The Courtship of Heidi Crank

 

Following is the story of Greg Greenlaw's courtship of Heidi Crank, as told by Heidi's father, David Crank. The primary events in this story took place in 1995 and 1996.

by David Crank

The Crank and Greenlaw Families

Both the Cranks and the Greenlaws have lived in the Houston area for many years. Our families followed some remarkably similar paths over the years before we were really acquainted. We really first met the Greenlaws at a small gathering at a common friend's house. Heidi was perhaps 12 years old at the time. Bob and Martha Greenlaw were a little older than us, were also homeschoolers, and also had four children (two the ages of our children, two older). Their oldest son was already married and Greg was grown and heading off to Bible School and missionary training. So we really didn't meet either of them until much later, and then it was little more than an introduction.

When Heidi was about 13 years of age, she attended a Christian camp where Greg was a camp counselor and she returned the following summer also as a kitchen helper. So Greg and Heidi very casually knew each other a little at that point. Heidi was the same age as Greg's younger brother and a year younger than Greg's younger sister. So to the extent there was even the least thought of a possible future match-up between our families, it was of Heidi and Greg's younger brother, not of Heidi and Greg.

Background Concerning Heidi

Heidi is the third child among six and the oldest girl in the family. Until she was 15 years old, it was just her and her three brothers, all very close in age (4 years between oldest and youngest). From an early age Heidi expressed a desire to become a missionary. As her parents, we encouraged her in this direction, while reminding her that ministry as a missionary should come second after ministry as a wife and mother (assuming God so provided). As her parents, we realized that Heidi had some unusual gifts: her willingness to serve, her ability to meet and reach out to others, her abilities with both children and old people, her relative comfort with camping and more primitive conditions as compared to many girls, etc. She had grown up surrounded with brothers and was every bit as daring (and sometimes more so) as they in things like climbing on top of the house or scooting along a high ridge beam while we built our house.

When Heidi entered her high school years, she twice had opportunity to go to Mexico on summer missions trips with her church youth group. Her gifts of serving others and reaching out to strangers served her well on these. These experiences as well as hearing and reading missions stories at home seemed to further confirm her calling in this direction. Also when she was finishing high school, Heidi took the Perspectives course on world missions along with her brother Daniel - another good missions learning experience.

From Heidi’s pre-teen days we had taught her not to expect to ever date and in her late teens we had taught and discussed courtship quite a bit. Yet to Heidi it remained a little scary as to just how this would really work. Right after she turned 17, Heidi finished homeschooled high school.

Background Concerning Greg

Greg is the second child among four. He is only a couple of years younger than his older brother but about four years older than the next child (a sister). Greg was about six years older than Heidi, so he had already finished missionary training, raised his necessary support and was in Papua New Guinea as a missionary by the time Heidi finished high school. Greg had also been very interested in missions from an early age. At first his desire was to go into missionary aviation. But in his late teens he participated in several missions opportunities with New Tribes Missions and his heart became set on personally living among these people to learn the language, present the gospel, and create a church.

So when Greg finished high school, he went directly to the New Tribes Mission's Bible School, to begin training for missionary work. After two years of Bible school, one year of missionary "boot camp" and a year of language school, Greg was back home in Houston, Texas raising his support and preparing to go to Papua New Guinea. Greg had very much hoped to go to the field married and had prayed for a wife who was also from the Houston area. This was so that they could spend their furlough times in one location, involved with both families, rather than spending their precious time traveling around the country. The Lord had blessed with providing all of Greg's needed support from family, friends and church within the Houston area. But God had seemed to close the door on providing a wife to go with him!

Heidi's Mission Trip to PNG

Heidi had been interested in short-term mission opportunities for several years. When we were first investigating what was available, we had learned of the New Tribes programs from the Greenlaws. The program that really sounded ideal for Heidi to get a realistic taste of tribal missions was their Interface program. Now that Heidi was seventeen years old, she was old enough for this program and was planning to go to Papua New Guinea in January following her graduation from high school.

In advance of that date she was responsible for raising her own support from friends, family and church. The Greenlaws were one family interested in helping with her trip. This occasioned a number of conversations between Martha Greenlaw and Lori (Heidi's mother). Martha had a lot to share about Greg's experiences with the Interface program and about the New Tribes Mission and Papua New Guinea. And of course Lori had many questions given her daughter was soon to be going there and was so strongly considering tribal missions.

It was at this time that "a light turned on"! Both the Greenlaws and us were thinking - Greg and Heidi - they sound so much alike and both desiring to reach tribal people. And to everyone's amazement, Greg was still unmarried but really needing a wife, one that would be as committed as he was to this work. And a major concern of ours was Heidi finding a husband who was truly going the same direction in which God was leading her, with whom she could go to the mission field. We also prayed for a husband with very similar convictions and committments. Though there was six years age difference, with Heidi now almost 18 and unusually mature, that no longer seemed much of an obstacle.

The more we talked, the more possibilities we saw, except for a few "little" problems - they barely knew each other, they were on opposite sides of the world and Heidi still needed some maturing before she would be ready for marriage. Lots of possibilities, but some pretty formidable obstacles! But it made us all wonder whether God was not planning to overcome them!

Heidi had a wonderful time in PNG. She spent an extra four weeks there with a missionary family just to experience more of the missionary's life. She really felt at home there and loved it! Her time there really confirmed to both her and us God's direction for her life. While she was there, as a favor to his mother, Greg arranged to travel to one of the villages Heidi was passing through and spent a few hours with her talking about missions and encouraging her. (Which afterwards led to a number of the missionaries encouraging Greg to get to know her better!). Heidi enjoyed talking with him about missions but was a little intimidated by the whole thing (she had already figured out that Greg's mother was thinking of her as a potential daughter-in-law).

Waiting to See What God Would Do

Around the beginning of the year, we began to see the Greenlaws quite a bit more, as I was building a new home for my family and Bob (sometimes Martha too) began coming out to help regularly. Besides the significant help offered, it was a good opportunity to become better friends and later also gave Bob some additional exposure to Heidi (as she was sometimes working with us).

During this time, Bob and Martha wrote to Greg suggesting, "What about Heidi"? They (including Greg's siblings) were increasingly thinking, "Heidi's the one!" Greg knew she was a very nice girl who seemed to have a real heart for tribal missions. And he had heard lots of other good things about her from his family. But he was barely acquainted with her personally and besides - he was on the other side of the world from her and was not expecting to return for another three years or so!

For our part (Lori and I), we were waiting and wondering. Was Greg God's choice for Heidi? If so, then how would He bring them together? Would Greg seek a long distance courtship with a girl he doesn't know? Would Heidi accept a courtship under these circumstances from a guy she didn't know? Well, it was Greg's move to make. On the one hand, it would be pretty amazing if Greg really did propose a courtship in these circumstances. But then, if God is at work here …

The Letter & the Reply

Around the first of June (about 5 months after Greg had spoken with Heidi in PNG), the Greenlaws invited us out to lunch on a Sunday. During lunch we were presented with a letter from Greg, asking permission to court or at least get to know Heidi better through correspondence. We were amazed and excited. By this time we had concluded that probably nothing was going to come of this.

Greg's letter was very well written, expressing his growing interest in Heidi but confessing his hesitation as he could "barely claim her as an acquaintance."

Heidi was away working at a Christian camp for a few weeks. So we decided to pray about how to answer Greg and I would draft a response to share with Heidi along with Greg's letter, when she returned home. When Heidi first heard Greg's letter, she cried - she was scared! Heidi had never liked big changes and she didn't feel ready to marry and be moving away from home! This letter portended a possible big change coming! And though Greg seemed such a fine young man, sharing the same commitments to tribal evangelism, yet he was such an unknown! And he was so far away with no opportunity to see him or even to speak to him by telephone!

In my reply, I proposed that Greg and I first get to know each other better through correspondence before any direct correspondence with Heidi. (Heidi was much more comfortable with my proposal - she needed time and was not ready to start corresponding with him herself.)

There were a number of reasons (besides Heidi's greater comfort) why I wanted to proceed in this manner. Before allowing any young man to have access to my daughter in a way that might win her heart, I wanted to know him first hand, not just through his parents and others. I wanted to personally be sure of his commitment to the Lord and to missions, to know his beliefs and convictions, and to be sure he was mature and well prepared to be a good husband and father. Also I wanted to build a relationship with him - one that would lead to an excellent in-law relationship if marriage followed, and if not, would at least allow me to share with and encourage him in a way that he would benefit whatever the outcome.

It was also my plan to share his letters with the whole family, including Heidi (I told him this before he began writing). This would allow the whole family to get to know Greg (something they otherwise could not do) and assist in our whole family's assessment of him as a good match for Heidi. This also provided a means for Heidi to get to know Greg in a non-threatening way, helping to ease her fears in the matter.

Correspondence

Thus began my correspondence with Greg. Greg was very enthusiastic about the approach proposed and very willing to be completely open and transparent about his life and views. I asked him to write me about his life experiences thus far, his interests and abilities, his current circumstances, things he had learned or was learning, etc. I also asked questions in many specific areas - areas of particular concern to me. Some of these were things I had heard about him that I wanted to personally validate. Others were topics or issues that came up in his letters that I wanted to explore more fully.

And while Greg was writing his life story and answering my questions, I was writing back in like fashion. I was sharing a lot about my life and our family in similar areas, sharing concerning our beliefs and convictions, and commenting on his experiences and opinions. During this time, I wrote about all the members of our family, but said little more about Heidi than any other family member.

Greg's letters were very informative, transparent and often entertaining - he wrote well. He was courageous enough to share his views even when he knew they were somewhat different from ours. We learned a lot about Greg from those letters, both from what he wrote and from how he wrote.

After three months and about 17 letters from Greg and 8 in reply from me (all fairly lengthy), we were well satisfied and truly amazed at what a fine young man Greg was and how well suited for Heidi he seemed to be. Heidi was now sufficiently comfortable (note “sufficiently" - not "totally") to be willing to correspond with Greg herself, if he still wished to do so. So I informed Greg of the change in the program. Also Heidi requested we all (her three brothers, mother and I) write to Greg and tell him about her, from our perspective - which we did.

Greg's first correspondence to Heidi was by audio tape. He suggested that most of their letters be audio letters, allowing them to hear each other's voice and also being somewhat quicker than writing long letters. So they began regularly exchanging audio "letters", not waiting for a reply before sending the next one - since the mail times were so slow. This continued until the following May (about a year from when Greg's first letter arrived).

After Greg and Heidi began corresponding, Greg and I continued to write as well, though at a much slower rate. Over the nearly 12 months of correspondence I received a total of 27 letters from Greg and wrote about 14 or so myself (besides a few to Heidi as well).

A Concern to be Addressed

By the end of the year, Heidi was becoming troubled over having no prospect of meeting with Greg in person for several more years. She was about to start school at the New Tribes Bible Institute and was becoming afraid at the prospect of a correspondence relationship that might last until Greg returned on furlough (3 years hence). She didn't see how she could really become certain about Greg without spending time in person with him. And what if when they did meet things did not work out? After prayer and discussion with Greg's parents, we decided to write to Greg to explain the situation (as did his parents also) and appeal to him to seek approval to come back to the states in the summer.

Upon hearing this Greg agreed that he should come for the summer, if possible, and sought and received approval from New Tribes Mission. It was something of a high risk venture for Greg. The airline tickets were not cheap and the outcome of the trip was uncertain. They would only have about two months maximum to spend getting acquainted in person. But Greg was most concerned about the time he would be out of the tribe, delaying his language learning and when the gospel could be presented. But the mission leadership was very supportive of him returning. For Heidi, it created some anxiety about the coming summer, but relieved greater concerns about this courtship continuing for years with uncertain result.

Over the next several months, they seemed to grow a lot closer through their correspondence. On one evening Heidi called from school absolutely amazed at the audio tape she had received from Greg. He had asked her to envision what she would like her life to be like 10 years from now, and to reply to him before listening to his answer to the same. When she listened to his answer, it was so much like hers! She was absolutely amazed and took this as a significant further confirmation from the Lord!

Meeting in Houston

When Greg and Heidi both returned to Houston for the summer, it was a little tense and awkward at first. These two knew each other so well and had become very close, yet did not know just how to talk to each other or act around each other. We had a couple of both family get-togethers within the first few days, but what really helped "break the ice" was a several hour drive together taking Heidi's brother to a Christian camp where he was working. That was the little bit of time alone needed to bridge from the correspondence relationship to the in person one.

Over the next few weeks Greg and Heidi were almost continually together. They were doing projects together around our house, playing with and babysitting Heidi's much younger sisters, eating dinner with us or the Greenlaws, going to church together each Sunday - alternating between churches, they worked together with Greg's siblings and sister-in-law in planning and preparing a big anniversary dinner for his parents. In short, whatever one of them needed to do, they did together.

In just a few weeks it was apparent to us all that they were very much in love, emotionally committed to each other and generally "planning" their life together. As soon as I made it clear to Greg that he had our permission to propose, he did! We had planned a camping trip for both families together for early July. To our surprise they were already engaged by then and very busily working on wedding plans throughout the campout.

In order to return to PNG as soon as possible, leaving time for a honeymoon and working around when all family could be present, they decided to have the wedding about 6 weeks after their engagement. So they had another team work exercise (as did we all) in putting together a big church wedding within that time! Their goal was to be done with their honeymoon in time to get to Mississippi for the start of the next New Tribes Boot Camp in September. Though Greg had previously had this training, New Tribes normally requires the wife to have the same training and both husband and wife to spend up to a year together at the "boot camp" before being approved to return to the field.

Postscript:

March 2000 - Following marriage, Greg and Heidi spent one semester in the NTM missionary training school, were allowed to skip the second semester and proceed directly to language school, where they were also allowed an "early pass" to return to Houston to make final preparation for going to Papua New Guinea. During that time in Houston, their first child was born (a midwife assisted home birth). Greg and Heidi Greenlaw now live in the Sepik River region of Papua New Guinea, with the Nakwi people. Greg has nearly finished learning the Nakwi language and with their partners, is preparing the presentation of chronological Bible teaching in their native language as the means of presenting the gospel (hopefully before the end of 2000). Greg and Heidi now have two daughters, Alissa -2 1/2 years old, and Emily 1 1/2 years old.

Greg & Heidi Greenlaw
with daughters Alissa & Emily
August 1999

 

Volume 1 Issue 1: May / June 2000, Unless The Lord ... Magazine

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