International Women’s Day: Remembering Catherine Walker

Catherine Walker IMB Photo

March 8, 2016

By Ann Lovell

RICHMOND, Va.— Anyone who knew her will tell you Catherine Walker was a legend. A longtime Lakewood resident, Walker died Jan. 7 at age 100. She was honored in a memorial service at Lakewood Feb. 13.

“Small in stature but big in influence and heart,” Walker influenced generations as a mentor and teacher, “but her accolades pale in comparison to her humble faith — the way she went about loving God and loving people,” said her pastor, Jeff Raymond of Derbyshire Baptist Church in Richmond.

Walker, a Georgia native, first went to China as a Southern Baptist missionary in 1946, before communist rule forced Western missionaries out, reported Erich Bridges in a Jan. 11 Baptist Press article.

“She stayed as long as she could — and longer than many dared — before moving on to Indonesia,” Bridges wrote. “She became one of the first faculty members of the infant Indonesian Baptist Theological Seminary in Semarang, which she helped start in 1954.”

In late 1980, Walker retired from IMB, and three months later, she joined the mission board’s home office staff to focus on mobilizing Southern Baptists to pray more strategically for missions, Bridges reported. Until her second retirement in 1985, she led the new office of IMB prayer strategy as special assistant to the president for intercessory prayer.

Retirement didn’t slow Walker down, however, and her impact during her years at Lakewood was remarkable, Raymond said.

“Hers was a ministry of presence,” Raymond said. “Even though she didn’t always lead — it was intimidating to teach someone of her (spiritual) stature — she was always humble, always an encourager.”

Carolyn Briggs, a Lakewood resident who is also Walker’s cousin, remembered Walker as playful and marked by trust and gratitude. Although Walker could barely see or hear in her last couple of years, “she could love you without the details,” Briggs said. “She would turn smiling into her encounters with people.”

As Walker aged, her frailty distressed her, Briggs said, but she “discovered abundance, even in her frailty.”

“She knew she was loved by the Lord, and she remained concerned that people hear the gospel,” Briggs said.

Trust and concern for others, Bridges reported, were lessons Walker learned early.

“When a much younger Walker arrived in China after World War II, the missionary era there was drawing to a close as the communist era was just beginning,” Bridges wrote. “The day came when the American government warned all Americans in the Shanghai area that the last evacuation ship would leave soon. Walker packed her bag and headed for the port, but something stopped her.”

“It occurred to me that I had never really prayed about whether it was God’s will for me to go,” Walker later reflected. “So I stopped and prayed, asking Him if I was supposed to get on that ship. To my surprise, I felt a very strong impression that I was not supposed to go. So I turned around and went back to the campus.”

Marge Worten, who served with Walker in Indonesia, later recalled that the following year was “one of the most blessed in (Walker’s) life. During that time the [Chinese] seminary experienced a deep revival among the staff and students. … Catherine later saw it as a preparation for what was to come in China. The presence of God was palpable; the unity of heart, spirit and love was incredible. … When a ‘post-final’ opportunity to leave China came, the Lord clearly told Catherine to go. She followed His voice. But she left with the blessings of that year as a part of who she was.”

Walker’s trust in and obedience to God were hallmarks of her life, which was also characterized by a deep commitment to prayer.

“I never would hold up my prayer life as a model,” she said at one time. “But I’m not concerned about my capabilities. I’ve found God uses a person as he is.”

For these reasons and many others, on this International Women’s Day we remember Catherine Walker, missionary, teacher, prayer warrior and friend.

Ann Lovell is Corporate Director of Communications for LifeSpire of Virginia.