Tribute to Mary Lou Crutcher

Mary Lou CrutcherMary Lou Crutcher, a dear servant of the Lord passed away last weekend and her funeral was on Thursday, April 2. Mary Lou served on the Kentucky WMU Executive Board from 1995-98 and was a regular volunteer in our office.  I was honored to speak at her funeral and several people have asked for a copy of what I shared. With the blessings of her family, I share those reflections here.

The Missions Involvement of Mary Lou Crutcher
    It is an honor to have been asked to participate in this celebration of the life of Mary Louise Larson Crutcher, known to us as Mary Lou.  I have been asked to speak of her missions involvement.  It goes back a long way.

I was blessed to be provided a copy of Mary Lou’s application to participate in a Kentucky WMU mission team to Korea in 2008. That team, led by Stacy Nall, went to hold English camps for children as an outreach ministry in cooperation with Korean Baptists. Mary Lou was 75 when she went on that trip, and from what I have heard, it was not an easy mission trip.

In the application for that team, Mary Lou shared that at age nine she came to understand that it was not enough to know about God, but she needed to know God personally and believe in Jesus as her Lord and Savior. During revival services at her church, she felt Holy Spirit encouraging her to make this important decision and let the church know.  At age 13, Mary Lou attended a conference at Ridgecrest and responded to the call “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.”

On that application form, Mary Lou was asked to provide information about previous overseas travel experiences.  She listed:
Brazil – Recife and Rio – Mission Trip
Russia, Ukraine, Latvia – Mission Trips (3)
China (2); Holy Land (6),
Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Korea,
Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong (6)
Scandanvia (3), central Europe (5+)
Greece (3), British Isles, Ireland, Turkey
Canada, Mexico, and unfortunately, the copier cut off a line and I could not read the rest.

Mary Lou’s travel experiences with Bob, her beloved husband, uniquely prepared her for serving as a Travel Coordinator with Dehoney Travel. In particular, Mary Lou coordinated and promoted what was called the Lottie Moon Tours of China. These began in the late 1980’s as China began to open up to tourists. I learned yesterday that Mary Lou traveled to China all by herself and scouted out the places they wanted to go and accommodations and such. I particularly remember these tours because my mother went on one in August of 1988.  It was the trip of a lifetime for my mom, to visit those places where Lottie Moon, beloved Southern Baptist missionary to China, had lived and worked.

I talked with Catherine Allen, retired associate executive director for national WMU, about those trips and her perspective on them from a WMU viewpoint. Catherine told me that every person who wanted to go on one of the tours had to be contacted. Mary Lou did this. Mary Lou had a solid grasp of why this trip was important and what a mission opportunity it was.

Catherine noted that while it was important for the Southern Baptists to go and to see the places where Lottie Moon had worked, the tours had a much greater importance in the encouragement they provided to the believers there. Catherine estimated that over 1000 people went on the tours and the tours were a way that Americans could have contact with the Christians in China. Russell Cherry, of Dehoney Travel, told me that no Americans ever went to Pingdu, and the other towns where Lottie worked. The only hotels were local. But the coming of the American Christians was a huge encouragement to the Christian community there.

My mother told me that on the last day her group was in China, one of their guides who had not told them much about himself asked the group if he could sing his favorite song for them. He sang “Jesus Loves Me.”  My mother would cry every time she told that story. Thank you, Mary Lou, for all you did to promote and coordinate those tours.

I came to know Mary Lou in 1998 when I first interviewed to serve as Kentucky WMU executive director. I did not get here until 1999 and Mary Lou had a big part in that, but that is another story for another day. But when I got here, I quickly learned that Mary Lou was involved in everything missions.

One her passions was Friendship International. She understood that God had sent the mission field here and she was to be a witness.  Mary Lou faithfully picked up international women and took them to Friendship every Wednesday.  She taught classes in English as a Second Language at all levels.  And when the extended family members of her Friendship students would come to visit, Mary Lou would invite the whole family to her home for a meal.

Carole Kemper, her co-teacher on the mission trip to Korea in 2008 said of Mary Lou: “She had a real talent for meeting strangers and making them feel at home.”

Mary Lou Crutcher w flagMary Lou served in missions through WMU. She had stints as church WMU director, associational WMU director, and as a member of the Kentucky WMU executive board. She valued Woman’s Missionary Union and our role in challenging Christian believers to understand and be radically involved in the mission of God. She understood the importance of keeping missions and God’s work around the world before the church so that people would pray, give, and get involved in missions.

Mary Lou was a regular volunteer in the Kentucky WMU office and spent countless hours filling orders for posters, prayer guides, and offering envelopes. Only the Lord knows the total given to missions because Mary Lou faithfully helped us send those materials to Kentucky Baptist churches.

Mary Lou left behind a collection of mementos and beautiful things from around the world. They are evidence not of a woman who traveled the world, though she did. Rather, they are a reminder to us of the love she had for all people of all nations and her desire to share the gospel of Jesus with everyone she met.

Mary Lou honored the commitment, “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go,” and her challenge to us is that we would do the same.

Thanks be to God for his faithful servant, Mary Lou Crutcher.

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