As a sophomore majoring in textiles and clothing at the University of Delaware, Sue Van Dyke had a big decision one evening prior to heading home for Christmas vacation.
Should she remain cloistered in her room writing a term paper due the next day or should she go out on her first date with junior Tom Short and then come back and feverishly work on the assignment?
Sue chose to mix fun with studies. She and Tom enjoyed a Christmas concert together on campus, followed by a candlelight carol sing. Then she rushed back to her dorm to complete the paper.
When Sue arrived, her roommate quizzed her, “How was your date?” Nonchalantly, Sue replied, “Oh, it was nice.” But deep down in her heart, she was smitten. In fact, she was bubbling inside: Wow, this is the man I want to marry!
Ironically, her paper’s topic focused on wedding gowns. Sue finally finished it in the wee hours of the morning. She aced it!
Two and a half years later, on June 29, 1968, Sue and Tom were married in the church where they worshiped as students. After one year in Vermont, then two in Germany, the couple settled in Newark, Del., the college town where they had met.
Both worked for the DuPont Company. Tom was a biochemist. Susy–as Tom called her–worked in word processing at DuPont’s Engineering Test Center before transitioning to travel coordinator at the company’s Louviers Building. Though their jobs were demanding, both Tom and Susy made time for studying God’s Word at church and for serving Him there.
In many respects, Susy was able to put into practice some of the skills she honed as a young girl growing up in Butler, a small town in northern New Jersey. She had cherished sitting next to her mother and painstakingly learning how to sew. Later, she employed those abilities–and the knowledge she picked up from her college classes–to create baptismal gowns and various costumes for church worship services.
High school chorus had cultivated Susy’s desire to sing. But ultimately that passion came into play at church, where she joined the choir so she could express her joy to God in song.
Susy is quick to say that her coming to Christ may not have happened had it not been for an invitation from a friend to listen to a Gospel radio broadcast.
“Had Iona not told me about that program, I have no idea when I ever would have found out about God’s grace and mercy,” Susy says now.
Susy grew up attending Sunday school and church. She enjoyed hearing Bible stories, but the God of the Bible was not personal to her.
Susy met Iona at school, and her new friend encouraged her to tune in to “Revivaltime.” “I told Iona that I’d be happy to listen just because she asked me to,” Susy recalls.
That night, for the first time in her nearly 17 years, Susy heard that Jesus loved her and died to take the penalty for her sins. When the radio pastor urged listeners to kneel down beside their bed to pray, Susy complied. “I admitted to Jesus that I was a sinner and, believing that He died on the cross for my sins, I asked Him to forgive me, come into my heart and give me eternal life,” Susy says.
“I was moved to tears and sobbed for half an hour, overwhelmed by all Jesus did for me,” she added, her voice breaking, then trailing.
After accepting Christ, Susy began reading her Bible. “It was now more than just a book for me to read. It was God’s Word, and He was speaking to me through it.”
Susy mustered the courage to witness to her parents. Her mother was initially reticent about her commitment, but her father smiled broadly and said, “I’m happy for you, honey!” Both her parents surrendered their lives to Christ before He took them home to Heaven.
Watching Billy Graham on TV and listening to his Gospel messages nurtured Susy’s faith. Emboldened to tell others about Jesus, she bought family and friends gift subscriptions to Decision magazine, which she heard about on those telecasts. Years later, yearning to see more people in the Delaware area hear the Gospel, Susy served as a counselor at an evangelistic event led by Bill Glass in nearby Wilmington.
Tom had given his heart to Christ in college when he was invited to church by a friend. Once married, Susy and Tom continued to watch Mr. Graham on TV. In June 1992, despite sweltering temperatures, they attended Mr. Graham’s Philadelphia Crusade.
“Since Billy Graham was telling people the Good News and because Tom respected Mr. Graham’s integrity, he believed we should give regularly to BGEA,” Susy explained. So the couple started contributing financially to the association.
On May 25, 2000, at 1:30 a.m., Tom had a massive heart attack that dramatically altered his and Susy’s life. Sitting in the hospital waiting room during Tom’s first surgery, Susy prayed: “Father, I know that Tom is my husband, but he’s also Your child. I want Your perfect will for Him, whatever that may be. And I will have peace with that.”
Within days, Tom underwent a heart transplant. Throughout his hospital stay, the social worker witnessed Susy’s quiet composure. “She told me that I was a rock, but I said, ‘No, it is the Lord. He’s giving me this peace and strength,'” Susy said.
Infections complicated Tom’s recovery. With a heartfelt longing in his voice, Tom turned to his wife of 32 years and from his hospital bed said, “Why do I have to put up with all this when I can be with my Jesus?” A few days later, Tom died.
“Knowing that Tom wanted to be with his Jesus touched my heart deeply and became the most precious gift that he ever gave me,” Susy said.
A few years after Tom’s death, Susy moved to Pennsylvania Dutch country in Lancaster to a retirement community that she and Tom had previously scouted out.
Susy continues to support BGEA. She’s created several gift annuities and established a revocable living trust. “I’m especially burdened to help reach today’s youth just as I was reached as a teenager back in the turbulent 1960s,” Susy said. “As an individual, I can reach so few, but BGEA can reach millions.”
Then she added, “What I’m able to give is not what I have accumulated on my own. Why would I not want to give back to Him what He’s first given me!”