I Am United Methodist: Viola Reed
Many people go to the Caribbean when they retire, but not many of them go there to do hard labor. No one told that to Viola Reed.
The 101-year-old member of Batesville United Methodist Church in Ohio went on her first mission trip at age 72. While many of her peers were thinking about taking it easy, Reed was helping put a new roof on a school on the island of Nevis.
Reed says she's been "Methodist all my life" and was active in the church, but had never been on a mission trip.
After a career working for a government agency, Reed retired to care for her sister, who was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"Our parents had died, and neither of us ever married, so I stayed with her," Reed says. "She died three years later, and I began to get depressed and feel lonely."
When she saw her church was organizing a mission trip to Nevis to repair a school, she asked if she could go.
"They told me they'd take anybody who would go, that age was not a problem."
She says that mission trip saved her life.
"I could see that those people had so very little, but they were happy. I realized there was a different side of life than what I was looking at. When I came back home, I had a totally different outlook on life."
So not long after, when her church planned a mission trip to France, Reed jumped at the chance.
They were putting a new floor on the second story of a U.S. Army barracks that had been converted to a camp for underprivileged children. The only way to get supplies to the second floor was running a bucket up a pulley, and every person had to take a turn each day.
"After the day it was my turn, my shoulders and arms were so sore, I could barely make it into bed. I announced at breakfast the next morning that I'd be moving in slow motion, and a few young girls announced they were feeling the same way, so it wasn't just me that was worn out!"
Reed took one more trip to Alaska to install a filing system in a church office. She used the same system that she'd used at her government job, adding, "There are a lot of things the government does that aren't efficient, but this was!"
She says those three trips helped her get over losing her sister.
"They filled my life with something I could look forward to and could see that there was still something to live for, even though my family was all gone."
Reed had taught a children's Sunday school class for about 40 years, but after her mission experience, she became even more involved. She served as president of the local United Methodist Women unit and later was elected president for the district unit. She is a certified lay speaker and was still helping lead worship at age 99. The Rev. Carol Touvell, Batesville's pastor, says Reed still renews her lay-speaking license every year.
Reed is also a faithful subscriber to Interpreter, and says she has been "since it came into existence." She says it's her favorite way of keeping up-to-date on what's going on in the denomination. Touvell says Reed stays more current on church issues than anyone else she knows and often brings up topics in Sunday school that the leaders didn't even know about.
"She's had a big impact on a lot of lives," Touvell says.
Her immediate family may be gone, but Reed has found a new family at Batesville United Methodist Church. A few years ago, she fell and broke her hip. Since then, she's been living in a senior home, where church members visit regularly, and she's taken to worship every Sunday.
"They've come to visit me, they've sent cards, they call, they send gifts. It's unbelievable," Reed says. "It's God working in their lives, and it's certainly made my life enjoyable since I've been here at the home."
Joey Butler is multimedia editor of Interpreter magazine, Nashville, Tennessee.