Sonia Nelson just “got it.”
She understood the missionary life, the need for a safe place to process trauma or marriage issues, and even the internet connectivity challenges of the woman on the other end of a video call.
And because of that, women serving around the world trusted her. That’s one of the predominant messages coming in as tributes to Sonia Nelson, a Paraclete associate and registered psychotherapist, who passed away in July after a long battle with cancer.
“Despite spotty internet, time zone confusions and crazy kids at bedtime, she was always flexible and patient and met me right where I was,” said Carolyn Monson, who serves with Mission Aviation Fellowship in Lesotho. “She didn’t put me on a pedestal. She didn’t treat me differently and I really cherished that.”
Monson met regularly with Nelson online for counseling sessions. But she first met Nelson because Nelson made the trip—twice—to southern Africa to help at women’s retreats in 2016 and 2017. Since 2017, Nelson served with Paraclete, which allowed her to help at retreats and offer free counseling to the missionary women she met.
Since 2012, Nelson also partnered with Thrive Ministry, which has allowed her to travel to 11 locations.
“To know Sonia is to know her deep heart of compassion to come alongside those who are struggling,” said Lorrie Lindgren, president of Thrive. “She held the stories of hundreds of missionary women – providing a safe space to process their lives and ministries—and became a conduit for God to strengthen them for the task He called them to do.”
Throughout this period—since 2014—Nelson has battled cancer. But she didn’t let it stop her from serving.
“Sonia always chose to look on the bright, hopeful side,” said Lindgren. “Her battle with cancer did not define her and she did not let it get in the way of serving when God called her to serve. She courageously stepped out in faith and trusted Him to be her strength and provide all she needed.”
Paraclete associate C.J. Callahan—who first got to know Nelson on that 2016 women’s retreat in Lesotho—appreciated watching Nelson serve, but also enjoyed a friendship of fun and compassion with Nelson.
“You touched the lives of so many people around this world and we are forever grateful to have known you,” Callahan wrote as a tribute to Nelson. “We had such a rich friendship—from our many, many late-night roommate talks on mission trips to the numerous times we would talk on the phone and share our joys and heartbreaks together. The tears and the laughter….oh I will so miss you! Our hearts are broken here but we are rejoicing in knowing that you are completely healed and restored and are seeing your Savior face-to-face. When we all get to heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be…Until then, sweet friend.”
Read more here about Callahan’s friendship built around ministry.
Nelson is survived by her husband, Mike and twin daughters Azile and Emilee. The family is holding a Celebration of Life service on Saturday, Aug. 13 at 4:30 pm. at Flatirons Community Church, 2700 S. Downing St. in Denver.
In the meantime, her story—and smile—will live on in the memories of people she affected around the world.
“Even in the pain of saying goodbye, thinking of Sonia makes me smile,” said Paraclete CEO Glen Volkhardt. “Her smile is on the cover of a Paraclete brochure these days. That smile was part of Sonia’s winsome loveliness that opened ministry doors to missionaries, fellow Paraclete associates and many others who crossed her path.”