At age 13, Linda Kelley went with her parents, who were missionaries, from their home in Titusville, Pennsylvania to live in Papua New Guinea (PNG). This life-changing experience helped shape Kelley into the person she is today.
PNG is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, north of Australia. It previously was part of Australia. An extremely diverse country, there are 851 indigenous languages spoken there.
Kelley remembers living in a temporary home, she said, with clear plastic windows, and the locals would stand outside the home and watch her family inside. They had never seen an American family before. She lived in PNG for about 25 years, getting married and having her first son there.
After many other international adventures over the years, Kelley now lives in Eaton Rapids, due to her son’s influence. A police officer in Lansing, he suggested that she live in Eaton Rapids where she would be safe. She drove past Edgewater Apartments one night and saw the building lit up against the night sky and fell in love with it. She has lived there ever since.
“I love the beauty of this town. I love the people,” Kelley said. “My family is here. I’m so glad my son suggested this place.” Kelley has three children and eight grandchildren.
Having a walkable downtown has been something that Eaton Rapids has promoted, and Kelley typifies the kind of person who takes advantage of this feature. She is sometimes known as “the bike lady” as she can often be seen riding her bike around downtown during the warmer seasons, her long braided hair in a crown on the top of her head. “I have lived in countries where there is no transportation and I want to keep fit for when I am able to go back,” she explained.
Kelley has visited over 20 different countries around the world, but not as the usual tourist. At 75, she continues to do missionary work and lives to help others, even people in Eaton Rapids.
Kelley has a strong interest in languages. “I can say the Lord’s Prayer in seven different languages,” she said. She studied biblical languages in college and is currently studying modern Greek as a memory aid through Duolingo online.
She lived in Ukraine in 1995 for several years where she taught English, ethics, Greek and Hebrew. She has also lived in Kiev and the Dominican Republic.
Not one to be intimidated by modern technology, Kelley is currently teaching a class online through Zoom about women in cross-cultural ministries.
Kelley has authored six books, several of which can be found on Amazon. Most deal with women’s rights in PNG, like her book “Toropo: Tenth Wife,” a true story that deals with a father who is more concerned about how much money he can get for marrying his daughter off than making sure she gets an education. The Papua New Guinea Department of Education distributes this book to every school in the country. A very patriarchal society, polygamy still exists in PNG.
Evidence shows that women in polygamous marriages are at a higher risk of being physically abused by their husbands than are those in monogamous marriages. Having multiple wives in the same household often causes jealousy among the wives which then can lead to violence. This situation concerns Kelley and she has fought for women’s rights there for years.
“Women cannot say no to a man in PNG. Men own women,” Kelley explained. Saying “no” there can lead to violence and worse, she explained. An unmarried woman has no rights and faces danger there.
“We are so blessed to be born in America,” she said.
Warned by her son that PNG was too dangerous for her to travel to, Kelley went to Greece.
“It’s in Greece where I feel most comfortable.” She leases an apartment in Greece for her return someday. There she teaches English at a refugee center and helps the refugees write their stories.
Feeding beggars on the street in Thessaloniki, Greece, in 2015, the height of the refugee crisis, was one of the most moving moments in her life, she said. An influx of refugees, thousands of them, many from Syria, were there, and she passed out food to them.
“It’s like I’m not even here on this earth when I’m helping someone,” she explained.