Summer 2022
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God Said ‘Go!’

After a brush with death as a student, Mary Grimm answered the call to minister to the people of Papua New Guinea By Andrew Shaughnessy

Deep in the Sepik River Basin of Papua New Guinea, past the Toricelli Mountains and through the winding jungle waterways, lies the remote village of Baku – only accessible by boat or seaplane. Here, far beyond the reach of civilization’s grasping concrete tentacles, George Fox alumna Mary (Owen) Grimm (B14) and her husband, Ben, serve side by side as missionaries with Word Made Flesh International.

Mary, who has a master’s degree in linguistics, is working on translating the Bible (as well as other reading materials) into the local language and developing a literacy program in five area villages. Ben, who serves as the Word Made Flesh field director for Papua New Guinea, focuses on community health and development: clean water supply projects, sustainable agriculture, first aid education and more. It’s a holistic ministry – one in which talking to neighbors about Jesus goes hand in hand with addressing their tangible needs.

Mary (Owen) Grimm and family

Mary (Owen) Grimm with her husband Ben and children

For most, living and ministering in an area with no running water, cell service or even paved roads would be extraordinarily difficult, to say the least. But for Mary and Ben, it’s just one more chapter in their adventure-fueled lives. Ben began his career in Air Force special operations before eventually discovering a passion for community development. As for Mary, her love for the outdoors and for Jesus have served as twin through lines interwoven in her story.

“I grew up loving the wilderness and expecting life to be an adventure,” she says. “I guess you could say that I’ve been preparing for this since before I was born.”

Mary’s interest in global ministry was first sparked by a weeklong youth missions trip to Mexico, then fanned to flame by a series of short-term trips to Papua New Guinea, where she first learned about the need for Bible translation.

“After those trips she was certain of two things,” says Mary’s father, Bruce Owen, who works in the finance office at George Fox. “The first was that God had called her to a life of missionary service, and the second was that she never wanted to wear shoes again. From that time on she only wore them if absolutely necessary or when compelled.”

During her time as an undergraduate at George Fox, she developed a reputation as a free spirit and daredevil, chasing adrenaline and natural beauty wherever it could be found: skydiving, bungee jumping, caving, and even free climbing the outside of buildings in Newberg. It was not uncommon for Mary to disappear into the woods for days at a time to revel in God’s glorious creation, rarely telling anyone where she was going or how long she would be gone.

“She lived her life ‘joyfully,’ as she would put it,” says Mary’s mother, Shelli (B20). “She considered fear anathema. God had made her life an adventure and she was going to embrace that adventure with abandon.”

Mary’s parents were confident in her skills as an outdoorswoman, but they worried about the potential consequences of her carelessness.

“God has called me to be a missionary,” she would say whenever they gave voice to their concern. “He’s not going to let me die before I do what he has given me to do.”

For years, Mary walked the razor edge that runs between courage and recklessness. In 2013, that balancing act nearly killed her.

One Thursday morning in the middle of Mary’s final spring break at George Fox, one of her roommates called Mary’s parents to ask if they knew where she was. No one had seen her for days, and though her friends had grown accustomed to her occasional disappearances, they were starting to worry. It soon became evident that Mary was missing.

Her parents filed a missing person’s report, put out the word on social media, and started a globe-spanning prayer chain. By the next day, police had found the pickup truck Mary had borrowed from a friend. Its location indicated that she was likely somewhere in the vast wilderness surrounding Mount Hood. The search began.

Four days earlier, without telling a soul, Mary had set out to climb the mountain – a goal that had eluded her for years. She originally connected with a guide to take her to the summit, but when they postponed the climb – citing unfavorable weather conditions – Mary decided to push for the unfamiliar peak alone. High on the mountain, she was caught in a whiteout. Blinding snow fell thick and fast, and soon Mary lost her bearings, started descending the wrong side of the mountain, and fell.

Mary lay injured, freezing and alone in the snow for six days, before she was miraculously found by an Air National Guard helicopter crew. The brush with death marked a turning point in her life, changing her perspective forever. Faced with her mortality, she realized that her story was not her own, but that she belonged to God; that life was precious and fragile and not to be risked unnecessarily. More than anything, she realized the urgency of her call to share the gospel with others.

She still loved the wilderness and adventure, but no longer would she take death-defying risks purely for the thrill. God had forged her to be an adventurer, but an adventurer with a purpose.

After graduating from George Fox and marrying Ben – whom she had met while both were working at a group home for foster teens – Mary dove straight into graduate training at the Canadian Institute of Linguistics. Near the end of her masters program, a man named Clemence Komnapi from the village of Baku helped her with some research. As their project drew to a close, he asked whether she and Ben would consider moving to Papua New Guinea to join him in his work of translating the Bible into his people’s native language and serving the physical needs of the local community.

“We prayed,” says Mary, “and God said ‘Go!’”

Mary piloting a boat

These days, Mary and Ben are happiest at their home in Baku. They hold first aid trainings and literacy meetings, tend their garden, and share their meals and love their neighbors. Their children spend their days outside, playing in the muddy jungle mountains. For many, the Grimms’ life of primitive isolation would be a hardship. For them, it is a blessing – a perfect fit for the nature-loving, adventure-driven humans that God made them to be.

“I have not sacrificed to come here to Papua New Guinea,” Mary says. “Jesus sacrificed to bring me to him, and he has honored me with the calling and the provision to tell others of his sacrifice for them. I will never forget what he showed me on the mountain. There is no person on this planet that is not worth it to God. He has moved heaven and earth to bring us to him. Crossing the globe is nothing.”

Read more about Mary’s harrowing experience on Mt. Hood in a new book written by her mom, Shelli Owen, entitled Mountain Rescue: A True Story of Unexpected Mercies and Deliverance, available on Amazon and in the Bruin Store.

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Summer 2022 Cover

Cover of Summer 2022 issue

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