A Rumor of Angels

When Stan and Vicky found us, Faith and I had been beaten and robbed and left for dead.  They took us in and fed us and cleaned our wounds. We were so disoriented that we did not know what had happened or how to go on.  The gang that got us was not of the club and knife wielding sort and the wounds they inflicted were not physical, which would have made helping us more straightforward.  As it was, we needed the peculiar abilities and the large measure of grace Stan and Vicky had devoted their lives to developing and dispensing.

Vicky remembered my arrival from Japan and first days at the Bible College and she felt sure I would not survive.  She and Stan had been stationed in Okinawa where they had developed their own program of therapy for naval personnel and their families. I realized what an oddity I was only when Vicky, ten years later, told the story of the impression I made.  She seemed to enjoy telling this story as she told it on multiple occasions – me bowing and sucking in air in that peculiar Japanese sign of humble contemplation.  She would lose herself in laughter and could hardly get out the end of the story – “That poor man is not going to make it.”  I was glad she found me amusing – though not so robustly happy about it as she was. But of course, she was right. Working among Buddhists, and Shintoists, and Japanese Christians had not prepared us for the ugly reality we would face in this “Christian” institution.

Her clear-eyed vision was partly a product, I suppose, of Stan’s affiliation as a chaplain and counselor with the Navy and her career in nursing. Stan had obtained a doctorate from Yale in psychology and counseling, and together they provided counseling and therapy, as Vicky completed a doctorate in life-coaching. One of the stories she used to tell from her nursing days, of the beautiful woman she knew was a man, illustrates her no-nonsense apprehension of, in this case, anatomical reality.  She saw through the pretense and false piety of several surrounding the little Bible College.  As she and Stan talked us through our post-traumatic stress, part of the healing process was simply naming the beast that had gotten hold of us. They had penetrating insight into the personality(s) that had gained control of this little institution so as to systematically fire a dozen of its senior faculty.  Where I had been largely oblivious, they understood the anatomy cloaked by the religious façade. The gang that had fallen upon us has left a trail of victims among old time administrators, students, and faculty.  Vicky and Stan were providing succor, counsel, rehabilitation, and funds to numerous individuals with which we were acquainted.

Our world quickly sorted itself out into those who passed by on the other side and those willing to get into the ditch and involve themselves in our lives.  Former friends and colleagues were among those who steadily averted their gaze. Stan and Vicky’s capacity to understand and intervene – to reach down to us –  was combined with a practical notion of how to help.  Vicky’s forte was life-coaching and we were vaguely aware that we were being slowly coaxed into a vision of what we should do.  They called, they came and got us on countless occasions, and we even attended old time Gospel concerts with them.  If Stan had said we were going to cock fights, I suppose we would have happily gone along simply to enjoy their company.  They walked with us through the worst time in our life.

What began to emerge in our conversation was the vision of a community centered ministry that would reach out to students, many of whose lives had been harmed by our former employer.  We would provide an alternative means of attaining a biblical or theological education – one that was affordable and universally accessible, and one that was serious rather than damagingly empty and simplistic.  We would disseminate an understanding of the Gospel which spoke directly against destructive sorts of power and violence aligned with particular perversions of Scripture and we would ground everything in the community of the saints.

Stan and Vicky insisted we do more than talk, and I must admit that due to debilitating depression we had become largely inert.  Stan would continually follow up to make sure I was moving forward. Through their help we developed a relationship with Outreach International and as I set forth this vision to a few friends, Jason and Frank stepped in and volunteered to do what, for me, would be impossible. Jonathan stepped up along with Matt and several others and said, “Here, let me do this.”

This week Ploughshares Bible Institute began offering classes to students in India, Mexico, and the United States. Forging Ploughshares podcasts and blogs are followed by several hundred people. Through this ministry we have been able to provide resources for individuals in the United States, India, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands and elsewhere.  Due to Stan and Vicky’s unwillingness to abandon us, I believe good has, indeed, come from out of evil. Not that God has used evil but God has his ambassadors at work in the midst of the wolves, seeing to it that evil does not completely destroy his people.

It is easy to identify God’s messengers in these situations – they do not pass by on the other side.  This willingness to get involved and help is the great gift of Stan and Vicky.  With her sweet demeanor and patient, quiet, yet eminently practical disposition, Vicky was easily recognizable as one of God’s emissaries. Stan makes for an odd-looking angel, with his coveralls, his well-rounded belly, and his gap-toothed grin yet, this is the way I think of them.  For Faith and I winged cherubs could not be more beautiful.  When they were not in Branson, on a cruise as most recently, going to hear Gospel singing, or seeing grandchildren and extended family, they were taking the time to help a host of people.  I have never met two people who enjoyed life, loved people, and devoted themselves to helping others like Stan and Vicky.

Stan writes on January 6th, “Vicky passed away at sea as we were coming into port in California yesterday morning from a cruise.” Last night at the gathering of the Forging Ploughshares group we prayed, told stories about Stan and Vicky, and I explained, once again, that Forging Ploughshares is the product of the vision they helped shape and support. We pray that the work Vicky and Stan began here, and among so many others, will raise rumors, as it has for us, of angels having passed our way.

Author: Paul Axton

Paul V. Axton spent 30 years in higher education teaching theology, philosophy, and Bible. Paul’s Ph.D. work and book bring together biblical and psychoanalytic understandings of peace and the blog, podcast, and PBI are shaped by this emphasis.