When Ola Sage was asked to perform Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor” for her eighth grade piano recital at Kent Academy in Nigeria, she was petrified, wondering aloud if she was capable of memorizing and playing such a highly complex and challenging piece. But, while Ola was unsure, her music teacher Linda Crouch was fully confident the middle school student could conquer her fears and succeed. “I know you can do it,” Linda urged Ola on. “Your faithful practice and positive attitude will pay off. You’ll see!”
Ola worked hard, and when that day finally arrived, she nailed her performance. “It was awesome,” she recollected. Linda was so proud of Ola’s achievement.
“I credit Linda with introducing me to the love of music, but she sure pushed us to do things that at least I didn’t think were even possible,” Ola said. “I learned from her the value of discipline, preparation and perseverance—valuable life lessons.”
Growing up in Nigeria, Ola was afforded the chance to attend Kent Academy—the Christian boarding primary school named after early SIM founder and missionary Thomas Kent. Her parents ran the SIM guest house in Lagos. She started taking piano lessons from Linda early on in elementary school.
When Ola moved on to a different school after ninth grade, she lost contact with Linda. She dreamed about becoming a concert pianist but realized a career in the field of computer science was more realistic. Today, she’s the founder and CEO of a cybersecurity risk and compliance assessment software company in Maryland. Ola serves on the board of directors of SIM USA.
To her surprise, while taking a break during a board meeting—30-plus years after last seeing Linda—Ola looked up and there was her beloved teacher. After serving nearly four decades in Nigeria, Linda had transferred to Charlotte, NC, to help SIM missionaries like herself transition to stateside. “Everyone was wondering why there was all this screaming going on,” Ola said. “It was wonderful.”
“We have a special friendship that gets fed each time she comes for SIM board meetings,” Linda said.
It was that love of teaching and making a difference in the lives of so many students that kept Linda on the mission field. That commitment was nurtured by her SIM missionary parents.
Mike and Alice Glerum met at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. After sensing God’s leading to the mission field, they set out separately for Africa in 1942 and 1943 respectfully. “They knew it was during World War II, but they believed that God had called them, prepared them, and equipped them with churches behind them,” Linda said. “They were going to go forward.”
Following language school, the two were married in Nigeria in 1944. They were stationed at the SIM compound in Kano in North Central Nigeria. It’s the second largest city in the country and a major commercial hub. Coming from the business world, Mike helped oversee the compound with its 20 some missionaries and the smaller outlying stations, and he ran the several Challenge Bookshops around Nigeria. He also loved farming, a skill that yielded fruits and vegetables for his family and the team.
Ruth was born in 1945. Linda came along in 1951. David was born five years after that. They climbed trees, rode bikes, played tennis and cherished family picnics—like other kids. But the three appreciated when their parents exposed them to God’s work and involved them in ministry. Linda and David played in their parent’s air-conditioned bedroom when the missionaries gathered every afternoon for prayer.
Mike was passionate about proclaiming God’s good news to all who would listen. On Sunday afternoons following church, he’d nap for 15 minutes on the cement floor, then would awake and after snapping his fingers, he’d call out to Linda, “OK, let’s go.” They disseminated gospel tracts together. “It’s God’s Word, Linda!” he often told her as they handed them out to others. At the same time, since Mike had taken a medical course at Moody, though not a doctor, he treated all sorts of basic ailments those Sunday afternoons, including pulling teeth with the pliers he took everywhere. Linda visited other ministries with her dad, including an eye hospital. “I saw some eye surgeries and knew that wasn’t for me,” she recalled, laughing.
Linda’s mom Alice loved music. In the midst of a male-dominated society, Alice earned the respect—and returned it—among the men’s choirs she led. Every Friday evening, the Kano SIM compound had a community dinner. Singing followed the meal, with Alice at the piano. “We grew up in a singing, praiseful atmosphere,” Linda said. “I credit a lot of my love for music, and for God’s Word and God’s people, to those habits of weekly getting together, sharing in each other’s lives and singing hymns.”
That love was cultivated at Kent Academy, located in Miango, a 30-minute drive outside of Jos, almost 200 miles to the southeast of Kano. While about 160 kids attend the school now, there were several years when there were 250 missionary children there.
Linda thrived at “KA,” as it was affectionately known. Not just in playing the piano and participating in lively dramas, but spiritually as well. In fact, when she was in the third grade, she became acutely aware of her own spiritual need. “I thought I was a Christian because I lived in a Christian home,” she said. “But when I went away to school, I heard kids say this is when I accepted Jesus for myself.”
One Friday evening while watching “Angel in Ebony,” Linda felt God’s conviction in her own heart. Afterward she told her dorm auntie she wanted to know the same God that Sammy Morris knew in the film. That night she committed her life to Christ. Kent Academy had a strong Bible memory program, which Linda was thankful for. The school continues to have evangelistic and community outreaches to connect the students with their neighbors around them.
Upon graduation, Linda headed to Moody, where she majored in Christian education and music. It was there that God tugged at her heart about serving overseas—without presupposing it would be Nigeria. During her second year in 1969, Linda attended the Urbana missions conference. God spoke to her through missionary doctor Helen Roseveare. “It was such a testimony to me that it’s not your grasp of language, or that you’re good with people, or that you’re a good teacher or doctor, or that you’re a Christian and you have a message to tell,” she explained. “But it’s Christ in you, and you’re depending on Him. It was such a beautiful thing that helped me realize that missions was not so much what we do but who we are as believers and, if we’re humble to be used by God and to ask Him how do You want to use me, then be sincerely submissive to that. That was life-changing for me.”
By this time, God had led Linda’s parents from Nigeria to Accra, Ghana. In 1971, she and a Moody classmate traveled there and lived with her parents for the summer. Her dad arranged for them to teach choruses and Bible in a small public elementary school in Accra. That experience cemented in Linda’s mind that music communicates with hearts and that education was exactly what she wanted to do.
After Moody, she went to Calvin College to earn her teaching certificate. She then taught two years at a public school in Michigan, before returning to Calvin for another year to get her Master’s.
As God guided, she communicated with SIM and leaders told her they had a teaching spot available in Liberia. “I wrote in my journal, ‘God, I’m fine with heading to Liberia, but I want to do what You want me to do. If I’m heading in the wrong direction, would You help me know that?’” The very next day, SIM called and said they needed a music teacher at Kent Academy. “I told them I always wanted to go back there but thought it was selfish of me to say that I have to do that,” she said.
So in 1977, Linda launched out on what would become a 38-year investment in the lives of students, families and staff at Kent Academy. For the vast majority of that tenure, she wasn’t alone.
Linda met Jim Crouch at the school. Though he taught sixth grade, somehow he would always find himself practicing guitar in the music room, where Linda was. She feigned interest in the L.A. Dodgers playing in the World Series because Jim was rooting for them. And as a dog lover, she’d help Jim out when his dog was sick. “I just knew this guy loved God, loved Nigeria and loved kids,” she said.
Their relationship blossomed, and they married in April 1978. God blessed the couple with five children, born from 1980 to 1987: Lisa, Dan, David and twins Matt and Laurie. “Our children are all very close with each other,” Linda said, with a gleam in her eye. “They’ve all been thankful for their upbringing in Nigeria.”
Throughout their marriage—and their time in Africa—Jim and Linda practiced the wisdom behind a phrase they came across early on: “Build on each other’s strengths and shore up each other’s weaknesses.” They encouraged each other to know and obey the Lord. And they were committed to helping the Nigerian teachers and staff increasingly take leadership at the school. “They have a heart for children, quality education, and God’s Word,” Linda said. “You put those three together and the kids will thrive.”
Linda always stood amazed at the zeal of Nigerians when they sing, even when they face hardships from non-Christians who violently oppose them. “They’re fearless in the way they express their faith with total abandon in their singing, especially in their heart language,” she said. “It expresses the depth of who they are and the greatness of their joy and their salvation. It’s a humble way of loving who they worship and expressing their freedom in Christ.”
The number of students the Crouches have influenced can’t be counted. They’re now serving around the world, some as teachers, others as doctors, still more in business. Many of their students prayed to receive Christ as their Savior while they were at KA—and then in turn shared the Gospel with family and friends. Among those is Andras Patkai. Born in Hungary, Andras came in the latter years of elementary school and stayed through middle school. He came to know Jesus there and then reached out to his parents, ophthalmologists in Kano. They later gave their hearts to the Lord. Andras has since returned to Hungary, where among other things he helped translate for youth meetings when Evangelist Billy Graham held evangelistic crusades in his country.
In 2003, when Jim returned to the U.S. for some surgery, it was discovered he had abdominal cancer. After radiation, he returned to Nigeria with a renewed intensity to train Nigerian students and staff. The cancer returned in January 2008. Linda remembers his final months as uplifting and sweet, “even though it was tough knowing we were saying goodbye to each other.” Surrounded by family, Jim died that November.
After Jim’s death, Linda wondered what was next. “Can these dead bones live again?” Linda cried out to God. He heard her prayer and ministered to her wounded spirit through His Word and through those close to her. She sensed God saying to her “I’m not done with you yet, so just walk with Me.” Linda listened and returned to her Nigerian home nine months later to continue teaching. All five of her grown children have visited her to help her flourish once again. She’s grateful for their loving support.
God redirected her steps in 2014 and she moved to Charlotte, where she joined SIM’s People Care and Development team—with some return trips to Nigeria to keep contributing to the ongoing training, including focusing on those who are widowed or single.
This past July, Linda fully retired from SIM. But she’s as busy as ever, teaching a young ladies’ Bible study and playing piano for regular hymn sings in her home. She’s enjoying being with her own children—and her sister and brother—while also building into the lives of her eight grandchildren.
As Linda reflects back on all God has done and is continuing to do, she praises Him for never failing. “My pastor sent me off to Nigeria in 1977 with the strong promise of God’s name—“I AM”— ringing in my ears: ‘I will be all that is necessary as the occasion arises,’” she recalls vividly. “Through the years, I’ve put that truth to the test and consistently found God to be more than enough as I learned to trust His timing and submit to His will.”