LIFE at Wheaton Bible Church

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Someone You Should Know: Wheaton Bible Church Member Martha Bruning

The sense that God had big plans for Martha’s life was impressed upon her at a very young age. In fact, she was only eighteen months old when a severe skin infection threatened her life. What today would be aggressively treated with antibiotics was nearly a death sentence in the days before penicillin was widely available.

An early version of Martha’s trademark smile!

An early version of Martha’s trademark smile!

In Martha’s case, intensive nursing care from a loving aunt—for whom Martha had been named—eventually led to healing. But that outcome was by no means assured as her aunt took the toddler from her family’s home in Gary, Indiana, to her own home in Winnetka, in Chicago’s northern suburbs.

Before Martha and her aunt departed, two women from Martha’s church came to pray for her healing. So upset by the little girl’s condition, they believed they would never see her alive again.

But over the weeks that followed, frequent bandage changes and daily doctor visits eventually brought healing. And when Martha was later returned to her home, the ladies who had prayed over her at the height of her horrific infection called her “our little missionary,” suggesting that God, who had so powerfully saved her life, must have big plans for Martha’s future.

Martha’s recovery from a bout with scarlet fever at age six reinforced their belief that God would use Martha in an important way. And what, in their thinking, could be more important than serving on the mission field?

Their expectations, repeated every time they crossed paths with Martha as the years went by, sat heavy on her shoulders throughout her childhood and young-adult years. The energetic and impulsive—sometimes headstrong—young woman was not at all sure she wanted to suffer in service in some faraway land.

Life in Gary, Indiana

Martha’s growing-up years went by in a blur of activity—balancing on fence rails as she walked to elementary school, playing hard at sports, and jumping, climbing, and tumbling her way through life. She was well loved by the father she adored and by the mother who was committed to teaching her independent daughter to listen and obey.

Fourth-grade fancy!

Fourth-grade fancy!

As Martha entered her teen years, her mother, who was shy by nature, encouraged her to be a joiner, not a loner, and sent her off to the first day of high school with instructions not to come home “until you’ve signed up for something.” Martha took her mom’s instructions very seriously, and that day she joined the Girls Athletic Association (GAA), the band, the choir, and something called the Electron Club, a group that learned about technical things and played records for after-school dances in the gym.

After high school, Martha headed off to Olivet Nazarene University, but when she came home after her freshman year, her mom was seriously ill. Martha didn’t realize it at first, but that summer she would more and more take responsibility for running their home and eventually become her mom’s caregiver until she died, just over two months later. That experience would echo throughout Martha’s life as God used her to minister to others in the final stages of their lives, and to young women like herself who needed the encouragement and listening ear of a mature mentor and friend.

Back to College and Beyond

Pictured here in her senior year, Martha proudly wears the uniform of the Horace Mann High School Girl’s Band.

Pictured here in her senior year, Martha proudly wears the uniform of the Horace Mann High School Girl’s Band.

“My mother died that August,” Martha recalls, “and in September I was back at school. But there weren’t any support groups—and my dad was in such grief himself that he was unable to give me any support or guidance. I’m so thankful for one of the professors’ wives, who was especially kind to me.”

During that season of grief, one particular hymn—“God Leads His Dear Children Along”—took on special meaning for Martha. “That song kept me going,” she said, “and all through my life, it’s come up again and again at times when I am in a quandary.”

During those college years Martha met, and later married, Floyd—a classmate who became a successful businessman and has been her partner for sixty-four years. Together they raised three children and eventually moved their family to Wheaton, Illinois.

Martha and Floyd on their wedding day, March 22, 1952

Martha and Floyd on their wedding day, March 22, 1952

Although Martha relished being a wife and mother, she looks back on her early years of marriage and parenting as something of a “dormant” season in her spiritual life. But in her early forties, her walk with God took on a whole new dimension, and her days were filled with a sense of living life on a mission—the result of her growing under-standing of the role of God’s Spirit in her heart and life. She learned to be attentive to the Spirit’s promptings as His presence became increasingly real to her.

Martha credits Dr. Tim LaHaye’s book Spirit-Controlled Temperament with opening her eyes to the way the Holy Spirit shapes the heart of a listening and willing believer, directing, providing words, and nudging toward actions.

“As I learned to listen to the Holy Spirit and do what He said, God took me on such a fabulous journey,” she said. “Now, anytime my day’s schedule seems to get interrupted, I take that as a heads-up to watch carefully what God is doing.”

Little Things Mean a Lot

Martha can recount dozens of stories of “chance” encounters, just-the-right-time visits or phone calls, Spirit-directed conversations, and other instances when she saw God’s perfect timing and plans. But two stories in particular stand out, not because of their amazing conclusions or dramatic impact, but primarily because each has elements of ordinary moments touched by God’s extraordinary grace and love.

“One morning,” Martha recalls, “when I was a room mother in my daughter Janelle’s class, I was supposed to bake cupcakes for the Halloween party that afternoon. I needed a cake mix and was waiting until the grocery store opened. But I kept feeling an urgency to go to the twenty-four-hour convenience store now to buy that cake mix.

“But that will be more expensive, I thought, and I don’t need the cupcakes until three this afternoon,” she remembers. “But an inner voice kept telling me to just go do it. So finally I did and even bought little candy pumpkins to put on top.

“I had the cupcakes finished by ten in the morning,” she says with a smile. “Then I sensed the Holy Spirit directing me to take four of the cupcakes to Wheaton College for two girls I’d spent quite a bit of time with. One of them, in particular, was dealing with a lot of heavy stuff.”

As Martha drove onto the campus, she saw all the kids leaving the morning chapel service and spotted the two girls sitting outside Edman Chapel. They recognized Martha’s station wagon and ran over and asked, “What are you doing here?”

“I’m bringing you these cupcakes,” Martha said.

“Those girls—who each told me they had been in a dreary mood that gray October morning—walked away with big smiles,” Martha said, “and I drove home thinking, God, you are incredible. You cared that these girls had those little cupcakes.

Martha with her Place 4 You study group at a women’s event, all wearing the hats and scarves she gave them that evening

Martha with her Place 4 You study group at a women’s event, all wearing the hats and scarves she gave them that evening

“Another time relates to a young woman I knew who was a talented musician and had also gotten into a bad marriage. She was in the hospital recovering from surgery,” Martha said, “and when I visited her, she was very depressed and sitting in a dark room with the shades pulled down. I raised the window shade, and we proceeded to talk—and in that conversation, God touched me with a funny bone, because everything I said made that young woman laugh.

“Nurses were walking past the room and looking in—amazed to hear the laughter.”

Sometime later Martha learned that the woman was suicidal and had checked herself into a psychiatric hospital in Chicago.

“The following Monday, God said, Go see Eva (not her real name). But I didn’t want to go. I knew nothing about psychiatric hospitals and had no idea what I’d find there. But God said go. I told Him I was going only because He told me to. So what do you want me to say? I prayed. He prompted me to go to the Scripture Press bookstore, located in Wheaton at the time, and pick up a copy of the junior high Vacation Bible School book we were using that year. I had no idea why. When I asked for the book, they had to go to the warehouse for it, and while I waited, I noticed packages of notecards on the counter.

Little things

“I knew that Eva’s children were living with relatives far away, and I thought maybe she’d like to write to them, so I looked through the cards, wondering what color she might like. I picked some that were lavender and purple, not what I would buy for myself, but they seemed like a good choice. When my book arrived, I also bought the cards. One dollar and nineteen cents for the cards, which came with a little purple pen.

As Martha headed into Chicago, she prayed. “And what I ‘heard’ was, Eva is nervous. You have to bring peace.

When Martha found Eva, she asked her how she filled her time there. “Well,” Eva said, “one thing I do is go to craft class. I made myself a poncho.”

“She pulled it out,” Martha says, “and it was lavender with purple trim.

“I said to her, ‘Eva, I’m here to visit you because God told me to. I asked Him what to bring, and He directed me to bring you this book, and these cards you could use to write to your boys.’ I didn’t say anything more about the cards, and after a bit I went home.

“I planned to visit the following Monday and take a recording of the Sunday message I thought she might want to hear. Before I left home, I called and asked her how things were going. She told me, ‘This was the worst weekend in my life.’

“At that moment, God gave me these words: ‘Eva, I found out something really amazing about how much God loves you.’

“She was confused. ‘What do you mean?’

“I said, ‘God loves you so much that He even cares what color paper you have.’ Then I told her about being in the bookstore. ‘We look for big things, Eva, but God cares even about the little things. I would never have picked that color, but God did.’

“When I got there to see her, she told me that she had taken the stationery and had gone up and down the hall. ‘I showed everybody these cards, and I was telling them how much God loves them, too.’”

“The next time I saw Eva, she was like a brand-new person. And when I went to visit, her parents were there. Her mother cried and told me, ‘I prayed and prayed for someone to please go to Eva.’

“What did that cost? A dollar and nineteen cents.”

Walking Alongside

A number of times over the years God has led Martha to care for those in the final stages of their lives. A memorable example was her Aunt Martha—the woman who had so lovingly nursed her back to health years before.

Aunt Martha had dementia, and when she could no longer live alone, Martha’s husband, Floyd, felt strongly that they should bring her into their home.

Caring for someone with dementia, Martha says, brought many interesting challenges, including searching the neighbor- hood when Aunt Martha wandered out of their house—of particular concern when the weather was cold and her aunt, accustomed to life in the South, would leave the house without a coat. More than once, Martha prayed intently and felt God’s guidance as she drove through her neighborhood, turning one way and then another and eventually locating the elderly woman.

As dementia further clouded Aunt Martha’s thinking and she often became agitated, her niece learned to lean in close and whisper the name of Jesus in her aunt’s ear.

“Even though dementia had stolen her mind,” Martha said, “I was able to communicate with her spirit. ‘Say Jesus, Aunt Martha,’ I would tell her, and I would watch as peace replaced her agitation.”

She also read to her aunt from Psalm 92:12–15:

Verse2

“I would say, ‘Aunt Martha, you are the palm tree those verses are talking about.’

“Sometimes she got upset about her money,” Martha recalls, “and I would say to her, ‘Aunt Martha, remember, you are the old palm tree, and your prayers are the best, because the old palm tree produces the best fruit. The devil knows that, so he gets you praying about your money, but God wants you praying for your nieces and nephews.’

“Aunt Martha would say, ‘You do it,’ and I’d say, ‘No, you are the old palm tree, and your prayers are the best. You say, “God, take care of Gene [one of her nephews] right now.”’ And she would.

“It was beautiful,” Martha said, “and later, when she was much worse and was in a nursing home, I’d still whisper in her ear, ‘Pray for Walter. He’s in college now.’ And she’d begin mumbling, making sounds that told me she was praying for Walt.”

When Martha visited and found her aunt slumped over in her wheel chair, maybe even drooling, she would speak the beginning words of the Lord’s Prayer into Aunt Martha’s ear.

“She had attended a church where they said the Lord’s Prayer every Sunday morning, so I’d get close to her and say, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven—’ and before long, she would be murmuring along with me. By the time we reached the end, she would be sitting up. Then I would tell her who to pray for, and she would pray with me. Everyone is valuable, especially the old palm trees.”

Over the years, God has used Martha to bring comfort to family members, friends, and others in the final days of their lives—including some who needed to hear the Good News of God’s great gift of salvation. There have also been countless young women who touched Martha’s heart, many who sought her out as a listener, mentor, and friend—opportunities, she says, that she has cherished, to rub shoulders with younger women and to see them go on to greater heights than she herself could ever have achieved.

But Martha still had never become the missionary those two women had predicted so early in her life. Then came her sixties, and—ready or not—the mission field came calling.

Floyd’s “Retirement” Plan

Martha and Floyd

Floyd and Martha, well-matched teammates for the past sixty-four years.

Floyd’s desire to “tithe” 10 percent of his career years in full-time service caused him to explore service in missions after his retirement. Missions groups and others were eager for his financial expertise. But after he had helped out in a variety of roles in the Wheaton area, an enticing opportunity—right in Floyd’s sweet spot of giftedness—arose, to work on a project for HCJB in Quito, Ecuador.

Floyd was eager to go, and Martha was happy to hold down the fort at home for those months while Floyd was gone; but Floyd decided he wasn’t going without Martha and would wait for an opportunity where they could serve together.

Now Martha was in a quandary. She still held some of the same opinions about missions work that had seemed so unappealing decades before: strange people, strange language, strange food, discomfort, and being away from family. But if Floyd wasn’t going without her, she decided—aided by a serious conversation with her daughter—that she would go with him.

In Ivory Coast, West Africa, cooking a goat that was a very generous gift from a villager, given in appreciation for the New Testament translation into his language.

In Ivory Coast, West Africa, cooking a goat that was a very generous gift from a villager, given in appreciation for the New Testament translation into his language.

“Although Floyd had the skills they needed, I didn’t feel like I had any skills to offer,” Martha says. “But the truth is, God carved out a ministry for me everywhere we went.”

When Martha says everywhere, the once-reluctant traveler is referring to the many extended adventures that filled the couple’s “post-retirement” years—including six trips to Deva, Romania; multiple trips to Suriname, South America (stays from two weeks to seven months); six months in Ivory Coast, and many more, both in the United States and beyond its borders.

Martha and her young ESL (English as a Second Language) class in Deva, Romania

Martha and her young ESL (English as a Second Language) class in Deva, Romania

Today, children, students, and adults on four continents and across the U.S. have experienced the friendship and hospitality of the woman her son David nicknamed “Party Marty.” And Martha continues to use her gift of hospitality—thankful that Floyd, whose spiritual gift is serving, is always ready to change the sheets for visiting missionaries, help set up for meals, clean up after gatherings, and more.

“God has a plan for you, no matter what your age,” Martha says, “and He will use the gifts He has given you, wherever He takes you.”

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This entry was posted on April 1, 2016 by in Spring/Summer 2016.

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