Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12:1
I’ve heard it said a number of times that when you see the word “therefore” in the scriptures, you need to look at the verses prior to that word to see what the “therefore” is there for. Hebrews chapter 12 follows what many call the “Hall of Faith” or “Faith Hall of Fame”. Men and women like Abraham, Sarah, and Moses are mentioned along with the faith they displayed. Then they are called out witnesses. Powerful statement. In other words, with the Spiritual heritage and legacy they have provided, let’s get moving!
In my college days, I fell in love with a song by Steve Green entitled “Find us Faithful”, the lyrics of which beautifully captured the truth of this Hebrews passage:
Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses
Let us run the race not only for the prize.
But as those who’ve gone before us,
Let us leave to those behind us
The heritage of faithfulness passed on through Godly lives.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful
May the fire of our devotion light their way
May the footprints that we leave lead them to believe
And the lives we live inspire them to obey.
Oh, may all who come behind us find us faithful.
To a student at a Christian college, constantly challenged to shake up the world for Jesus, this song was heady stuff! But there was one very important secret no one shared with me. I’ve learned it over the years as I’ve said my good-byes, far to many good-byes in my humble opinion, to those who have indeed left a legacy of faithfulness in my life.
The truth of this song hit me again this past week as I found out that one of the full-time staff members from Camp Barakel had slipped into the arms of her Savior after a 10 year battle with cancer. Barakel was a part of every summer for me. I attended there as a child, volunteered there one week in early high school, and went on to spend three summers there as a member of the part-time staff. Mama Liz Wideman was a cook. She had hugs to share with all who needed them (as many as you needed), the patience to work with a new batch of volunteers in her kitchen every week for 9 or 10 weeks, and a smile that was never far from her face. Plus she could make a pretty tasty sticky bun! She didn’t speak to millions at a conference, she didn’t publish best-sellers, she didn’t meet with dignitaries. For nearly three months in the summer, she became surrogate mom to the college and high school students who volunteered their summer months to Camp Barakel. The impact she left on those lives is far reaching. And she did it in a kitchen.
As I’ve reflected on her passing this week, I’ve been moved to sort of “review” my own personal “hall of faith”. I’ve thought about those who are no longer present on this earth who make up my own personal cloud of witnesses. It’s one of the tough parts of growing up – the adults who mattered to you as a child and a teenager tend to leave this life before you’re quite done enjoying them!
There’s Ethel Schultz. She and I shared a birthday and she told me that meant that God intended for us to be special friends. Mind you, I was in third grade when she told me this and Ethel was of an age to be considered elderly at that point. She passed away when I still fairly young, bed-bound and able to do nothing but lie there and pray. But boy did she pray! And I know mine was one of the names that she carried before the Lord each day. Believe me, that impacts a young life!
Dick and Karen Fether. They were members of the first church my dad pastored. Dick was a farmer with a penchant for deer hunting and he was, for quite some time, our landlord. Karen could can just about anything and was pretty skilled in the kitchen. Whether it was venison dropped off at our house or an invitation to hang out in their pool, they were steady friends. Always ready with conversation, a helping hand, or a smile. They helped in the church with whatever they could and were dear friends to my family. We left that church when I was a sophomore and I eventually lost track of them. But their quiet, “everyday” faith left an impression on me.
My husband’s mentor in ministry, Dr. Frederick Moore. He was the perfect person to come along side an eager young husband and father who was stepping into his first ministry leadership position. Pastor Fred suffered from rare genetic disorder that left him with hearing loss, severe vision issues, and chronic pain 24 hours a day for which there was no relief. Yet he constantly wanted to know how you were doing and I never heard him complain. His impact on my husband’s life was such that my son bears the middle name of Frederick in his honor. To this day, I see glimpses of his influence in how my husband preaches and ministers.
Denelle Vischer and Jo Oechsle. These ladies were adopted grandmas to anyone in our small town church that needed one. And praying? These ladies did it with a steadiness that I wish I possessed! You could always count on a welcome smile from either one of them and I benefitted more than once from the stash of cookies in Jo’s kitchen! They didn’t cure diseases or travel to exotic locations as missionaries. They simply shared love in very practical ways and made the teens in our church feel like we mattered.
“Grandpa” Oechsle. He wouldn’t give me a bulletin on Sunday mornings until he had gotten a hug. He used to call me “Little Alma” because he said I looked like my great-grandmother, a woman I had never had the chance to know. I’ll never forget the day he met my oldest daughter who was just a few weeks old at the time. He put his arm around me, gave me a squeeze, and said, “Alma would be proud.” I never doubted for one moment that Grandpa Oechsle was proud of me too.
My grandfather, Dale Redfield. A famer who never went to college, my grandfather occupied his time by driving a fuel oil truck, gardening, driving school bus, going to the sporting event and fine arts activities at the local high school, and even serving on the school board for a time. He befriended people of all ages and was well-loved for it.
There are also those who are, I believe, still with us who left a significant mark on my life during those critical teen years when I needed to know that I had a purpose, that I mattered. I was blessed to have a church full of adults who did just that – Hoz and Chris Vischer, Frank and Sandie Johnson, Larry and Thanna Oechsle, Mike and Debbie Vischer, Tim and Debi Gale, Mary Redfield (my grandmother), Bob and Sharon Lambes Harold Vischer . . . I could go on for pages! They aren’t internationally well known. In the eyes of the world, they aren’t wealthy. But when I look at what’s become of my generation from that church, they made a difference. A number of those I grew up with are still faithfully attending church and growing spiritually. We are pastor’s wives, music ministers, sunday school teachers . . . we are active in our local body and it’s due in part to the people in our past who poured themselves into us spiritually and let us know that we had a purpose and they were excited to see us fulfill it.
The challenge is daunting. So many people have poured into my spiritual growth in a desire to see me do the same with the future generations. My earnest prayer is that I can pass on even just a small piece of what they have placed in me. It’s the best way I can think of to honor the legacy they left behind.