Articles From the November 1997 Unification News
In Memoriam - Izilda Ernestina Withers (Nee Lima) 1945-1997
Our precious sister, Izilda Withers passed into the spiritual world at ten passed midnight on September 3rd 1997 perhaps not uncoincidentally just days either side of two prominent women whose roots were also very much in the catholic faith-Princess Diana on August 31st and Mother Theresa on September 7th. Izilda's beloved family-husband Philip and second generation daughter P. were by her side. She had been diagnosed as having cancer a month or so previously.
Izilda was one of the great pioneering spirits of The Unification Movement in The Western World. She did especially important work in The United States, Portugal and Britain in all of which nations her priceless Contribution will surely be long remembered with great affection and deep gratitude. She also spent time pioneering in Honduras.
Izilda was particularly blessed with the necessary qualities for being a pioneer-great love for and devotion to God and True Parents, profound and unshakable faith, sacrificial spirit, intense and single minded desire to do God's will and great perseverance and stubbornness in doing so, often in the face of considerable hardship difficulty. For these and many other qualities she was much loved and valued by our True Parents, who directly gave her pioneering mission on a number of occasions, most notably in the case of Portugal. True Father himself once paid a glowing tribute to Izilda's qualities when at a meeting of leaders in The United States in the early 1970s, he made her stand up and commented "There's an exemplary missionary."
Izilda was born into a devout Catholic family, the sixth of nine children, On the island of Faile in The Portuguese Azores in 1945. Her Catholic upbringing in these early years played a major part in preparing her for her work for True Parents, nurturing the deep devotional character, piety and love for God and truth which would lead her eventually to accept Divine Principle.
Life on Faille was not easy. There was no electricity and few other creature comforts. Self reliance was at a premium and Izilda, the loyal daughter, sacrificed her education at the age of ten to help her father seek out a livelihood farming his small- holding, on which he also did some carpentry. Eventually, in 1960 when Izilda was 16, the eruption of a volcano on the island forced the family to flee to the Bay area of California. There she took up her education again and through a combination of natural ability and unstinting hard work succeeded in catching up the lost years of her education, first in High School and later studying foreign languages at Holy Names Catholic Womens' College. It was whilst studying there that in 1969 Izilda met The Bay area family under the leadership of Dr. Edwin Ang, accepting The Principle the first time she heard it.
After a brief spell in The Bay area, Izilda first joined "One World crusade" team under the leadership of The Rev. David S.C. Kim and was then (in 1972) asked by True Father to pioneer Arizona. However, in 1973 Father heard that Izilda was of Portuguese descent and asked her to be pioneering missionary to Portugal where she remained, apart from periods away pioneering Home Church and leading Portuguese crusade members in Britain, until 1983. During this time she took responsibility to develop the movement in that nation in many ways, leaving behind her 40 dedicated members, a number of properties, a large print press and several businesses. In the latter year in Portugal she worked together with her British husband Philip. By the time of her final illness she could take comfort from the knowledge that upon this foundation almost 20,000 Portuguese people have now received The Blessing from True Parents and the future of the movement there seems bright indeed. Future generations of Portuguese will surely come to know her as The Spiritual Mother of their nation.
In 1983 Philip and Izilda went to The United States once more. There, over the ten years, they devoted themselves wholeheartedly to a succession of responsibilities- IOWC team leadership, the State leadership of Tennessee and Georgia and a variety of pastoral responsibilities in The Bayou le Batre area. During this period Izilda also pioneered various towns and was commended numerous times for her work in educating Christian ministers in relation to The ICC conferences in Korea and Japan.
In 1993, Philip and Izilda return once more to Britain, where they already had a considerable foundation. Not only did Philip, as an early British brother, have a considerable foundation there, but Izilda had been the first pioneer leader in the Northern English town of Huddersfield, to accomplish The Home Church pioneering goal set by Father while he was personally taking responsibility for The Crusade in Britain in the summer of 1978. Furthermore, Philip and Izilda had been matched and blessed by True Parents in The British headquarters in May 1978 and their daughter P. had been born in Huddersfield in 1981.
The last 4 years of her life Izilda devoted to humble and self effacing service to The British Movement, giving invaluable secretarial and administrative support at The Lancaster Gate headquarters, assisting in the preparation of events, baby sitting, as well as supporting Philip to lead a witnessing team around the nation and as a devoted mother ,helping P. settle into School. Although few who came into contact with her will have known much of her long and devoted service to True Parents, none can have tailed to be touched by the quality of heart and spirit she brought to her surroundings. As National Leader at the time, I felt so grateful for the heart and attitude she showed. She was my elder in both faith and years and yet she supported me and my family in an exemplary way as if the reverse were the case.
It was my privilege to witness the deep faith and selfless courage with which Izilda faced the reality of her short final illness. I was with her the afternoon she was told the diagnosis of incurable and inoperable cancer. I was very moved when she told me with utter sincerity "You know I am not afraid to die, I am just very concerned about Philip and P.". As the disease took its course, despite the valiant attempts of many brothers and sisters to provide a miracle cure, Izilda's unshakable faith sustained her. She had a beautiful dream in which she was on a plane journey with True Parents. A Korean elder was preparing a bed for True Parents with white silk sheets. Then True Mother said that Izilda should use the bed. Izilda was extremely reluctant because it was for True Parents, but Mother smilingly but strongly insisted. Finally, Izilda gave in and jumped in joyfully!
In those last weeks Izilda also came to understand a dream she had had many years before in which she was standing on a barren seashore with a group of people. True Parents told them to stay there come what may, "to wait for the waves", but one by one all the people left, except Izilda. Finally, after quite a time, she saw a massive wave thundering towards her which threatened to envelop her. However, she was not afraid, only exhilarated. Since having the dream its precise meaning had remained unclear, but now she understand that by keeping faith in True Parents, she had been able to live through the age of indemnity (when so much was invested and yet so little result came in terms of humankind following True Parents) to see the age when humanity en masse could begin to follow True Parents, particularly through the widespread giving of The Blessing. This too gave Izilda deep comfort. For myself it most precisely encapsulates the deep meaning and value of her life, for she was truly one of the most devout and faithful of the relatively few who rode out the hardships the suffering and in many ways the fruitlessness of the age of indemnity as a pure and sacrificial offering to enable the rest of humanity to come home to True Parents in the age of accomplishment.
Izilda's final mission, which she received along with Philip at Chong Pyong in October 1996 was as National Messiah to Eritrea in Northeast Africa. She was never able to go there herself, but supported Philip to do so. On his last visit there he was able to bring a wonderful spiritual son, who could come back to Britain to receive education and whom Izilda was so happy to have lived long enough to meet. This victory apart, the way forward in Eritrea prior to lzilda's passing seemed completely blocked. Several representatives of the various National Messiah couples had been there. Not only could they make very little impact on the society but they seemed in real danger of being expelled. Then suddenly, within a very short time of Izilda's leaving us, the situation dramatically changed, The Grand Mufti, the main Moslem leader there as well as the Head of The Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the main Christian leader, agreed to attend The World Cultural and Sports Festival in Washington. What is more, our members were suddenly and wholly unexpectedly granted an audience with The President. When I heard this news I was deeply moved and a single powerful thought flooded into my mind "oh boy, Izilda pioneering again!" In her passing, as in her life on earth, Izilda has succeeded in deeply connecting yet another nation to True Parents.
At her beautiful Seung Wha ceremony at True Parents' house in Chislehurst, attended by about 120 people, including British members, lzilda's in-laws and Dr. Avelino Rodrigues, National Leader of Portugal, warm tributes were read from many elders of out movement ,including Rev Young Whi Kim and Dr. Edwin and Mrs. Marie Ang and deep and heartfelt gratitude and appreciation was expressed by so many for a beloved sister of profound and exemplary faith and devotion, whose life has given life to so many by connecting them to True Parents.
Mark Brann(National Leader of Britain from l993-96)
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