Susan Sanson died of Malaria while serving as a missionary in Zomba, Malawi last month. In her early adult years she lived what the world would call a glamorous life. According to her obituary, “Susan attended and graduated from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and then moved to New York where she worked for McCall’s magazine as a fashion illustrator. She also worked as a model and as a layout artist. She owned and operated several businesses and was an overseas buyer for a marketing firm in Boston.”
However, she began to recognize that her fashion career and chic lifestyle left her desiring more. She made a radical change and began working at New York Hospital in AIDS education, where she worked for 10 years. Then she enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where she met the love of her life Billy Sanson and they married. The Sansons were members of Metairie Baptist Church where they served in ministry.
Susan and I became friends through a woman’s Bible study class she taught on Sunday mornings. My life was monumentally impacted by her teaching and friendship. Reflecting on those years, I realize several things that contributed to this influence.
When Susan taught she was prepared. She knew the Bible passage for the lesson; her explanations of the verses were simple yet thorough. Her demeanor was an example of what the Apostle Peter said was required, “gentleness and reverence” (1 Peter 2:15). These virtues of hers helped magnetize my heart to listen and respond to convicting truths that would change my life.
Susan’s belief in what she taught was revealed by the way she lived her life. Her benevolent hand was always reaching out to those in need; her fitting words of encouragement were constantly being spoken to those experiencing hard times, often due to their own actions; and her commitment to sharing Jesus Christ with others was unwavering. These actions gave proof that Susan walked in accordance to what she believed, the Word of God.
Perhaps the most significant facet of Susan’s life was her answer to Jesus’ call to be a disciple which included meeting these requirements: one must carry one’s own cross and come after me (Luke 14:27), and be willing to give up all of his possessions (Luke 14:33). At her memorial service, a friend shared an account that occurred the night before they went to Malawi. Susan had a trunk of treasures from her glamor days that she had kept. She believed she needed to let go of them. Billy drove her to Goodwill and there she left her treasured possessions. Billy and she let go of many things, took up their crosses, and followed Jesus.
About the time the Sansons went to Malawi, I moved and unfortunately lost direct contact with Susan. However her life had become a light to me that was like the Olympics’ eternal flame. It was evident from the testimonies at the memorial service that her light stayed lit in other people’s lives as well. Her life was truly a poster child for Jesus’ words “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).
Susan Sanson served her God and others, persevered in trials, and faithfully obeyed her Lord. The Apostle John after hearing a voice from heaven wrote about Susan and those like her. “‘Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord from now on!’ ‘Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.’” (Revelation 14:13). Susan traded her life of glamor for a life of glory.