The world is less gracious today after the death of Pearl DuVall in Cordele, Ga., yesterday.
Everyone needs more mature, mentoring people in their lives who lead by words and deeds. Pearl was one of those for me in my early years as a campus minister.
She had the perfect balance of firmness — especially when standing up for others — while being compassionate beyond measure.
Over the past couple of weeks, Pearl’s impending death brought a couple of specific episodes to my mind from our time as campus ministry colleagues in the ’80s.
One was an event at an Atlanta hotel in which some Baptist students were singing a popular “Christian” song of the time that focused on their faith being better than all others. The lyrics included denouncements of most of the world’s great religious traditions.
Pearl’s focus was not on the well-meaning singing students or their receptive audience, but on the international-flavored hotel staff in the room waiting tables. She wondered if they were rightly insulted by such arrogance to the point it might close them to considering Jesus.
That perspective was natural for Pearl, who spent many years with her late husband, Wallace, doing missions in Nigeria. But it helped me learn a valuable lesson: always look around the perimeter of any experience for the important audience beyond the primary one.
Second, was a meeting of the Georgia Baptist Convention when fundamentalist preachers were still rallying for the control that they ultimately secured. One self-satisfied buffoon bellied up to a microphone and made a motion that the convention be instructed to investigate Pearl — an “ordained woman” on the convention payroll.
It was clear that he did not know this amazing woman nor the impact she had made in her missionary career and then as a hospital chaplain who worked with nursing students — nor that ordination was a requirement for chaplaincy.
He had just gotten drift that the convention employed a woman who had dastardly agreed for her church to acknowledge her calling and gifts and to ordain her to the Gospel ministry she expressed so well.
My campus ministry friends were aghast — shaking their heads in dismay when I said, “I think I’ll go up and second the motion.” Then I added, “If someone investigates Pearl’s work, they’ll double her salary.”
Of course, both Pearl and I knew that ministry is more freeing and effective apart from fundamentalism. But I’m always grateful for those many good years of opportunity to work with college students — and to have mentors like Pearl who taught and showed me how to do it better.
My prayers today are for the DuVall family and many others who loved this dear woman. Rest in peace, sweet Pearl. Your inspiration and stories will remain.