Sandra Bishop, retired missionary to Japan, who served there with her husband Dale for 44 years, was recently diagnosed with a rare form of liver cancer. She was hospitalized first in Tifton, Georgia, where they live in retirement, then sent to Atlanta for further testing. The doctors determined that there was nothing to be done, and so they sent her back home to Tifton under Hospice care. This is a tribute to Sandra, a very special friend and colleague.
As is common in missionary circles, I grew up calling Sandra Bishop “Aunt Sandra.” I didn’t find out for years that she wasn’t actually my biological aunt. But when I did, it didn’t matter. We were family. I spent countless hours at her house having sleepovers with her daughter Jennifer, watching movies, and pretending not to eavesdrop on missionary meetings between the Bishops and my parents. I still picture her in that house on the second floor above the Koinonia church, cooking Southern food from scratch in her kitchen.
Most of my memories of Aunt Sandra are of her happily and busily working. She was either baking her own bread, teaching a women’s Bible study, or singing a strong and steady alto line during congregational worship. She lived her life just like she sang that alto line: dependably, consistently, and with all her energy. I really don’t have any images of her sitting and lounging, just faithfully working and serving, always with a good attitude and her distinctly contagious laugh.
For how hard-working she’s always been, I’m amazed at how she maintained her good humor. She is one of those people who would be the first to laugh at your jokes, whether they were actually funny or not. And she loves puns, both in English and Japanese, just like her husband. In fact, one of the last times I got to see Aunt Sandra in person, she laughed heartily at one of Uncle Dale’s Japanese puns. She then tried to explain it to me, because it was over my head. In addition to being hard-working and good-natured, she is also sharp as a tack.
Dedicated to the Lord
Aunt Sandra spent her entire adult life dedicated to spreading the gospel through serving others. She felt the gravity of the task, but always seemed to take daily stresses in stride, trusting the Father’s master plan.
Years ago, they had to hospitalize her youngest child Jennifer in Japan for tonsillitis. This prevented Aunt Sandra from traveling to Tokyo for annual field council. Jennifer ended up sharing a recovery room with several other children and their parents, which of course didn’t phase Aunt Sandra at all. She struck up a conversation with one of the moms in her very competent Japanese. Aunt Sandra eventually witnessed to her and lead her to the Lord. She dedicated herself to her mission, even while caring for her sick child and missing out on fellowship, and God blessed her for it.
I wonder just how many stories there are like this about her behind-the-scenes obedience. She had a unique blend of a Martha-like work ethic with Mary’s soft heart. Oh, how I wish to be more like Aunt Sandra! Unwavering. Dedicated. Without a hint of bitterness or complaint, willing to see the humor in any situation, and forgoing my needs for others’ right until the very end. I’m heartbroken by how quickly her health has deteriorated, but smile thinking of her warm laugh, and of the abundant rewards God has in store for her for a life well lived.
Dale and Sandra Bishop have been our very dear friends for 50 years – and more. Dale and I started college together in the fall of 1968. Sandra was one year ahead of us. Judy and Sandra were suitemates one semester.
Dale and Sandra both served on the mission team that went to Sapporo (Hokkaido), Japan in 1972 to minister during the Winter Olympics. I think it was then they started dating and fell in love. At any rate, Sandra had graduated from Free Will Baptist Bible College in 1971, and then worked at the college for some time. Dale came back from Japan and went one more year, graduating in 1973. It was that year they married.
Dale and Sandra followed the Lord’s call into career missions and were appointed to Japan in 1973. Judy and I were appointed to Panama in 1975.
From college days to the present…
Dale Bishop has been one of my closest friends. And Sandra was a perfect complement to Dale. In recent years, our house became their home away from home when they were traveling, and they stayed with us frequently.
Sandra is such a special person. I knew her at Bible College, and one semester I coached the Bronte society’s volleyball team, which included Judy and Sandra. I was more of a cheerleader than a coach, but the girls played hard and finished their volleyball schedule undefeated.
Sandra loves the Lord, and she and Dale faithfully served Him in Japan for over 40 years. She is kind, dependable, helpful, and encouraging. She and Dale hosted Judy and me in Japan, a true highlight of our missionary career.
When I think of Sandra, I think of a hard worker. I remember college days when she worked with Bert Tippett in the printing department. She worked many long hours and was faithful to do the job and do it right. That is the way she approached any task she had.
She was my prayer captain one semester and was well respected by her prayer group. I remember she was kind and thoughtful but could correct when necessary, always doing it in love. We were in the same society and played all the sports together and served together in other activities. She is a no-nonsense person but fun to be around.
Sandra is compassionate and loves people as evidenced by her many years of missionary service in Japan.
She set a good example to the Japanese and fellow missionaries. Her abilities are endless, and she uses her God given skills and talents to reach others for Christ.
When you serve as international missionaries, most of your time is spent in your country of service. The Bishops served in Japan. We served in Panama. As it turned out 15 years passed before our stateside assignments occurred at the same time and we could see each other again. It was a joyful reunion!
There are at least two special highlights of our friendship.
In 2004 the International Fellowship of Free Will Baptist meeting was held in Panama. We were able to attend and Dale and Sandra went with a Japanese pastor. After the meeting, we had a few days when some of us stayed over for the men to have an important mission meeting. The wives enjoyed a day of sightseeing and a fun lunch on the Causeway by the ocean. Lynette Morgan, Brenda Bunch, LaRhonda Bowerman, Sandra, and I talked and laughed and enjoyed this rare precious time together.
Another special highlight of our friendship was in 2016. Dale and Sandra, Seldon and Pam Buck, and Steve and I were privileged to take a trip to New York City and a New England/Canada cruise. We walked the streets in NYC, rode the subway, ate too much good food, watched a Broadway musical, and attended a concert at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The cruise was relaxing and beautiful. The autumn colors were brilliant in Maine and Canada. The time together with longtime dear friends was more priceless than all the sights, musicals, concerts, or food we enjoyed.
Sandra has dedicated her life to being the best wife, mother, daughter, missionary, and friend she can be. She has excelled because her focus has always been to love, honor, and serve God with all her heart. By putting God in first place in her life, the rest has fallen into place and God has honored her choice.
We, Lynette and I, met Sandra at Welch College a few moons ago. As we pursued going into missions God drew our hearts and lives together in His unique way of forming His Body to do His will. From that time on Sandra and Dale have been our dear friends, colleagues, and most of all, sincere followers of Christ. Sandra’s infectious laugh, joy of life, compassion and passion for the lost, and much more have endeared her to many people literally around the world.
We had the privilege of hosting Dale and Sandra in our home while serving in France. Their humility, flexibility, and openness to the needs of people around them was extremely evident. They were absolutely some of the most gracious guests we have ever had in our home.
Sandra and Dale’s missionary service in Japan was truly exemplary. They are loved, respected, and appreciated by the Japanese people as well as their fellow missionaries.
I, Clint, have always felt Sandra had enough fire in her to take on life’s biggest challenges. To take a strong stand when necessary, and not give evil a chance to take root. She understood God’s calling, His Word, and has given her life in His service. She is to be honored in every way possible.
Our prayer is that Sandra knows His peace, comfort, and joy in these most trying times.