Her claim to fame came in the late 80’s when it was discovered that Betty Wagner and her sister Juanita had been pen pals of Anne Frank and her sister, to us she was just Aunt Betty.
She was this gentle, kind old lady that was the instrument God used to bring us to the United States. I met her for the first time when I was 10. My dad referred to her as his adoptive mother; his mom passed when he was 21 and Aunt Betty became that figure in his life. He met her on one of her mission trips to Chile.
She traveled throughout the world and left a long lasting footprint in many lives and many hearts, not just ours. She began Wayfarers Ministry whose sole purpose was to meet the financial needs of so many missionaries throughout the world in their time of need. Her ministry ran like a well-oiled machine, leading many to think that they were dealing with a huge operation. Every Saturday after we came to the States we would meet up with Aunt Betty in her garage in Burbank, CA and, alongside other seminary students and volunteers, we would put together care packages for missionaries worldwide.
She always wore pastel-colored, polyester pants. She was a no non-sense type of lady, stern but loving with a heart of gold. She had a map of the world in her home with little pins marking every place in the world she had been to. I used to love staring at that map and seeing all the great and strange places she had visited.
Two years ago we all got together at her house. She had recently suffered a stroke, and we had not been all together with her for some time, we had an amazing time. It was during that visit that my brother and I sat with her for hours asking about her correspondence with Anne Frank and her life. She shared pictures, and letters with us and she gave me a book, “Wayfarers: Pilgrims and Strangers Seek the City Not Made With Hands.” She wrote and published this book in the late 1990’s, and it’s about her life and ministry. I can’t believe I didn’t ask for it before. I was able to see what made her the amazing, tough woman she was and how she set to change the world. I learned through her book that you don’t have to be rich or famous to make a difference. That we are all meant to make small or big differences based on our circumstances, we just need to be willing. Some travel the world, and some stay home and send in a check. It’s all an important aspect of helping those in need. No amount of work is too small, it all matters.
Sometime last year my dad relocated her to a senior home nearby, she could no longer live on her own. The last few weeks I kept telling myself I needed to visit her. We get so caught up in the daily routine that time slips through our fingers and then we’re left with regret. I finally decided that now was the time, rain or shine… Aunt Betty or bust. I received news from my dad last night that she passed and all of a sudden I can’t recall what kept me so busy from seeing her one last time. My heart aches for my loss, but I know that she is in a place where all the hard work she did on this earth is being rewarded. I will miss her terribly and will always be grateful for the opportunity of a better life that she provided for my family and so many other families. I will read her book again and hope that at the end of my life I would have lived it with purpose and passion like she did. Aunt Betty, you were loved by all your adoptive children, and you will be missed.