Written by Former President Steven Hight
Irene was the longest-serving missionary with Evangelistic Faith Missions. The EFM centennial book records that she first went to the field in 1949. Irene retired in 2017, since age had finally caught up with her.
Irene’s career took her to Egypt as her original place of service, but also to Eritrea and Ethiopia for a short time, and finally to Bolivia.
We are told that very few outsiders learn Arabic well enough to preach or teach without an interpreter, but Irene was one of the few who was able to do it. Though it is particularly difficult for a person beyond the age of 30 or 35 to learn another language, in her late 50s Irene learned Spanish well enough to teach and preach without interpreters.
Irene sensed God’s call to missions in 1945. She had heard a missionary lady speak but did not recall what the missionary said. However, a few days later, Irene was seated at a commercial sewing machine in the clothing factory where she worked when God spoke to her and said, “There are a lot of ladies who can do this work. But what about My work?”
A few months later, in a Friday evening youth service in March 1946, the Lord spoke to her again about being a missionary, so she went to the altar to pray. God made His calling clear, and she witnessed to her call that evening. However, when she returned home, she said nothing to her parents or to her pastor.
Two days later, in the Sunday evening service at her church, she noticed that the pastor acted strangely—sitting for a while, then kneeling in prayer, sitting again, then praying again. In the meantime, people were testifying, and God said to her, “Testify about your missionary call.” She hesitated, still seeking certainty, but God pressed it upon her, so she did. At that point the pastor rose to his feet, saying, “This is it! This is it!” The Lord had placed John 11:28 on his heart as a text, “The Master is come and calleth for thee.” He had told his wife that either someone was receiving a final opportunity to be saved or God was calling someone into His service. The Lord visited that Sunday evening service with His special blessing, and Irene was fully assured of her calling.
I think, if I were to name a prevailing impression about Irene Maurer, it would be that she was a faithful, obedient soldier in God’s army and a faithful servant in His church. She went where she was sent. She ministered in the ways that were needed. She learned what she needed to know so that she could serve well. She dedicated herself to serving God wherever He might lead her.
It led her through the experience of cancelling her wedding just before it was to take place. The young man in question was an excellent preacher, and they thought that he could go with her to Egypt and evangelize there as she fulfilled her missionary calling, but the day after the wedding rehearsal (which was several days before the wedding), he told her that he could not go to Egypt. It was too late to cancel the wedding cake, so the students and staff at Intercession Bible School had it for dessert.
Her dedication to doing God’s work led her to the orphanage in Egypt, where she served her first missionary term. It led her to the classroom, and she taught in various Bible schools in the countries where she served. It led her to Sunday school teaching and to helping with church planting.
Along with others, she fled Egypt on an Italian freighter at the onset of the 1967 war with Israel. Irene’s dedication to God’s service took her almost immediately to Ethiopia and then to Eritrea, and later back to Egypt. Irene went where she was directed and where she was needed. She was a faithful soldier, serving where she was sent.
It would seem that Irene was an intrepid missionary with no fear. But one winter when she was on furlough, she was involved in an auto accident because of icy roads. It took several weeks for her to recover from her injuries, and after that she was always a bit fearful of traveling in ice and snow. A friend of mine, who has served for several years among the native people of Canada, had the privilege of helping care for Irene during her convalescence, and she reported finding calluses that had fallen from Irene’s knees. She asked what the calluses were from, and Irene told her they were from the many hours she had spent on her knees in prayer.
Irene’s years in Bolivia began because a missionary family was leaving the field and Faith Hemmeter would be alone there. Faith wrote to Irene to ask if she would consider coming to Bolivia to work with her. Irene prayed, “Lord, if you want me to go to Bolivia, cause the request to come from the EFM home office.” Sure enough, a few weeks later Juddie Peyton called to ask her to serve a short term in Bolivia to accompany Faith. The “short term” turned into nearly two decades, and the people in our Bolivian churches remember Faith and Irene with fondness.
Faith was a woman of prayer who could ask God in simple faith to meet certain needs, and He would do it. But she was also often hesitant about decisions she needed to make. Irene was the more assertive of the two, and at such times of hesitancy one would hear her say, “Now Faith…” and then give her opinion as to what should be done.
In 2001, Faith Hemmeter returned from Bolivia very ill. Brother Manley called Irene to see if she would be willing to come to Bedford and care for Faith until her health improved. Again, she consented to go where she was needed. And again, what was thought to be a short time turned into a much longer stretch of over 20 years.
As I thumbed through Irene’s book a day or two ago, I was struck with the fact that she didn’t go to Egypt or Eritrea or Ethiopia or Bolivia on a short scouting trip to see if she might like it. She was summoned and she went. She didn’t ask how long it might be or what her accommodations might be. She simply said that she would go and do her best.
I’m grateful for Irene Maurer’s example. She was dedicated and devoted. She took on her assigned tasks and completed them without complaint. Her friends could count on her. EFM could count on her. God could count on her.
I looked at a series of photographs of Irene and I was struck by the consistently clear-eyed gaze of a person whose heart was right and whose life was well spent.
My wife Kathy and I visited Irene a couple of weeks before her death. She was so weak she could hardly speak, and there were many things she did not remember. But at least four times she clearly referred to the song “Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me,” so I found the words on my phone, and we sang the first and third stanzas – and Irene sang most of the words along with us. We read the 23rd Psalm, and again she mouthed most of the words with us. As we departed, she gathered strength to say, “If you believe, Jesus will save you”—the message she had taught and preached all her life.
She served her Lord faithfully. From the moment she testified to her call in 1946, when she started out to follow Him, she never turned back.
Let’s follow her example.