Martha Louise Lady was born on March 20, 1927 and raised in rural Abilene, Kansas, the daughter of Cornelius A. and Frances (Lenhert) Lady. Martha, the eldest of four, spent her early years in Kansas on the family farm. Her parents encouraged her education and she graduated from Chapman High School and attended Messiah College before obtaining a B.A. from Beulah College (1949).
She knew from an early age that she wanted a life of service and went on to receive a Master of Nursing degree from Case Western Reserve University (1952) as well as midwifery training with the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky (1960-61), sometimes traveling by Jeep or horseback to serve patients in rural Appalachia.
Martha’s early life was influenced by a strong Christian upbringing and she was a member of Zion Church in Abilene until her studies and missionary work took her elsewhere. With many strong female role models, particularly her mother and other pioneering family missionaries whom she admired and respected, nearly the entirety of her professional life was dedicated to serving others.
She sailed from New York City in 1954 to accept the first of three postings as a missionary in Africa where she served at the Mtshabezi Hospital, later moving to Macha Hospital in what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, and also serving at the Matopo Mission and Sikalongo. She studied the local languages and customs and learned to comprehend the expressions the Africans used to explain their complaints and to recognize many of their fears associated with illness. She helped establish clinics, providing preventive care to far-flung communities.
She was known as “gogo” or “grandmother” because she was the one who delivered the babies. Martha relished her 20 years in Africa, delivering more than 1,000 babies. She “sensed deeply that the medical work was where God had called [her] and this was how He wanted [her] to use [her] gifts.”
After returning to the States, Martha attended the American College of Nurse-Midwives and worked in Springfield, OH. She continued to bring education and healthcare to lower-income communities, advocating for her profession and serving with midwives from around the world through one of the only programs of its kind at the time.
Martha began the second chapter of her career, graduating from Ashland Theological Seminary in Ashland, OH (1985) and in 1990, becoming one of the first women to be ordained in the Brethren in Christ Church. Continuing her path of service, Martha served as a Pastor at Messiah Village in Mechanicsburg, PA from 1985-1998, ministering to the elderly rather than newborns. Upon her retirement, she was recognized as “an inspiration, a friend, a counselor, a consoler, a listener, an advisor, a consultant to many people over the years.” Upon her retirement, she continued to reside at Messiah Village and her family is grateful to the staff and administrators for the care they provided to her.
Martha was beloved by her nieces and nephews who enjoyed sharing holidays, reunions and other occasions with her. She embraced new adventures throughout her life, traveling and taking cruises, learning to snowshoe, finding the best local peaches and putting together puzzles. She was happy to share joys and sorrows and will be missed as a treasured confidante and role model.
She is survived by her sister Mary Olive Bundy, also a resident of Messiah Village, her brother Myron, who resides in Kansas, her sister Ruth Engle and husband, John, who live in Maine as well as many nieces, nephews, great nieces and great nephews.
In lieu of flowers, gifts may be directed to Messiah Lifeways Benevolent Fund, 100 Mt. Allen Drive, Mechanicsburg, PA 17055. The family will hold a private memorial at a later date.