A Million different doors
Sonja Ray (Tallaksen, ‘74)—known as Sunny by her friends—is a woman of many talents. She’s a certified clinical nutritionist, a teacher, consultant, and a psycho-neurobiologist. A self-titled lifelong learner, she’s gained multiple certifications from schools around the world and studied with leading experts in Naturopathy, Educational Kinesiology, Biokinesiology, Laterality Therapy, Whole Brain Integration, and Psycho-Neurobiology. She’s also one of those rare people who has lectured on every single continent (yes, including Antarctica!)
On top of this wealth of educational and professional experience, she’s been highly involved in mission’s work—providing aid to people in Ethiopia.
Whenever asked about the trajectory of her life, Ray does not hesitate to give God the credit.
“None of this would have happened if God hadn’t opened up a million different doors at the right time,” says Ray. “A lot of the time I had to walk in faith. And it was scary.”
But of all the times she stepped out in faith, nothing was scarier or more impactful than her first trip overseas.
A Call to Care
While attending Trinity Western, Ray had a life changing encounter with Dr. Robert Thompson, her sociology professor. One day in class, Dr. Thompson showed his students slides from the famine in Ethiopia. Afterward, he issued a challenge.
He said that if anyone actually cared, they’d want to do something, and should come talk to him after class. Ray was moved by what she saw, so took up his challenge. Dr. Thompson helped her fill out paperwork and get the shots she needed, then put her in touch with the right contacts.
Because of Dr. Thompson, she was able to go to Ethiopia in 1974, right after she graduated.
“The trip was supposed to be about six weeks, I think,” says Ray. “But I ended up getting stuck there for several months.”
When Ray boarded the plane to Ethiopia, she was filled with excitement for all the things she would do there. But as they flew over the country, civil war broke out. The plane was forced to land north of her final destination and was suddenly boarded by men with guns.
“They were screaming and looking like they were going to shoot us,” says Ray, who was forced off with several other Americans.
Ray believes they would have all been shot if not for World Vision, who stepped in to say these were well-trained foreign aid workers. The men decided not to kill them, and instead the Americans were taken to a bullet-ridden building.
Because Ray had come from Canada, she’d received a certain inoculation that the others hadn’t. It allowed her to work with extremely ill people, deep in the jungle, so she was sent to a mountain in a remote part of the country.
“There was no food, no bathroom, no clean water,” recalls Ray. “I lost a lot of weight and got pretty sick. But I had peace in my heart.”
Life in the Mountains
Ray wasn’t supposed to be there long, but because the war got worse and the rainy season started, she was stuck.
During this time of famine, the mountains were the only place with water. People from the surrounding tribes would go there and try to settle.
“Coming from Canada and the U.S., we have so much,” says Ray. “It touched my heart seeing people who are desperately trying to keep themselves alive. They were so grateful for anything I did.”
In the time she was there, Ray was required to do many things she’d never been trained for.
“I had to help perform surgery with cues from a sick nurse who was yelling instructions from across a bush to me and a guy with a third grade education,” says Ray.
Although conditions were difficult, Ray was happy to love these people and share with them whatever bits of knowledge she’d acquired. Even simple things, like washing a wound or the need to boil water, made a huge difference.
Ray had been stuck on that mountain for several months, but a plane was eventually sent to bring her and a few others home. However, due to heavy rain in the area, the plane struggled to land. It took two weeks of failed attempts before the pilot succeeded.
As soon as he landed, he shouted at Ray and a few other workers to get in. They hurried climb inside the tiny Cessna with their things. But because of the weight and mud, the plane was unable to clear the mud field.
“He had to grab the plane, turn it around, and try to take off the other direction,” says Ray. “We were all trying to get the mud off the tires. Then get back in for one more attempt.”
But the plane still couldn’t get enough lift. The nose started dipping, so Ray and the other passengers were forced to throw their luggage out.
It was then she noticed a line of several tanks below them. Eight or nine started to turn their turrets in their direction.
Because they abandoned their luggage, the plane safely flew out of firing range.
Home and Back Again
Back at home, Ray found life harder than she did in Ethiopia.
“At least there I could make a difference,” says Ray. “Here, I’m watching people throw away half of what they eat and drink. I knew I’d go back there one day.”
Sure enough, after many years of education and adventure, Ray returned with her daughter in 2008. And thanks to the Lord opening up doors, she was able to find her way back to that same mountain. Once there, she was recognized by a military leader who she’d helped back in 1974, when he was a small boy. She’d given him a pencil, which allowed him to remain in school. He was extremely grateful.
“It was one of those moments where I saw how much a little thing can do,” says Ray.
Every second year since 2008, Ray and her husband have returned to Ethiopia in order to offer their services.
“I felt bad that I couldn’t have stayed originally, but now I get to work toward helping other people contribute,” says Ray, who works closely with people on the ground there. Through her efforts, they’ve been able to help build wells, get clean water, latrines, better education and medical care. They’ve also supported church planters in several villages. Since 2014, 1,053 people have accepted the Lord.
“We’re seeing our efforts multiply as we do this in Jesus’ name,” says Ray. “It’s not about giving them food and water. It’s sharing that Jesus loves them and cares. It’s a free gift.”
Caring for a Piece of God’s Heart
Today, Ray lives in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and uses her experiences to testify to the power of God through her consultation business.
“I love my job, but the most rewarding thing is leading people to the Lord,” says Ray. “Everyone who has ever birthed a child knows the joy that comes from it. I have birthed many spiritual children, and watching them grow and make a difference in the world is exciting to me. Now that I’m 64, it’s exciting to see the fruits of my labor.”
Ray knows not everyone will care about Ethiopia the same way she does, but encourages people to pick some place that matters to them and care for it.
“God has given us all pieces of his heart, and we need to take care of it,” says Ray. “One of those pieces for me is Ethiopia.”
All of this happened because she chose to open her heart to a group of people on the other side of the planet, and because of the encouragement of a professor. To this day, Ray affirms that she would not be where she is if not for the support of the people she met at Trinity Western.
“I’m forever grateful that I went to Trinity Western,” says Ray. “It put my feet on the right path.”
Sunny Ray was selected to receive The 2018 Calvin & Muriel Hanson Raw Edge of Faith Award. Click here to get tickets to attend the award gala.