CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- My first memory of Miss Juanita O'Bannon was of her looking directly at me with her beautiful brown eyes. She was from Oklahoma, of American Indian descent, and a summer student worker at our growing suburban church in North Charleston, S.C. She gazed into my eyes, and my young soul responded with a peculiar joy. That was the summer of 1944, and we had recently moved to the suburbs.To be honest, I do not remember all the work that Juanita did for our congregation. She was just there for a summer, as a student preparing to work as a church educator. She did much of her growing up in what was then called Goodland Indian Orphanage, near the metropolis of Hugo, Okla. All I remember is that her loving gaze entranced others, and the fact that she was, in part, of another "race" made no difference. As it is said in the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Bible: Strength and beauty are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come (Proverbs 31:25).Over the years, I would follow her name in the church press, learning that she had married the Rev. Mr. Ray Spivey and went with him on a mission to Alaska. Ray was a deeply committed minister. I have wondered over the years whether Mr. and Mrs. Spivey ran into racial prejudice along the way. Working with people in Alaska, I am sure that they could bridge many differences.I am sure that Juanita knew life's troubles as well. Goodland Indian Orphanage was a refuge not only for orphaned Indian children, but a place of schooling for some children who lived there to have the advantage of education, good food, comfortable living conditions, and helpful religious instruction.
When I was a college sophomore, the Rev. Oscar Gardner, superintendent of Goodland, invited me to work for him in the summer. What a challenge that was. I did many tasks, which included driving the station wagon, riding a gigantic mower, conducting services in the campus church and in many other congregations of what was then Indian Presbytery. Mr. Gardner was on the road raising money. His wife, Blanche, was in charge, and there were several staff members. One of those people, a young man named Jimmy Tiger, drove me to my preaching places in his old Ford. Yes, at 19, I provided "sermons" in a number of places, learning along the way from those congregations.
But, this is about Juanita. It was forty years until I saw her again. I was visiting Mr. Spivey, who was pastor of the Community Presbyterian Church in the little village of Arthurdale, W.Va. Of course, I wanted to see Juanita, but she was at work teaching school. Ray told me that it would be no trouble for me to visit her, however briefly. So Juanita was summoned from her class, and we waited in the hallway. Juanita came out and greeted me by name, with her generous smile. We had only a short visit, but how wondrous it was seeing her after 40 years.She had grown older, of course, but many things about her were the same: her smiling face, her beautiful brown eyes, and her presence.I have often thought of Juanita and her loving gaze into my face. I called her on the phone one day, and learned that Ray had died of cancer. Her voice was sad, and I knew she was not smiling.Still and all, she bore witness to me, not in words, or in particular deeds, but by means of her lovely eyes and smiling face. Juanita died five years ago at the age of 86. Did not St. Francis say so wisely: Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words. This tribute of love is for Juanita, who preached with her beautiful eyes.Posey, a retired minister of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), writes from Charleston and can be reached at email@example.com.