Valerie Salkeld really didn’t want to become a missionary. In fact, when she and her husband Laird began the process of joining Wycliffe in 2001, Valerie assumed it would only be a matter of time before he finally heard from God that they weren’t supposed to be missionaries in the first place.
“I didn’t feel like I was qualified, that I was that mature Christian that I envisioned missionaries to be,” Valerie explains while sitting in her office at Wycliffe Canada’s headquarters in Calgary. “I envisioned missionary women to be [wearing] the bun and a house dress, living overseas eating bugs. I realized how inaccurate and immature that ‘picture’ was as I got to know missionaries.”
Valerie, 47, is a stark contrast in appearance to the missionary women she first envisioned. She has a neat elegance in her attire, often wearing colourful, knee length dresses, which are accented by her short hair, shiny earrings and perfect posture.
Practical about her faith, the mother of three resisted becoming a missionary because it meant she and Laird would have to raise financial support for their young family.
“It’s a frightening thing. . . . Laird was always determined to use his skills [as a graphic designer]. He always felt like what he was doing he wanted to fully devote to God and so I thought that was wonderful as long as it didn’t affect me.”
Mature, But Real
Valerie’s perspective changed, however, when the couple attended a Wycliffe orientation course where they met Wycliffe missionaries.
“They were the mature Christians everyone wants to be like, but at the same time they seemed real. All of a sudden it didn’t seem so unattainable,” she explains.
“It wasn’t about being a missionary and that label or that title; it was more about just your relationship with God, and that’s what I desired.”
Valerie and Laird started their missionary careers in the Calgary office in 2002. Valerie began in a support role to Laird, who joined the communications department. This allowed Valerie to stay home with their young children.
Although Valerie was officially a missionary, she wasn’t finished bargaining with God.
“You won this one,” she told the Lord. ”I’ll be a missionary, but I’m not going to do the public praying thing. I’m not going to teach, and I’m not going to speak in public.”
Of course, within only a few years Valerie would be doing all of these things. By 2006 she was praying publicly, teaching and public speaking in her new role in the prayer ministries department.
“I think to some level we know what God is asking of us and that’s why we put up our hands [in defiance] before He even has a chance to ask.”
Originally Valerie worked in the department only two days a week, but in 2010 she took on the role of team leader and spearheaded a change in the department from prayer ministries to spiritual enrichment. The department changed the format of the weekly office chapel time, incorporating the reading of longer passages of Scripture and expanding prayer to Wycliffe staff needs across the globe. Her department is also responsible for sending out Prayer Alive to Canadians praying for the work.
“We impact Wycliffe’s efforts in the field through interceding for the people and the work around the world. We also encourage staff and churches to join with us in being prayerfully involved,” she explains. “I feel I am caring for and facilitating a thriving, sustainable Wycliffe community as well as promoting their spiritual health and their attentiveness to God's movement in their lives.
“Working in a faith-based organization, it is still possible to forget the main reason we are working together . . . to join in God's work. We can get very caught up in our own jobs and forget about nurturing our faith and relationship with God, which ultimately is the only source we can rely on. “
Grasping His Love
For Valerie, it wasn’t until a pivotal moment in her life that she realized that God can be relied on—that He is an intimate God.
As a child she grew up in a conservative Christian home with her three brothers and sisters. She heard all the Bible stories but viewed God as in the sky with “a big pointy finger.”
She was told God was a loving, forgiving father, but she had a hard time grasping His love—until the first moment she saw her first-born, Clayton.
“I was holding him and in that moment it was like God said to me, ‘This is how I love you.’ I realized holding him that this baby would grow up. This baby could hurt me emotionally. This baby might distance himself from me. This baby might disobey me or do all the things he will do to grow and learn. But there is nothing, nothing—nothing—that this baby can do to make me stop loving him.”
Valerie calls this her conversion moment. It took her breath away realizing that her love for Clayton was just a fraction of the love God has for each of us.
By joining Wycliffe, despite her fears and reservations, Valerie has again experienced God’s love and provision—in serving Him.
“You hear this all the time, right?” explains Valerie. “People are very resistant to do what God has called them to do.
“And then they do it and wouldn’t trade it for anything.”