For a woman who was barely five feet tall, she still looms large in my memory.
Her hands clasped together for joyful emphasis, a mischievous grin creasing her time-worn face, Mabel Vreeland defined for me what it means to be a woman in ministry. Unconcerned about recognition and titled roles, she simply did the work of Jesus with a tenacity and a fervor that continues to amaze me now, long years after her death. Barely a month goes by when I do not read or hear of someone who traces their embrace of Adventism to the plucky woman with the distinctive Yankee accent.
Shortly after graduating from an Adventist college in the 1920s, Mabel became a Bible worker for the New York Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and served that one territory for more than four decades. Through the years of America’s Great Depression, when wages were meager, especially for single women, she labored in every major evangelistic campaign and city in the region, usually arriving to give Bible studies to dozens of interested persons just as the evangelist was completing his meetings. Two of those persons were my grandmother and my mother, whom Mabel guided into Adventism in the mid-1940s.
Eight years later, when Mabel’s red-headed cousin—my father—met and married that young woman whom Mabel had grounded in the Word, the circle of faith became complete. From my earliest memories, her firm handshake, her frequent laughter, and her stories of witness were part of my understandings of ministry. Ministry was what Mabel did—visiting people, opening Scripture with them, talking faith, encouraging them to make good and godly decisions. And when the conference officers could find no male pastor willing to serve the isolated and mountainous northern part of New York State, Mabel for 10 years pastored three churches, conducting youth meetings, preparing men and women for baptism, preaching every Sabbath.
I have no doubt that one day soon she will wear a crown of life, studded with hundreds of stars. But around her and beside her on that sea that looks like glass will be a great multitude—tens of thousands of Adventist women who have built the kingdom of Jesus day by day, opening the Word, serving the sick, teaching the unlettered, calling on sinners to repent and find salvation in Jesus.
To them, He will surely one day say, “Well done, My good and faithful servants.” Just now would be the right time for His church to express its gratitude and to offer its encouragement.