Wendy Holmes was just 18 when she heard missionary Gladys Aylward speak at Sheffield City Hall back in 1962.
She was transfixed by the tiny woman who led 100 children over the mountains of China to safety when Japanese forces invaded their region in 1938. The heroic rescue was made into the film Inn Of the Sixth Happiness 20 years later, starring Ingrid Bergman.
But no Hollywood actress could dazzle as much as Gladys herself, thought Wendy. She listened to Aylward, a bundle of energy and bounding enthusiasm, and decided there and then she wanted to be a missionary.
But it took her 27 years to achieve her goal.
“I went home and had all my enthusiasm crushed by my parents and my church minister. So I trained to be a secretary, got married and had three children,” says Wendy, now 68.
Years rolled by and the dream of going out to a developing country to work with abandoned and orphaned children stayed at the back of her mind.
After the break-up of her marriage, her children grown up, in 1989 she went to listen to another missionary speak at her local church - and this time, nothing could dissuade her from the life she felt called to: “I asked him to find a place for me in a project - and within four weeks I was in the Philippines, working at a derelict orphanage where the children were barely clothed or fed.”
She set up a child sponsorship scheme which exists to this day and has now given 300 children a better life.
Many have grown up to have farmsteads and families; one amazing success story is now a mechanical engineer working in Dubai.
As for Wendy, she has spent the years travelling to the poorest corners of the world to help orphans in the direst of need. She has visited orphanages in Romania, Latvia, Armenia, Jamaica, China and Liberia.
“It’s been wonderful; I feel privileged to have had so many experiences and met so many brave and amazing people,” says Wendy.
For the last 12 years she has had a right-hand woman – younger sister Cynthia Goodison, 62, has joined her charitable work in China and the Philippines.
After months of planning, the sisters are launching the Kids Around the World charity shop which opens on December 1 at 708 Chesterfield Road, Woodseats.
Wendy and Cynthia are optimistic. “We see the shop as an investment into the lives of children around the world. They will be housed, fed, clothed, educated and loved and even receive free life-changing surgery as a result of people’s cast-offs,” says Cynthia.
“Kids around the World” will also be a receiving centre for the NatWest community award-winning charity ‘Baby Basics’ which operates out of The Kings Centre church in Nether Edge.
Olympic diver Nick Robinson-Baker is poised to open the shop on December 1, and in the meantime the sisters are appealing for donations of secondhand clothing and bric-a-brac and volunteers to help them run the shop. Contact Wendy on 07939 525 168 or at Kidsaroundtheworld@hotmail.com