“We lean to our own understanding, or we bank on service and do away with prayer, and consequently by succeeding in the external we fail in the eternal, because in the eternal we succeed only by prevailing prayer.”
Sixty years ago on May 16th, twenty two year old Kerttu Ingeri Ojala boarded a small plane in Finland, leaving her parents and seven siblings behind to seek a better life in the USA. Her close knit family resided in Kalajoki, a small farming community that was still mending from the ravages of World War II. The need to help out on the farm, which provided most of her family’s essential needs, had prevented her from furthering her own education beyond 8th grade. Speaking no English, she came to the States armed only with “sisu” (a Finnish word for stubborn determination) and a strong work ethic.
Visas to enter the States were highly restricted at the time and the one she carried in her small brown purse actually belonged to her older sister, Vera. After applying for a visa, Vera was engaged to be married and wished to remain in Finland, so it was determined that Kerttu would go in her place. With a “sisukas” nature and vivacious personality, her father truthfully considered Kerttu more suitable to face the challenges of living in a foreign culture. So they carefully erased Vera’s name and birth date from the visa papers and inserted Kerttu’s information instead and she entered the USA with falsified documents.
Soon after settling in her aunt’s home in Oregon, Kerttu met with Paul Jolma, a Finnish speaking attorney, to have papers drawn for her Finnish boyfriend to visit her. Paul silently worked on different plans however and married her a few months later. Within six years, four of their five children were already born. They were a uniquely odd couple: Paul, a highly educated and quiet intellectual married to Kerttu, an uneducated and highly spirited woman.
Over the years, Kerttu found herself growing increasingly lonely and discouraged. With neither the luxury of a higher education in her native tongue nor the ability to read well in English, she was crippled in her communication and reading skills in both languages. With an intellectual husband and kids who enjoyed reading and learning, she felt out of touch and simple minded. In her despair, she turned to a small country church where a group of women introduced her to Jesus.
Her life took on a whole new meaning. She became a woman devoted to prayer and sensitive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. No lack of education could prevent her from diving into the hope she had found in Christ. Since that time, she has practiced the habit of consistent and persistent prayer which she daily offers up on behalf of her entire family. She simply and deeply believes in the One she petitions and waits expectantly for Him to answer. For example, six years ago, rheumatoid arthritis had crippled her body for a number of months. Today she is pain free and takes no medication. She is tenacious in her prayers regarding everything and everyone.
Just a few weeks ago on May 16th, 34 individuals found their way to Seaside, Oregon (from places as far away as New York, New Mexico, and Southern California including twelve of us from Texas), to celebrate Kerttu’s sixty years in the States. Just three weeks prior, she had called for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren to join her in celebrating the occasion. We all gladly went, making last minutes adjustments to our schedules and leaving behind work commitments to join her. She in return generously covered the entire cost for each person.
One set of travelers happened to be a young man and his family who traveled from New Mexico. For 32 years, Kerttu had prayed for him daily, a grandson she knew absolutely nothing about because he had been placed as an infant in a closed adoption. She had lifted “Joey” (her name for him) up in prayer, along with the rest of us, through the years and believed that someday she would get to know him. These prayers were recently answered. What a joy to have our family completed by his presence at the recent celebration.
The name “Kerttu” is the Finnish form of Gertrude, which means “strong spear.” Over the years, I watched her simple approach to faith change my father’s heart from one of intellectual pride to a humble faith in Christ. She deeply gets that her prayers, offered up to Jesus, paralyze the very powers of darkness that rise against her and others. She considers prayer far more than preparation for the day, or for calming before the night. She considers prayer her essential work. She is not formally trained in school but she is skilled as an intercessory prayer warrior. She may not be book smart, but she is wise. I am proud of my mother Kerttu. She is a “strong spear” whose work has pierced many a hard heart.
When I read in Revelations 5 about the twenty-four elders holding “golden bowls full of incense, that are really the prayers of the saints”, I know my mother’s prayers will add a beautiful fragrance. She is trained in wisdom which comes from knowing Jesus and her life is one of power and eternal victory.
Oswald Chambers married Gertrude Hobbs, another “strong spear”. Thanks to her tenacious work of recording nearly all of his sermons and lectures, we can appreciate Oswald Chambers vigorous thinking and vivid expressions. He said the following about prayer: ” Our Lord’s teaching about prayer is so amazingly simple but at the same time so amazingly profound that we are apt to miss His meaning. The danger is to water down what Jesus says about prayer and make it mean something more common sense; if it were only common sense, it was not worth His while to say it.”