Last weekend we buried my grandmother, who had walked faithfully as a Christian for 61 years and left a legacy of godliness and virtue. Her life inspires me, and her story is worth telling as an example for those of us who are seeking to finish well.
Yvonne Patricia “Pat” Bodine was born in Pontiex, Saskatchewan, Canada on May 13, 1921. She was the first child of Dorothy Bodine, an Iowa farm girl, and Leslie Bodine, a Canadian pioneer and businessman. When she was two years old, Leslie died in a tragic railroad accident, leaving Dorothy as a single mom with two young children to care for (she was pregnant at the time of his death). Dorothy went back to school, got her beauty license, and moved the family to Ashland, Wisconsin, where she opened a salon. A few years later they moved again to Minneapolis. Pat graduated from high school and enrolled in at the University of Minnesota. She soon met Harold, a basketball player for the Golden Gophers. The two were married on June 1, 1943, in Melbourne, Florida, where Harold was in flight training with the U.S. Navy.
Six months later, Harold deployed with the Pacific Fleet. Pat would not see him for 14 months. When the war was over, Harold’s father asked him to move back to Murdo, South Dakota to help run Thune Hardware, which was booming in the post-war economy. Pat was confident this would be a short-term arrangement. But as she put it many years later, “Our short stay turned into a lifetime… one thing led to another and we put down roots.” A temporary sojourn in a small prairie town turned into a 66-year residency. Pat’s body now rests beneath the rolling prairie that she once referred to as “more nothingness than I’ve ever seen.”
It would have been easy for this cultured city girl to grow bitter, restless, and discontent with her circumstances. But shortly after the move to Murdo, the trajectory of Pat’s life changed forever. It all started with an invitation to a Bible study.
One of Harold’s best childhood friends growing up in Murdo had been John Parker. After high school, John had moved to California, married his wife Virginia, and met Jesus as his Savior. John and Virginia decided to spend the summer of 1951 in Murdo, and they invited Harold and Pat to join them for a Bible study in their home. They met 2 or 3 nights a week for a month. The words of Scripture came alive to Pat, and she knelt in the Parker’s living room one night and trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. Harold’s own conversion soon followed, and so began a spiritual and family legacy that continues to this day. Pat always referred to that moment, and that summer, as “the great turning point of my life.”
For the rest of their lives, Harold and Pat sought to influence others toward faith in Christ. It started with Harold watching the kids one night a week so Pat could lead a youth Bible study. Then, as their own kids grew, they started teaching the Bible in their own home. The Scriptures became deeply foundational to their own lives. They loved the Bible and wanted others to love it, know it, and live it. When theological liberalism began to erode the biblical convictions of their local church, they fought for theological reform and spiritual renewal. But it was a losing battle. In grief and humility, they left the Methodist church and began a Bible study in their living room on Sunday mornings. That Bible study turned into a church plant, Community Bible Church, which stands to this day at the corner of Washington Ave. and State Highway 16.
In this age of feminism, where motherhood is devalued, Pat Thune would proudly say that her greatest legacy is her children. She had five of them, along with thirteen grandchildren and thirteen great-grandchildren. Her influence through her legacy is vast. One of her sons is a United States Senator whose decisions affect an entire culture. All of her children and grandchildren, and all of their spouses, are professing Christians, and many of them are involved in the work of gospel ministry as pastors, elders, deacons, teachers, student ministry leaders, and church planters. Pat often quoted 3 John 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” She died a joyful death.
At her funeral, I heard over and over again, “Your grandmother led me to Christ.” “Your grandma taught me the Bible.” “Your grandparents counseled me in my marriage and helped me walk faithfully with Christ.” We needed the largest church building in town – and video overflow – to seat all the people who gathered to pay homage to her legacy. The governor sat in the second row, the Senator in the fourth. And all of this for a simple woman who passed her life in a sleepy little town on the windswept prairies of South Dakota.
Murdo, South Dakota, has a population of 488 people. Pat Thune often said that she was praying for spiritual revival there. She spent her life investing in, loving, and sharing the gospel with those 488 people – and her five children. She lived faithfully, in one place, for a lifetime. And at her death, the reverberations of her influence were felt in Omaha and Chicago and Los Angeles and Washington D.C. and Cape Town and a hundred other places in between.
Despite the hundreds of theology books on my shelf, I learned the simplest and most profound lessons in godliness from my Grandma. Love the Lord Jesus. Love people. And be faithful in one place for a long time. That’s missional living.