Rebecca Talley’s faith is her north star. From her decades of experience as a full-time missionary to her wonderful marriage, to raising three beautiful daughters, it’s guided her every step of the way. Even after a devastating ALS diagnosis that has since stolen her voice, her faith hasn’t wavered.
Rebecca recalled growing up as a missionary’s daughter. At just one-year-old, her family moved to Thailand where she grew up learning to speak both English and Thai. While living there, her father frequently proclaimed, “We’re about to have an adventure!” Sometimes adding, “This is not the road we would choose to go down, but it’s an adventure. We’ll see where it goes!” This mantra and worldview from her family has led to a life of gratitude for every experience around the globe.
Her cross-cultural experience impacted her life for decades to come. Upon enrolling into Lubbock Christian University for college, Rebecca experienced some culture shock and awkward situations, but it also found her love. It was there she met her husband Tim Talley. “We actually were on the five-year plan at Lubbock Christian University and got married the day we graduated,” Tim shared. They were both 22 at the time.
Shortly after their marriage, Rebecca was working in digital art when Tim joined the staff at a local church. That job sent them on assignment as missionaries and in 1985, they moved to East Africa to serve in Kenya. Rebecca reminisces how this missionary experience changed her perspective on life:
When we arrived in Kenya, my language was not understandable. My humor was not funny.
What I considered modest was immodest. What I considered immodest, was modest. My view of beauty was perplexing to people. My sense of ownership was seen as extreme selfishness. My expression of strength was taken as aggression. What I considered as necessities were seen as gross opulence.
There was a stripping down of my identities and a building in a different context.
I am so thankful for the chance to learn from the people I came to teach and be changed along with the people I came to change. We learned things we obviously didn’t know.
Rebecca and Tim played many roles in their community over their 27-years as missionaries. They planted churches, taught literacy programs, and developed communities. Rebecca invested a lot of time in the local women, teaching them how to read and write.
They would move to a rural area for 12 years, then in 1997 they moved to the second largest city in Kenya—Mombasa.
It was in this city that Rebecca and Tim raised their three daughters. “They were very much American…[they learned] American culture from our home life, but they had not really lived in America,” Tim noted. While the girls learned of American traditions at home such as football, the Talley’s prided themselves on also providing their children with cross-cultural experiences and broadening their horizons.
The Talley’s found time to explore while living in Africa. They climbed Mount Kenya, rafted the Nile, went on safaris, and regularly camped together. The children even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro which is the tallest peak in all of Africa at 19,000 feet.
Often, the children were the only Americans in their schools and they had to learn many languages to adapt. Despite these challenges, the girls enjoyed their upbringing as it taught them to appreciate the nuances of different cultures and experiences.
In 2005, they’d move to Tanzania and for their last three years they moved to the most rural village the family ever encountered. In this place, they ministered to local children through schooling.
The Talley’s mission-mindedness runs deep in the family. All the while they served in Africa, Rebecca’s own siblings were scattered across the globe, from South America to Asia. And Rebecca and Tim’s heart for sharing the gospel trickled down to their own children.
Eventually, their daughters would all move back to the states to attend Abilene Christian University. Today the Talley’s have three grandchildren and one on the way. Their oldest daughter and her husband are now third-generation missionaries, working for Pioneer Bible translators. They currently live on the edge of a refugee camp in South Sudan.
Tim chuckled as he noted, “They make our experiences [as missionaries] look pretty timid actually.” In a way, they are carrying forward a family tradition of raising their children as missionaries. Rebecca and Tim are very proud of all three of their children and the lives they are building across the globe.
Rebecca and Tim moved back to Lubbock, Texas in 2012. Soon after, Rebecca jumped into college ministry. She finished a master’s degree at Lubbock Christian University and taught cultural anthropology for four years.
The Talley’s also began working with international students at Texas Tech University, where over 2,000 are enrolled. They’d host meals and connect with students of all different faith backgrounds. “We really were the biggest learners as much as we were going to teach,” Tim shared.
It was in 2017 that Rebecca first stated noticing weakness in her left hand. Tim recalled how Rebecca was very athletic. She did karate and was an avid runner. Upon visiting her primary care provider, they thought she just had a pinched nerve.
Rebecca and Tim weren’t convinced, and they consulted with a neurologist. ALS wasn’t suspected at first, but the couple decided to meet with more doctors to get a second opinion. In 2018, Rebecca’s health problems continued to worsen, so the couple traveled to a neurologist in Dallas. That doctor suspected ALS, but they needed further testing to confirm. And in winter of 2019, they visited the Mayo Clinic in Arizona where it was confirmed. Rebecca was living with ALS.
From that moment, nothing was the same for the Talleys. Rebecca could no longer run or continue her dream of teaching. They started attending the ALS Multidisciplinary clinic at Texas Neurology in Dallas where she continues to see Dr. Martin. And, by the summer 2019, Rebecca was already in a wheelchair and had a feeding tube placed.
ALS has taken Rebecca’s voice and she now relies on technology to communicate. She continues to lose mobility in her hands and has started using eye gaze technology and her cell phone to speak. “Somehow being reminded that some of God’s greatest works are in difficult circumstances has been life giving to me…if I can be an encouragement to others who are suffering in bigger or smaller ways…this hand I’ve been dealt can be holy,” Rebecca shared.
Through this devastating diagnosis, the Talley family has discovered a deep community in Lubbock, Texas. They were surprised to find so many others experiencing this disease in the area through the Lubbock ALS Support Group. Both Rebecca and Tim can connect with others who understand their experience living with ALS and as a caregiver.
Tim and Rebecca also find comfort in the virtual programs hosted by ALS Texas such as the Men’s Caregiver Group, Running on Empty, and Stress Less on Purpose. “There’s just a lot of camaraderie and a deep spiritual connection. Something deep happens when we come together. There’s the honesty, the tears, there’s laughter as well. Community helps process all of this. We can’t imagine doing this by ourselves,” Tim shared.
In November, Rebecca and Tim made the decision for Rebecca to begin hospice care. They are at peace knowing the community they have created will provide the love and support needed to navigate what’s ahead.
ALS may have taken Rebecca’s ability to run and speak on her own, but it hasn’t stolen her joy. She still smiles as she spends holidays with her children and grandchildren. Rebecca and Tim still joke, laugh, and cry together after all their years of marriage.
This experience continues to bless me.
Again, my identity is being stripped from me, this time by ALS.
I am having to learn a new way to communicate. My identity cannot be measured by how many languages I speak or how many miles I run. I can neither speak nor run.
Somehow the changes made in my life in East Africa have helped me let go more easily of the external identities that are not important. I am learning to rebuild myself in a new context around the identity most important.
Through it all, she has her North Star—her faith in God, the one thing ALS can’t take away. Guided by her faith, she knows her story will have a happy ending.
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