Mom and Dad started going to Calvin Christian Reformed Church in 1952 because all 3 of us (Mona, Larry and me-the straggler) were baptized in 1953. But Dad would be the first to tell you he didn’t give his life to Christ until late 1958, a few weeks after Larry died. That’s when his life was dramatically changed. Dad was quite vocal about the changes in his life after Jesus saved him. And soon the seeds God planted started to sprout. I believe Dad’s first fledgling good work’s ministry were his tracks in the early 60’s. Dad built little wooden shelf racks (track racks) which held an assortment of palm sized inspirational snippets of scripture on 10 tiny pages or less. Mom bought a rubber ink stamp pad with his name and address. He’d stamp every little booklet in case the recipient of one of these booklets wanted to talk to him and learn more about the Lord. He displayed the shelves in hospitals, nursing homes and both gospel missions in Sioux Falls and Sioux City. Every time he visited, he’d refill his track rack.
About the same time Dad felt obligated to share his compelling story with others, so he wrote his testimony. A short booklet on his life. How he found the Lord after losing Larry. By then Mom and Dad had transferred their membership to the First Reformed Church (At my insistence. I was 11). The transition was smooth for 2 of us. Mom, not so much. She really did better in a small church environment. First Reformed was at least 3 times as big. Dad dove right in, teaching Sunday school, getting elected to the consistory as an elder, visiting folks in hospitals and local nursing homes. He was busy and making a difference. And his lay ministries were morphing. Dad was insistent and precise when talking about his conversion. His good works should never be misinterpreted as a means into heaven. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not of your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
It started small. Dad joined a group from church who made mission trips. Most were to gospel missions or prisons within a hundred mile radius of Rock Valley. Someone would play piano, a couple of people with great voices would sing, others had a prayer or read scripture. Then ‘Brother Rich’ would preach. Dad was a New Testament guy so his messages were about the life and times of Jesus. How to get your life in order so you could have eternal life, with a splash of fire and brimstone mixed in to hold your attention.
Maybe it was Dad’s tiny biblical tracks relaying the message that inspired him to construct billboard sized signs to reach a bigger audience. He asked local farmers for permission to erect a sign in their fields all over Sioux County. Dad spent countless nights out in the garage, hand painting a verse or thought provoking one liner to get people thinking while driving on highway 18 or 75.
Dad was drawn to those who didn’t have the freedoms the rest of us take for granted. That morphed into South Dakota’s M2 program. A one-on-one ministry with an inmate from the Sioux Falls penitentiary, which became the focal point of his good work’s ministry for decades. Weekly one hour visits, learning about the life of Jesus, plus listening to their concerns. Dad worked with an incredible number of guys over the course of 25 years, and many of those men stayed in contact with Dad long after they were released from prison with phone calls and letters.
Soon Dad started a weekly Bible study class at Sioux Falls prison. That’s when he realized the significance of each man having a Bible of their own. It wasn’t enough to study scripture with a dozen guys for an hour a week. If lives were going to be changed it was important for each man have a their own Bible. Giving them access to God’s word whenever they wanted. Which then launched his Bible outreach ministry.
Dad tithed but that wasn’t enough. Every single side job, (painting houses, tearing down buildings, shingling, small home repairs, usually for the widows around Rock Valley) the majority of the money was used for one of his missions. (He’d always treat Mom to a restaurant in Sioux Falls once he got paid from a job). With his once a year bonus from IPERS (the state retirement fund he paid into for decades) he’d use 10% to buy something he needed. And 90% of the time he used the money to buy Bibles. King James, NIV, New Testaments, The Psalms. He even found a company who offered a special Bible for the incarcerated. (Although during my life I literally saw this version of the Bible stacked up at Dad’s place hundreds of times, I never looked inside to compare how they differ).
When Mom passed away in 2004, Dad sold the house and moved to Michigan at age 88. I had spoken to the chaplain at Muskegon’s prison and given him multiple references for Dad, allowing him easy access as soon as he was settled. He preached once a month and taught a Bible study every week. It wasn’t long before I was proofreading his sermons and ordering Bibles for the masses. Those 3 years of teaching and preaching were probably the most meaningful years Dad ever had. He had purpose and was needed to fulfill God’s promise of eternal life for all who believed.
After Dad moved to Michigan, I ordered the Rock Valley Bee so we could keep up on what was happening in our not so little town anymore. The place he had called home for 88 years. In March it will be 12 years since Dad passed away and I’m still getting the Bee. When the paper arrived this week, one of the stories held a special meaning for me. I was crying by the second paragraph. It was just SO DAD! A chaplain working at a Recovery Center, asked a friend who’s a teacher at a Christian High School if they had any spare Bibles. Would they consider donating some to his facility? The teacher, in turn asked her 20 Church History Class students what could they do to help out the chaplain (but really help those who needed a copy of their own Good Book).
Endeavors like this either fizzle or snowball. This one blossomed big time. The class decided their goal was 125 Bibles, with each student promising to donate 2 Bibles. Then they asked their respective pastors if their congregation could help. An anonymous donor promised if the 125 Bibles from the school came to fruition, he would match that adding another 125. Last count was 565 Bibles, with more arriving every day. THIS would have been one of my Dad’s pet project 20 years ago. Achievable goals, looking at a successful outcome for the people receiving the Bibles.
Although we were never real close, when I read stories like this I really miss Dad. It warms my heart when others (and teens-which gives me so much hope) slide easily into replacing some of my Dad’s favorite ministries. I think he’s looking down, satisfied and very proud…