RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Shortly before she moved to the Middle East in 1999, Genessa Wells — nervous, overwhelmed, but determined — wrote to her friends:
“I could give up (on overseas service) and get married and become a music teacher. All of this is very noble and to be quite honest, sounds good to me! But in my heart, I want to change my world — more than I want a husband and more than I want comfort. I need this opportunity to grow and to tell others about Jesus. One of my favorite praise songs says, ‘I will never be the same again, I can never return, I’ve closed the door.'”
Two years later, in her last e-mail home, the 24-year-old Texas Baptist teacher and musician quoted another praise song:
“‘Open the eyes of my heart, Lord, open the eyes of my heart,
I want to see you…shining in the light of your glory …. ‘”
“It seems that everything we do comes down to one thing: His glory,” she said. “I pray that all our lives reflect that. …It seems like a floodgate has been opened in my heart (to share God’s love). I have a passion for it I never knew God had given me. He’s given it to me for His glory.”
Two weeks after she wrote those words — and one day before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks killed thousands in America — Genessa Wells died in a bus accident in the pre-dawn darkness of Egypt’s Sinai desert.
The world-shaking horrors of that week quickly overwhelmed the solitary tragedy in the desert. But the people changed by Genessa’s short, luminous life will never forget her.
“If you asked me or most people who knew her to describe Genessa, it would be ‘very much alive,'” said her pastor when grieving friends met to remember her in the Cairo church she attended.
Indeed, she seemed more alive in those moments than the people she left behind as they celebrated her smile, her hilarious comedy routines, her angelic singing voice, the little shuffle in her walk.
People used to kid her about the shuffle; she didn’t mind.
“When you first met Genessa, you felt like you’d known her your entire life,” says a friend. “She had no pretensions.”
When she walked into a room, it brightened. And when she sang, adds her friend, “it wasn’t in such a way that you thought, ‘Wow, this girl can really sing'” — though she surely could. Instead, “You knew that God had given her that voice to worship Him.”
She shared her voice — and her love for God — with anyone: fellow believers, new friends, people on the street, taxi drivers. And she helped others learn not to fear sharing.
“One of the last times I saw her, we went on a retreat to the beach,” recalls another friend. “She gave me voice lessons on the beach, and made me practice letting my voice go — just allowing myself to praise God and not be timid about it. She pushed me to do it.”
When someone dies, people tend to remember the good side. With Genessa, “there really was no bad side,” a friend insists.
She was as human as anyone else; she struggled with doubts, fears, anxieties. After one difficult period of rejection and illness, she wrote, “I felt discouraged and weak in every way.” But she found God even more real in the depths of her despair, and her strength was renewed: “If you trip on a stumbling block, you can still get up and keep going. But if we never step on the rock in front of us, we go through life at the same shallow level where we started.”
She shared her passion for God with Egyptians, with Palestinians in refugee camps in Jordan, with Muslims in France, with Bedouins in the desert.
“The desert is becoming one of my favorite places,” she wrote six months before her death. One night under the stars, “the Bedouins prepared a meal for us, even made bread for us over a fire. We ate with our hands and washed the stickiness off by rubbing them in the sand. We told riddles in Arabic and English ….
“I honestly would not want to be anywhere else but here, where God has put me. He gives me more than I can imagine.”
It was in that desert — where Israel’s children wandered, where the early Christian hermits sought the Lord — that Genessa Wells walked home with Him.
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: GENESSA WELLS.