In early 2021, Debby was diagnosed with early onset dementia. Within months she had lost her ability to communicate, to recall all the memorized scripture that had sustained her throughout her life, and to craft her beloved artwork. She went home to our Lord on December 18, 2022. It was an honor to get to speak at her memorial service along with Claudel, who shared about the impact she made on his own family as well as the school in Carrefour Poy. Here is the eulogy I shared:
Debby & I had been church acquaintances for several years before we finally got to know each other during a book study in 2011. It was during that study that God put it on my heart to begin a child sponsorship program in Haiti. At the same time, God had put it on Debby’s heart to get more personally involved in child sponsorship. So after I shared my idea one evening, Debby approached me after class and volunteered to work with me on it! Through our ministry work together, Debby became a very important person in my life at a pivotal time in my life.
Honestly, I’m not sure the sponsorship program ever would have happened without her. I was so unsure of my abilities and full of anxiety. If I was sure about anything, it was that I had no idea what I was doing. So I thank God that He brought us together as “partners in the gospel”. She was a wise and supportive advisor, she encouraged me (or made me laugh) through my anxieties and fears. We saw each other at our best and our worst, we grew together and through it all she became a dear friend.
I could share so many things about Debby. You probably already know how incredibly talented she was in so many areas: a caring nurse, an inspired artist, a creative chef, blogger, missionary, book-lover, and so much more. Instead, I hope to honor Debby’s memory today by sharing with you some stories that demonstrate the core of who she was…
One Sunday while sitting next to her at church, I noticed that she was writing in a notebook. I assumed she was taking notes, but she was actually drawing out the ideas from the sermon so she could turn them into a quilt! Of course I was blown away by her talent, but more than that it shows how she genuinely saw God’s word as a thing of beauty.
Not only did Debby’s love for scripture inspire her art, but it moved her to live it out. During our work, she spent a lot of time dwelling on Isaiah 58 and its admonition against performative acts for God instead of actually feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and giving clothes to those who need them. And doesn’t that just encapsulate who she was? Debby had a compassion that compelled her to act. This compassion led her to help me start The Bridge, to minister in Kenya and Haiti, to collect clothes and shoes to give to people in need, and to financially support many people and ministries around the world.
As Isaiah 58 teaches, her compassion wasn’t just about doing things, it was about seeing people. When we went to Haiti together, Debby had packed a selection of nail polish that she wanted to give to the female teachers. Honestly, I thought it was a little silly. Here were people who didn’t necessarily know where their next meal was coming from. What would they care about nail polish? But when she brought those colorful little bottles out… those ladies came alive! These women who had been serious and stoic the whole time we had been there were suddenly smiling and laughing with us! Debby saw those women for more than their needs. She saw them as whole people who deserved to enjoy fun and beauty. Debby’s love of others and her love of beauty came together in that moment to create a sacred space of communion.
The last time I saw Debby, she shared with me that she had “lost her words”, as she put it. Nonetheless, she made sure to give me a box of beads for the jewelry the Haitian students make and some money for the girls she sponsored. I love how that demonstrates Debby’s true essence. Even when disease had stolen her ability to create art or to recall the scriptures she had once memorized, she was still thinking about and giving to others.
In closing, I want to read a few verses that will always make me think of Debby. On the last day of our trip to Haiti, she shared Colossians 1:9-13 with the church in Carrefour Poy. From verse 9, We ask God to give you complete knowledge of His will, spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
Disease may have stolen from Debby the ability to call up the words of scripture that she loved, yet those words lived deep inside of her. She lived a life that honored the Lord and she produced good fruit because she had made it a priority to know God better and better through His Word.
Skipping to verse 12 Paul wrote, The Father has qualified you to share in the inheritance of His holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of His dear Son.
Debby’s life -her legacy- shines brightly with the Kingdom light of her Savior. I admired her greatly and miss her friendship. And I’m thankful for the assurance that God has rescued her from the darkness of dementia and transferred her into the eternal kingdom of His Son.
“As always, I turn to my God for answers. I’m afraid there are many things that won’t be answered clearly in this lifetime. I don’t pretend to understand why these things happen. I won’t try to give you trite answers or to tie everything up in a neat theological package with a pretty little bow on top. But I was comforted by the words I found in the Psalms. For me, this is the only way I can live. I hope in my God. He is my Rock and my Fortress. I run to him in uncertain times. And I find hope.”~Debby Schnabel