Sunday, August 16, 2020

Saying Goodbye

 Funerals in the Time of Covid are intimate affairs. 

Small gatherings. 

With lots of love. 

My dad's older brother, Uncle John, died last week. Today (I started writing this on Tues Aug 11)  we gathered twice, (once at the graveside, and again later at Clearbrook MB Church) to say goodbye. 



I took a few pics for family members who couldn't attend. 

And the content of this post will be Uncle John's eulogy, which was read in English, by Tim, at the funeral. 
























Life Story of John Niebuhr Klassen

John was born on April 7, 1929, in Steinfeld, a Mennonite village in Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union. He was the first child of Johann J. and Elizabeth Klassen. His father had also been born and raised in this settlement. He was originally a farmer, but after collectivization became a carpenter. His mother Elizabeth, née Niebuhr, came from Krontal, Ukraine. John, called Hans as a child, became brother to twins in 1936, Pete and Margaret (later Labun).
















Johann was arrested in the autumn of 1937, like many Christians and others who the Communist Party felt threatened by. The family never saw him again, and it wasn't until 65 years later, after the fall of the Soviet Union, that John learned of his father's exact fate.

John spent the first seven of his school years in Steinfeld, with instruction in German and Ukrainian. Hans wanted to be a farmer, but was also fascinated by his father's carpentry work. Because of the war, however, life soon became a matter of survival.  With the retreat of the German Wehrmacht in 1943, the whole village fled in a trek with about 350,000 others westwards. The escape was a highly dangerous endeavor that lasted two and a half years, with many short and longer stops along the way. School was repeatedly interrupted for the refugees.






















When the war ended the Klassen family found itself in East Germany, the Soviet occupation zone. They only narrowly escaped deportation to Siberia; instead, near miraculously, the family managed to get to West Germany at the beginning of 1946 and settled close to Braunschweig for a while. In the autumn of the same year, Hans accepted Jesus as his Savior at a youth camp organized by the Evangelical Free Churches (Baptists). Two months later he was baptized with his two friends Henry Loewen (his cousin) and Walter Giedt. In 1947 Hans began an apprenticeship as a bookbinder in Braunschweig -- his love of reading, writing and books goes back a long way. During this time he also heard for the first time about Bible Schools, which were to play a big role in his future life.

In 1948 it became possible to emigrate to Canada, already the home of many Mennonites due to earlier waves of refugees. With the help of Uncle Cornelius Klassen, the family began a new life in Manitoba, where John (as he was now called) first worked on a farm. After the travel debt was paid, he moved to Winkler and learned carpentry. In the fall of 1949 his wish came true, and John attended the Bible School in Winkler for four years while at the same time catching up on missed schooling and building houses.

















John had met one Maria Goerzen on his first youth retreat in Germany, who had also grown up in a Mennonite village (Tiege) in Ukraine and now lived in Vancouver. He had not forgotten her, nor her love for Jesus. After finishing Bible School, he moved to Vancouver to work in construction and more: John and Mary got married on October 18, 1953. 

In the winter months and in the evenings, John also completed High School, taught Sunday School, did youth work, and preached at the local Mennonite Brethern church. He was already a busy man!

While John was working in construction, the family grew: John Ruben and Ruth were born in 1954 and 1956. After a few years, John and Mary believed that they should continue to prepare for pastoral or missionary work. They moved to Winnipeg in 1957 to study at MB Bible College for another three years. After graduation, John and Mary answered the call of MB Missions to go to Germany as missionaries. From August 1960 they served the new congregation in Neustadt an der Weinstraße. During this time, on April 7, 1964, their third child Tim was born – a birthday gift for John.
















From 1966 to 1968, John studied at the college and seminary of the MB Churches in Fresno, California, as well as at Fresno State College (BA, BD, and MA). In those years John let go of various prejudices, including excessive legalism. After completing their studies, the Klassens returned to Germany.

Their new task was the  pastoral leadership of the MB Church in Lage in Northern Germany, which at that time had 75 members. They stayed in this work for nearly 14 years and witnessed how God grew the church to more than 300 members. A new assembly hall and rectory was built, with John acting as construction manager. Several daughter churches were founded. John also worked as radio preacher and in the leadership of the MB Churches association (AMBD). Towards the end of his time with the Lage church, John gave up some of his many roles, which allowed him to become guest teacher at several Bible schools in Germany and Switzerland, especially at the non-denominational Bible School Brake, where he had been a guest lecturer since 1970.

In 1982, John and Mary moved to the United States for a year, where John studied Church Building and  Missiology (ThM) at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. From 1983 on they helped to build and grow a new MB Church in Bielefeld.































When George W. Peters returned to the USA in 1987, the Klassens were called to Korntal, near Stuttgart,  to the Freie Hochschule für Mission (FHM) to  serve as coordinator and lecturer. The years at FHM were a challenging and thankful time for John. In addition, he and Mary continued in church building with the AMBD and regularly served as guest preacher in various congregations on weekends. During this time teaching and preaching among the "Umsiedler" became a bigger part of his service.




This led to John and Mary being asked by the Bund Taufgesinnter Gemeinden to participate in the establishment of a theological training center in Bonn (Bibel Seminar Bonn, BSB). In January 1991 they moved to close-by Meckenheim. When the BSB opened its doors to the first 16 students in the autumn of 1993, John was part of the leadership team and lecturer in Dogmatics and Counseling.



John had been following and documenting the development of the "Umsiedler" Freikirchen in Germany with interest for many years, perhaps even with the idea of one day turning these studies into a doctoral thesis. He did exactly that in 2003 --- at age 74 --- with a dissertation at the University of South Africa  (UNISA), which was subsequently published as a book: "Russian-German Free Churches in the Federal Republic of Germany".
















He worked with the BSB until his retirement in 2008. "Retirement" is somewhat of an exaggeration: After John and Mary moved to Abbotsford, BC, Canada, he worked on many projects with congregations and Bible Schools in Germany, and the MBMSI; among others, a book about the 150-year history of the Mennonite Brethern Church (2010).  At Clearbrook MB Church he remained active with German Bible studies and sermons. In recent years, he lovingly cared for his “Schatz” Mary, at Tabor Court.


















On August 4, 2020 he went home to his Lord and Savior surrounded by his closest family, after being diagnosed with cancer less than six weeks earlier.

He is survived by his beloved Mary, his children John (Maria), Ruth (Tony) and Tim (Kiersten), 6 grandchildren: Jason, Persis, Ruben, Michael, Siri and Ellie, and 5 great-grandchildren: Seth, Sadie, Layla, Jona and Levi.  They are scattered all over the world, in Germany, Canada, England, and the USA.

































Three things I'm thankful for:


1. Family. Families. My family. 

2. I am grateful for this service. It felt good and right that we were in a church, singing hymns (yeah, in German and English) listening to stories about my Uncle John's love for the Lord and hearing about the legacy he was leaving behind. 

3. Despite Covid and all it's restrictions, I am thankful that my cousins, here from London, New York and Germany, all were able to see their dad before he passed. 


Stay safe, wash your hands.

xo


Monday, August 3, 2020

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

On the first day of August last year, I found out I had breast cancer. I thought I was going to die.

(Spoiler alert: I didn't.)


It's ONE YEAR LATER. (Happy anniversary, Left Boob. You did it! You are (mostly) here after this mighty eventful rotation around the sun.)

Did the experience change me? If that plot-twisty chapter's purpose was character development; did I develop? How did I grow? Change? Am I a better person now? Is there some way to measure that?

I think I'm the same.
Well, physically I've changed, THANKS A LOT Tamoxifen, for blocking my hormones. The hot flashes are mind-numbing. But other than that? I feel the same. (I hope I've learned something from the experience, otherwise WHAT WAS THE POINT?)

~~~~~

I've been rock painting.
I may have mentioned that?

The thing with rock painting is, well, you need to have rocks.
Also? Rocks are heavier than say, pieces of paper.

So when hunting for rocks, one should be prepared. With a backpack or a strong male who loves you enough to carry the rocks from the dry river bed, up the ridge to the trail and then over to the car. I have neither. So I lugged them, very ungracefully, in a satchel that kept falling off my shoulder, making me lose my balance. I considered giving up my latest hobby after my first rock hunt n gather expedition.

(Yes, it WOULD be easier to go around at midnight and help myself to my neighbour's landscaping stones (which are PERFECT), but I just can't. They PAID for those rocks. I can't just steal them. It would be wrong.)

All that to say, please appreciate the labor involved in creating these totally useless pieces of colourful art. I risked my left knee to get something large and flat and smooth to paint on.

I'm at the lake this weekend, and there was no forecast for rain, so I placed my newly acquired rocks in a pile in the middle of the outside table. And as I painted, I placed the finished rocks onto the pile.

It occurred to me that I'd built an Ebenezer.

EBENEZER: It comes from a Hebrew phrase that means “stone of help.” The name appears in the Biblical story told in the Book of 1 Samuel, in which the Hebrew prophet Samuel sets up a stone to commemorate the help that God had given the Israelites.

...

To commemorate God’s mighty intervention on behalf of his people,
Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” So the Philistines were subdued and did not again enter the territory of Israel. And the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines all the days of Samuel. (1 Samuel 7:12–13)
In Hebrew, Ebenezer means “stone of help” (eben = stone; ezer = help). Samuel wanted the people to remember, not just for a few days, but for years, for decades, for generations, how God had come to the rescue of his people when they humbled themselves before him. They were vulnerable, with their enemies approaching, and they did not deserve God’s rescue, having been chronically unfaithful. And yet in his gracious fidelity to his convent people, God intervened with thunder to throw Israel’s enemies in confusion and turn their enemies into the vulnerable nation.
...

Perfect, yes?

I want to remember, for days, years, decades and GENERATIONS how God brought me through this latest challenge and healed me of breast cancer. And I'll do it with rocks/stones.



One of my boys wondered if I had depression; he thought this rock painting phase was a cry for help for my mental health.

Another one of my sons is worried that I've lost my way. He thinks my life must feel empty and meaningless and lacking in purpose if I've resorted to painting rocks on my long weekend.

Hahaha.

None of the above are true.

I started painting rocks because I wanted there to be fun things on trails for kids to find.
Then I continued painting for the challenge of learning how to do mandalas.

And now, I can say I have a spiritual purpose in painting. They're my way of saying thank you to God. I'm making tiny Ebenezers.




























That said, I've decided I'm going to sell most of the larger ones.
For $20 each.
100% of all proceeds will go towards helping my new English Twitter friend pay for surgery. (Our friendship started when I was having daily radiation in January. My health has improved while hers has deteriorated. Covid isn't helping matters. I'd love to be able to send her some funds to help her get the medical attention she needs...)

(My smaller ones will still be "hidden" on trails and gardens and pathways. And I haven't figured out how to deal with actually selling the mandalas. Ideas, anyone?)



Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here there by Thy great help I've come
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home























~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Thought I'd take a YAY! The oncologist confirmed I'm cancer-free ... Selfie this week.

So awkward:


























No filters. No photo-touching. Just me.

AND then I thought.... I should have a pic with my teeth in it. After all, I was getting alot of dental work done last summer too.


























OY.
Fake smile.
And bunched up eyes.

With eyeliner that was still wet.

This is why I don't smile with my teeth.
It wrecks my make up.














~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Speaking of last week, it was grand.

Last Saturday Maxine and I fed the homeless. I have two pictures:






The menu was cheeseburgers (patties made by Maxine from scratch) with fried onions and potato salad (also homemade, by Maxine). My contribution to the meal was the lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, buns and watermelon.

(I had a burger and some salad and it was absolutely DELISH.)


On Sunday, Clint looked after the 'mouse under the kitchen sink' issue:


























(Plug the hole they're entering from (where the plumbing pipes exit the cabinet) with steel wool.

And then he took everything out and washed away the turds.

























Then went back to work, checking the value of our Pokemon cards, leaving me to put everything away. I guess that was a good division of labor.


























Starting the week with a clean 'under the kitchen sink cabinet' is a very good feeling.

Monday night was rock painting night, again, with Rock Star Julie and a couple friends. I love these nights. Three of these rocks were painted by first time artists:





















This was Julie's:


























I have SO much to learn. I have dot envy.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Tuesday after work:































































Eating supper with a friend in her garden is really just the best, yes?



















































Thanks, Maureen...

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday after work:

























Donna was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago, and she's started her 6 months of chemo...
I was planning on popping in to say 'hi'; NOT have her prepare a meal for me:



























She looks fabulous: (she's making me a goodie bag to take home with me...)
Selfless.
Gracious.
Generous.

























~~~~~~~~~~

Thursday evening, at the Vedder:




















One of the arms of the river had dried up, leaving MILLIONS of rocks exposed and dying to be chosen...


























I could only carry 23.


























But they were beauties:

























~~~~~~~~~~~

On Friday evening, I asked Val if she wanted to meet me at White Spot and then go for a walk in Jesse and Sharalin's garden. (Also known as the Cultus Lake Flower Festival)...

























Hahaha.
I have the best people in my life.
SO many home-cooked meals and great conversation this week.




























And then we walked around her garden for more colour combination inspiration:









































































^ This one inspired her next rock; orange, pink and white. It was cheerful and beautiful.


























~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Long weekends are just so very low-key during Covid, yes?
Our Annual Regatta was cancelled. No gatherings or races, no dinner in the park, no fireworks on the beach, no potsnpans parade ...

It was actually lovely.
(Mostly) quiet.

Drew and Dani spent alot of time reading:

































Plus she painted rocks with me...






(Hers are the 'word' rocks. )



























Today? Sunday afternoon? We both took our chairs and our books to the lake and read for a couple hours. As I sat there, I asked myself, "Is there anywhere you'd rather be?" The answer was no. So I stopped reading, put my head back and just let the beauty of the moment sink in. I was perfectly content and at peace with my world.

Three things I'm Thankful For:

1. I'm cancer-free.

2. Clint, Drew and Dani are hanging out here; reading, napping, snacking ... Everyone's tired and just needed a break. It's Covid, so we have no extra guests. It's very quiet. Hours go by when no one says a word. Very relaxing. Kinda how I dreamed it would be. (Max is with friends at Tofino for the week. He's sending us pics of his vacation and I'm happy that it's started well for him.)

3. There's still 4 weeks of summer ahead.


Take care, be safe,
Wash your hands,
xo