Ko Netzler beams from her hospital bed in the humble bedroom where she has spent most her days for the past 15 years. Surviving a car accident that she did not cause left her body partially paralyzed, but her soul and her faith suffered no lasting ill effects. Family and friends stop by hoping to cheer her, but leave encouraged and inspired by her love and faith. For those beyond her reach, she uses her laptop to send messages of love, encouragement, and faith.
Asked where and when she found such faith, she credits her parents and the Samoan village where she grew up in the 1950’s. “Papa and mama rocked our faith lives,” she says. She thinks she was about 10 years old, when she saw the results of her papa’s good works and persistence in teaching his family and clan to serve and give. The results, she said, were amazing. John Williams from the London Mission Society first brought Christianity to the island. Her family embraced it and changed their traditions to match the message.
Ko’s parents were very strict with high expectations and sometimes harsh punishments for disobedience. Ko said they expected to be told no. Her mother’s mantra was, “Be grateful and don’t waste the gifts God gives us.” Mama pointed out that air was free, so they should be grateful to breathe.
Her faith-filled upbringing defined her roles as a mother, daughter, wife, and friend. In her culture, mothers are rulers and fathers are providers. Her six children learned to work and serve. Following her mother’s advice, they used the gift of free air to dry their clothes outside when weather permitted. At one time, she was working three jobs and running the household. She said she domesticated her boys and taught them to be responsible and accountable. They were not allowed to place blame for their mistakes or failures on each other or others. She encouraged one son to take responsibility for providing for his family rather than relying on assistance from his church. As he exercised his faith, he was blessed to form a company that prospered.
As a daughter, she learned that when she did the chores assigned by her mama, not only was her mother happy, so was she. As a daughter of God, she finds peace and happiness in sharing her love and faith. She knows her children will also find happiness by being respectful and obedient.
Being paralyzed is not the only trial Ko has faced. Her youngest child, Lagi, was a twin. The other twin, a girl, Loa, died as an infant ten years before the car accident. Her husband, Bob, and one of her sons had to return to Samoa nine years ago because of legal issues.
How does she bear this and stay so cheerful? She says she talks to God in her own language and has faith when he sometimes says, “No, at least for now.” In her mind, there is no rush to fix things. She finds faith gives her balance. She has no doubt that God knows her and will answer her needs, even if “not straight away.” Her response to challenges is consistently, “Thank you, God.”
One example of this grateful faith involved her mortgage. Her youngest son, Bjorn, or “Iggy,” lives with her and provides care, support, and transportation. He works full time as well. (She has home health workers who make it possible for her to remain in her home). Ko did not have the means to pay her mortgage and, following her own example, didn’t want to ask Iggy to take care of it. She prayed and talked to the mortgage company. She was instructed to apply to have a past overpayment refunded. It seemed complicated and she did not have all the documents, so she left it in God’s hands. As the crisis loomed, she received a refund check and a reduction in her monthly mortgage payment. She, of course said, “Thank you, God.”
Her son, Iggy, recently posted this about her: “There is a lot I can say about mama, so to keep it short, mama is mama. Love unconditionally, give from the heart, humble and enjoy living.”
She shared her secret of staying grateful and full of faith. “Believe and serve and make use of what God has given you. He is there. There are only two options, so choose to be positive.”
Ko’s words ring true, but the light of her faithful life is the most powerful influence on all who know her.
Written by Norma Hendrickson
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