Her name was Ineke Willems, but the children of Mustard Seed Christian Fellowship called her "Oma," the Dutch word for grandma.
They weren't the only ones in the fast-growing Lawrence congregation who saw Willems as a family member. Many of those who belong to the church viewed her that way: as a grandmother, mother, sister and close friend.
Someone to turn to for advice on marriage, raising children, questions about faith. A source of wisdom about life. And, when necessary, a shoulder to cry on.
In other words, she was Oma.
"The whole church was her family. To me, she was kind of a shepherd. When she said she was going to pray for you, she meant it. And things would change in your life," said Hank Willems, 52, one of her sons.
"We're sad she's gone, but we know where she is and what a life she had."
Ineke Willems, who co-founded the nearly 30-year-old, charismatic Christian church with her husband, the Rev. Nick Willems, died Oct. 19 in her home after a two-year battle with cancer. She was 75.
The Willemses, who are originally from the Netherlands, emigrated to Lawrence from Southern Rhodesia in 1960.
Nick Willems, ordained as a pastor in the late 1970s, taught civil engineering at Kansas University for 30 years before retiring in December 1990.
Ineke Willems is survived by her husband, as well as three sons, two daughters and a former foster daughter, all of whom live in the Lawrence area.
One of her children, the Rev. Pieter Willems, 49, is Mustard Seed's senior pastor. Nick Willems, 78, is now in charge of pastoral care at the church.
Made others feel special
Family members said Ineke's love of God, love for people from all backgrounds and her generous spiritual presence will continue to be felt for years to come in the faith community she helped create.
She was a kind of magnet, drawing people into her warm circle of family and friends, extending her compassion to everyone she met.
If you can feel that when you visit the Mustard Seed, 700 Wakarusa Drive, it's largely thanks to her.
"This isn't just a big church people walk into. When people come here, we try to get them involved in smaller groups, where you can have a more personal relationship, and that goes back to the way the church originally started," Hank Willems said.
"My mom was very good at that: taking in newcomers and making them feel important. She knew that people needed people."
A memorial service for Ineke Willems followed by a reception for her friends, family, members of the church and others who knew her was held last Sunday.
Hundreds of people turned out to remember her, filling the church's sanctuary in an evening of laughter, spiritual music and tears.
Passion to see healing
Mustard Seed has come a long way since its founding in 1974 by the Willemses and Bob Mendlesohn, a convert to Christianity who later became a leader of Jews for Jesus and now lives in Sydney, Australia.
It began as a Christian fellowship made up primarily of students from KU and area high schools. A group of about 40 people met Tuesdays and Sundays in the living room of the Willemses and at Jesus House, a ministry located in a home at 1538 Tenn.
Today, the congregation has about 500 active members, and almost 700 people consider Mustard Seed their faith community.
The church offers a wide variety of ministries and groups for personal spiritual growth, with an emphasis on serving the needs of children, young people and international students. Its members are also very active in supporting missionary work in many countries.
Plans are being developed to build a large, youth recreation center on the church property in the next few years.
Pieter Willems credits his parents for the good things that have happened at Mustard Seed.
"I think everything that I do is built upon their foundation, and I consider myself very fortunate to have that foundation because it's a good one," he said.
And though she surely would have dismissed the notion, it was the faith of Ineke Willems that served over time as a guiding light for the church.
"She was just so open, so transparent. She had no personal agenda," said the Rev. Paul Taylor, Mustard Seed's associate pastor, who knew her for more than 20 years.
"She also had a real passion to see broken people healed Â emotionally, physically and spiritually. She believed God was more than able to do it, and that's what she was about."