In the way of all men before him.
A pioneer, like no man before him.
I miss my Papa.
My grandpa was the grandson of a missionary doctor and the son of a dairy farmer. He was a teacher, pastor, pilot, mechanic, athlete, marksman, renowned gardener, lumberjack, story teller, colporteur, woodworker, farmer, master guide, and a missionary.
I remember being held up against his shoulder to see the stars at night. "And that is Cygnus the swan." The autumn air was chilly and the starlight crisp. "If you listen, you can hear him honk as he flies across the sky."
I strained my toddler ears to hear the big bird in the distance - "HONK! HONKKK!" Papa teased in my ear. I jumped! Papa chuckled. Regaining my composure I told him not to be afraid - I would take care of him - and could we please go back inside?
As a skilled gymnast in college Papa's favorite stunt was walking on his hands up a series of ladders to the top of the scaffolding in the gymnasium. One of my early memories is of Papa tumbling a perfectly straight row of somersaults and trying to show me how to tuck my head just right. I wanted to look where I was going which resulted in rather ungraceful sprawls. He also would demonstrate the head stand and walk on his hands for me - I never got the hang of it!
Riding on top of a load of wood in a wheelbarrow I would laugh as he would run uphill grinning at my joy. He built a playhouse out of the old stone room in the mountainside next to the spring in the woods below their house. He also enjoyed racing alongside our car as we left their house. When we were older he taught Shaila and Nathan and I how to build lean-tos and shelters that were water tight, hefting logs that were as big as I was on his shoulder carrying them easily through the woods. He used the axe, machete or chainsaw as naturally as one would use their own arm and was skilled in the art of hewing.
The only skill my mother interfered with was learning to drop start a chainsaw. But our camping trips were filled with invaluable lessons in orienteering, canoeing, cooking over the fire, types of trees and their uses, species of birds, wild edibles, and wonderful songs and stories around the campfire. Stories about his favorite cow that took first place in the state fair five years in a row. Or the time Papa and a buddy raced the Michigan Championship, a 270 mile non-stop race. Even though they had a heavy outclassed old-town canoe they finished in the money at 10th out of more than sixty canoes – their time was 27 hours and 33 minutes. In more recent years Papa and Grandma would travel for weeks at a time by canoe through the Canadian wilderness and bring us back pictures of moose, interesting birds, and other wildlife.
But Instituto Adventista Agro Industrial in Brazil was Papa’s lifework. A miraculous story of God’s blessing on a young man’s dream, 25,000 acres of virgin rain forest, and the lives of children from the remote rivers of the Amazon.
I was in Brazil during Papa’s last visit to his heart land. During this trip Papa developed an infection in a wound and was hospitalized for a time. I had the privilege of staying with him and recording his memories of the school. It is a story of young ideas, hard labor, and unstoppable hope. Of protection from leopards and venomous snakes, and of hundreds of greenhouses that produced agricultural wonders. A history of raw trust in God and a commitment to tithing that is still blessing the lives of the hundreds of students who attend each year.
Many of first students became like my grandparents own children and are considered family to this day. They fondly remember his simple faith, dedication to their success, and his legendary strength. They credit their success in life to the education he gave them. But though he appreciated their generosity, more than once Papa told me, “They were greatest bunch of kids I’ve ever worked with. They gave us the credit but it was God’s blessing on the kids tithe more than anything else. God blessed far more than we deserved.”I’m so grateful for my Papa and the treasure chest of memories that my heart holds. The memories are accompanied by his favorite song: the Portuguese translation of the hymn "There is Joy in Serving Jesus".