Tanna Collins was born on March 13, 1965, and surrendered her life to go to the mission field when she was 13 years old. She and her husband, Joe, attended Bible college and at a missions conference during their last year, the Lord reminded her of her decision as a teen girl, and she recommitted her life to serve Him wherever. Little did she realize that God was speaking to her husband about this very matter at the same time and had already directed his attention towards the country of China. Specifically, Joe felt burdened for Tibet, which was under communist China’s control and often called “The Forbidden Country” for many reasons not the least of which is that so few have been able to penetrate it with the Gospel.
When Tanna learned of her husband’s desire to go to communist China she felt strongly that she couldn’t do it. She argued with God over and over and stated her reasons emphatically. The Lord drew her to the book of Philippians. She argued that her biggest fear was dying on the field and the Lord said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." She argued that she couldn't take her children to China because it was too dangerous and they would miss out on growing up in America and the Lord said, "For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.” She argued that she complained too much especially when under pressure and wouldn’t be able to handle the life she knew she would be required to live in China and the Lord said, “Do all things without murmurings and disputings.” She argued that she wouldn’t be able to adapt to a different language and culture and that the Tibetan people wouldn’t think the same as she did and the Lord said, “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” She argued that if they got in trouble in China there wouldn’t be family or anybody around to help them and the Lord said, “But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” She argued that she couldn’t possibly be happy in China, and the Lord said, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.” All out of arguments, Tanna surrendered to go to China to work with the Tibetan people. She made this entry in her Bible at the end of the book of Philippians:
“4-26-88 - Lord, I here in your precious holy Word commit myself, my husband, and my children, and all that I possess, or ever shall possess all to you. I will follow your leadership, even to China. Lord, open the doors and I shall go and tell the Chinese of your great love. In time of need supply for us, in time of trouble send peace, in time of joy send someone to share. Help me never to murmur or complain. I love you! -Tanna Jo Sellers Collins”
In July of 1990, at the age of 25, Tanna, her husband, and their three small children arrived in the country of Nepal to work with the many Tibetan refugees who had crossed the border fleeing communist China. They were not satisfied to live separated lives in a neighborhood compound that would have afforded them privacy and instead lived right in and amongst the Tibetan people only a block away from the second largest Buddhist stupa in the world. This act helped to win them the hearts of the people they hoped to minister to. Their hearts were burdened further when they saw the abject poverty of those that lived around them. They were particularly burdened for the street children, many of whom were abandoned or orphaned and half of which would die before the age of five. For the next two years they focused on learning the Tibetan and Nepalese languages, and although it was illegal to proselytize, they opened their home to all who would come in. They soon began to have opportunities to explain why they were there and about God’s great love for the Tibetan people. The droning of the monks daily prayers and the great spiritual oppression that permeated the air had driven other missionaries away, but Tanna and her husband were committed to stay.
In 1992 shortly after Tanna gave birth to a set of twins, she was asked to take in an abandoned two-month-old baby girl. They were able to place her with a Nepalese couple who had become Christians. Soon afterwards they became involved in the lives of six street boys whose only means of surviving was begging. The Lord directed them to rent a home where the couple, the baby girl, and all six boys could live together as a family.
Not long after this Tanna became ill and it was decided that, after two years without a break, they should travel to Bangkok, Thailand to seek medical help and have a much-needed rest. Tanna was diagnosed with Typhoid fever, but soon recovered with proper medical treatments. They were on their return trip to Nepal on Friday, July 31, 1992, when their plane collided with a rocky slope on the side of a Himalayan mountain. With the explosion of the 20 tons of fuel the plane was carrying very little was left of it, and all on board lost their lives. A villager who witnessed the crash walked 10 hours to reach the nearest police station to notify authorities and try to get help. I can’t help but compare it to the distance Tanna was willing to go to try to get the Tibetan people the spiritual help they so desperately needed, as well. When the military went in to try to recover the bodies and whatever possessions they could find, only one thing remained from the Collins family – Joe’s Bible. It was completely intact and inside were two sheets of paper with hand-written sermon outlines, one on faith and one on death.
Tanna’s parents decided to pick up the baton and for the next 20 years worked to reach the Tibetan and Nepalese people and build upon the work their daughter and son-in-law had started. Other family members and different individuals also answered the call to go and stand in their stead. Only eternity will tell how many, many lives have been changed because of Tanna and Joe’s commitment to go no matter what the cost.
On the day of their death, Tanna was 27, Joe was 26, and their 5 children were 6,5,3, and 8-months old. Their bodies, along with the rest of the 113 who lost their lives that day, are buried on the side of a hill in Katani, Nepal. Her fears of dying on the mission field were not without merit, but she willing gave her life to take the Gospel to those who so desperately needed it. She is a true example of a lady of whom it can be said, “She hath done what she could”!
Her Story/My Story:
Shortly before they left for the field Joe and Tanna had the opportunity to present their ministry at a missions conference at a potential supporting church. During one of the sessions, Tanna was able to share how the Lord had taken her through Philippians and answered all her arguments about the sacrifices she might have to make. Many hearts were touched and lives were called to the mission field through her testimony. At the end of the week she again showed her true commitment to reaching the lost on the mission field when the offering plate was passed and the challenge was given to give what you could. Having no money to give, Tanna felt the Lord directing her to give her most prized material possession – her wedding ring. She placed it in an envelope with a note requesting that it be sold and the money given to further the cause of missions. Tanna Collins was not only willing to give her life but her all. Unbeknownst to her, the pastor was so touched by her sacrificial giving that he had the ring valued and the equivalent money put into the offering. He decided to keep the ring and give it to her when she came back for her first furlough. She never returned home. Joe’s Bible and Tanna’s ring, earthly treasures to their family left behind, represent their willingness to pay the ultimate sacrifice.
As I think back over my time as a missionary and contemplate on what “ultimate sacrifice,” if any, I feel I have made, I guess the greatest one would be being separated from family. My mind is flooded with birthdays, weddings, family reunions, and funerals all missed. Actually more than the big “moments” of life, it is missing the little things like how your niece got that scar on her arm or sitting with your grandmother and looking through old photos and having her tell you once again about her childhood. The life of a missionary often requires long periods of separation from the ones they love. It hit me several years ago when someone was asking me when I was going home next. I thought about it for a minute and responded as if it was the most natural thing in the world, “Umm, not this year or the next, but maybe the one after that.” When speaking of seeing family, missionaries speak in years not days, weeks, or even months.
Study: "Ultimate" Sacrifices
The two words “ultimate sacrifice” can mean vastly different things to different people. Some may say that the ultimate sacrifice is living in a town that doesn’t have a Wal-Mart. I can assure you that at times it does feel like that. Just ask the many missionary women who have returned home to find themselves overwhelmed and crying in the cereal aisle. Others may feel the ultimate sacrifice is dedicating your life to serve your country in the military. Maybe you have surrendered your life to start a church somewhere in America and gave up a great paying job with many benefits and financial security and consider it the ultimate sacrifice. A healthy person might feel a life submitted to a crippling illness in order to bring glory to God would be the ultimate sacrifice. Maybe moving across the country away from family to help a pastor grow a new church would be considered the ultimate sacrifice. Some may say that going to the mission field is the ultimate sacrifice. And yet others would say it isn’t, but letting your children and grandchildren go to the field is.
Every one defines these two words differently, and usually the line is drawn between what they are willing to do and what they are not. Even missionaries have a line sometimes and find the Lord asking them to go beyond it. Hudson Taylor once said, “I never made a sacrifice.” That statement astounds me since I know he endured many hardships including arrests, slander, poverty, robberies, death of his children, and the burying of two wives on the mission field.
In the Gospel of Mark we are given two contrasting stories of people and the lines they drew. Mark 10:17-22 tells of a wealthy young man who drew his line of “ultimate sacrifice” at selling all his possessions in order to follow Christ, and we find he wouldn’t step past it. Then we see in Mark 12:41-43 a widow who was willing to part with “all her living.” Her sacrificial giving to the Lord was noted by Jesus and it was used by Him to teach others.
Daily I am reminded of the ultimate sacrifice Jesus was willing to make for me, and I ask myself, “Does the 'ultimate sacrifice' I am willing to make match up with His?" I ask you, what do you consider to be the “ultimate sacrifice” for God? Where do you draw your line? Would you be willing to start a new ministry in your church when you see a need? Would you be willing to endure loss of health if it would bring God glory and honor? Would you be willing to serve Him in another town, state, or country? Would you be willing to leave your family knowing you might not see them for several years? Would you be willing to give sacrificially so others could go in your stead? What are you willing to do? What are you willing to sacrifice?
My challenge to myself and to you is to remove the “ultimate sacrifice” line and tell the Lord whatever, wherever, whenever, however you lead - I give you my life.
2 Corinthians 12:15 “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you;”
Originally written for baptistmissionarywomen.blogspot.com
Resources & Book List:
Video testimony of Joel & Tanna Collins Part 1 - https://vimeo.com/15723254
Video testimony of Joel & Tanna Collins Part 2 - https://vimeo.com/15722115
Open my eyes, dear Lord: the testimony of Joe and Tanna Collins, Baptist International Missions, Inc., 1990, VHS video
Ludington Daily News - Monday, August 3, 1992
Spartanburg Herald Journal - August 4, 1992