another place, or another day; "I'll see you later, if the Lord wills."
    I miss you Sheri, my dear friend, and hope to see you soon. Maybe a visit up North would do you and Frank some good. I live 10 minutes from there's some incentive for you!! Love, Susan Lanza

  12. These are most incredible from friends of Sandra and Gloria...I have really been encouraged...I have been a close friend of Mark's for over ten years now and Sandra was an instant friend of mine and her love for Mark did me so much good. God used Joy to introduce them and I met her at their wedding. I have watched the dvd from their wedding many times now since the accident and it has helped me big time. I dreamed again of Sandra last night or early this morning and it was more of the flash vision I had of her a week ago. In the vision, Mark had asked me to speak at her special service last saturday in Humble. As I got up and started to say my first words and make eye contact with them, I saw Sandra in a cloud, fully dressed in white and also a vail and she was pointing her finger at me and telling me what to say with those big brown eyes and full of joy smile. She was telling that 100's are hearing the cry's of the girls now involved in sex slavery and now the Home of Hope will explode and be able to go around the world but she had to die first for that to happen. A picture of Christ.
    My 11 yr old grandaughter learned to ride her bike after years of trying and she said it's a shame that Sandra had to die so she could learn to ride her bike and she learned so fast, in less than five minutes..She is full of joy now...this is the way it will be with Home of Hope Texas.
    Expect your ministries to pick up speed in these last days and know that Sandra and Gloria are on the other side moving at the speed of thought..Expect big things in Jesus name..We will still miss Sandra...Blessings on all of you!!!

  13. I did not know either of these two ladies in person. What was planned at the church the day after the crash that took Gloria and Sandra -- this event was the first such event I had ever attended. I did not know anyone there but we all worshiped and cried and prayed together. As noted in an earlier blog "Needless to say, Saturday's event did not go at all as she planned, but God was faithful (as He always is) and the lives of the ladies present were touched in a special way."

    As you can tell -- this post coming so much later than the rest of you -- these wonderful women did touch me, even though I never knew them at all. Their deaths and that day and the Grace has stayed with me all summer, and I think it will forever be with me.

    I just thought you might want to hear from one on the outside. God willing, I will live a better life and contribute to HOPE, like Sandra and Gloria.

    God's plan is to use not only these lives, but these deaths.

    Many prayers have gone, and will continue to go out to these families.