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Missions Giving Legacy

Recalling the sacrificial lessons of Edna May Wiste.
Wanda Keller, the 87-year-old widow of John G. Keller, an Assemblies of God minister who pastored at La Habra, California the last 15 years of his life until his death in 1992, still works regularly at the Bradford Inn in Branson, Missouri, to support the work of missions. She continues to serve as vice president of Bethel Fellowship International, a Pentecostal missions giving organization based in Monroe, Washington.

Keller is vibrant about her faith and involvement in missions, including giving to many causes. That is a legacy she inherited from her mother, Edna Mae (Torganen) Wiste, who lived to be 102 years old before her death in 2010.

Wiste met the Lord as a young mother in Adams, North Dakota, at a small mission house run by Joseph Trankina, the father of Tony Fontane, a popular gospel singer during the 1960s. Trankina lived about 70 miles away in Grand Forks, where he based his ministry — talking people in, giving them food to eat, clothes to wear, and a bed in which to sleep.

Eventually, Trankina came to the little town of Adams and established a mission house where he preached and on occasion invited guest speakers. Here, Wiste heard the gospel, gave her life to Christ, and was filled with the Holy Spirit.

Wiste’s husband Clarence, a town policeman, wanted no part of Edna May’s new faith.

“My husband didn’t think much of the little mission church,” Edna May said. “But I went anyway.”

Despite her husband’s lack of support, Wiste found many ways to put her faith into action, especially through giving.

“While my father was at work during the day, Mother had her own feeding program,” recollects Keller of her childhood during the waning days of the Great Depression. The railroad station in Adams was about a quarter mile from the Wiste home.

“When the train would stop to take on water, hobos would climb down the from the boxcars and walk to our house,” Keller remembers. “There were other homes between our house and the train, but it seemed they liked coming just to our house, almost as if they had reservations. Apparently, they had a system of communication.”

Wiste would seat them on the porch. Then she went into the house to prepare a hot meal for them.

“Mom never failed to tell them about Jesus,” Keller recalls. “She always gave them copy of the Gospel of John or a tract. And we would never see them again.” She served them as unto the Lord, never really knowing the outcome of her obedience.

Because Clarence refused to share any of his income for Edna Mae’s charitable ventures, she financed her passion for missions giving through creative efforts. She washed, ironed, and starched shirts for some of the town’s professional men each week.

“I remember coming home from school and taking dozens of stiff white shirts across the street to the doctor’s office,” Keller remembers. “With this, my mother generated a little money, and she was happy to send it all to missions.”

The first donation Wiste gave went to Assemblies of God world missionary Lillian Trasher for her orphanage in Assiut, Egypt. For years following, she also made quilts and dresses for the children at the orphanage.

“Mother was an excellent seamstress,” Keller boasts. “She also made dresses to raise money for missions.”

Wiste recalled having a powerful vision after she gave her first $1,000 missions offering.

“There was a pond of water, and there were people in the water,” Wiste said. “The body of water changed into the shape of the United States. The pond turned into lots of water and people were coming, coming, coming.”

Wiste believed God showed her that many people came to Christ because of her commitment to missions giving. She continued raising money and giving to missions sacrificially, even though the family had little money of its own to make ends meet.

Edna May prayed for years before Clarence eventually came to the Lord. But she endured much hardship in the process.

“Once he tore up my Bible,” she said. “But Christians are supposed to be persecuted.” Her unswerving commitment to God’s work around the world remained solid.

“Mom was careful to shelter us from unhealthy influences while growing up,” says Keller, who has an older sister, Pearl, and younger sister, Toby. “When my father came to Christ, he was so transformed.”

Even at 100 years old, Edna demonstrated generous giving. Before anything else, she paid her $85 tithe every month.

“The tithes go out first, then the offerings,” she said resolutely. “We wouldn’t rob God for anything.”

The tradition of missionary and ministry giving continues today with such causes as AG Women Light the Way.