Thursday, December 18, 2008

Hope on a cold December day in Western Minnesota

Friday, December 12th was Barb Miller Slagter’s funeral. I’m sure that in hundreds of different towns across the prairie they had a funeral also. This Friday morning broke cold and raw even by Minnesota standards. I walked to the car to drive into Danube. The snow crunched under my feet and the west northwest wind was starting finger drifts from the west side of the road. The wind blew serpentine drifts we call “snake drifts” across the road in an almost soothing manner.

This week Barb, 62, lost her long battle with Parkinson’s disease. A year ago November her husband Gary died from a genetic lung disease. It’s been a tough year for the Slagter kids.

Barb was a Miller. They lived north of us; she rode the bus with us—No.6, always driven by Elgin Kurtz. My first memory of the Miller’s was when the tornado hit their place. It came out of the southwest, nicked the Freiborg place and then wiped Miller’s place off the map. It was a stormy night. When a tornado rumbles on the prairie during the night, it is extra scary; especially if you are a 7 year old girl like Barb was.

Her Dad, Otto, farmed and worked construction. He was killed in a construction accident the week before she graduated from Danube High School in the spring of 1964. She married Gary in 1965. They were a good pair, raised a good family, worked hard, and kept their noses clean. Yesterday as I sat at the funeral, I had a nagging feeling, “This isn’t fair.” God forgive me. I know You are sovereign, you do as you please and I have no problem with that. But, I must be honest, I wondered why.

I saw the procession move towards the south cemetery, thirty cars and trucks. It was a good day; she is with Jesus. Gary and Barb are back together. It was a sad day as children and grandchildren wept.

When Barb was confirmed, her class sang “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” We sang that as a closing hymn at her funeral. On this cold, dark blustery December morning, hope seemed hard to find. I left Danube with the words of the hymn ringing in my ears… "My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus love and righteousness."

I had to go to Renville to drop off a donation at Mentorworks Too-Kinship run by Lori Dobmeier Clasemann. Lori’s a local girl, an eternal optimist in ministry to the down and outs in Renville County. The store front she works out of is unmarked. It is a conglomeration of boxes of food, clothes, and other goods. It is cold in there, not warm in the least bit. Its noon, Lori sits in the back room eating soup with a smile from ear to ear. She is a dreamer; she loves the poor and ministers to them quietly without much help from the traditional church. We like to talk about ministry more than we like to minister. She ministers rather than talking about it—she just ministers.

Across the street, Dan is the manager at Maynard’s Grocery. A relocated Nebraska corn husker, he’s built low with an open smile. He does it all and doesn’t seem to get the least bit flustered. He has the pulse of this small prairie town community. Dan loves to minister to men. Recovered drunks and drug addicts are comfortable in his presence. He’s busy most nights of the week, ministering beyond just the local community.

I had left Danube with a somewhat sad, empty feeling, only to find the hope being lived out just five miles away in downtown Renville. God’s plans are never thwarted. His message will reach His people. No, He’s not God at a distance but God with us—Immanuel. Yes, He was at Barb Slagter’s funeral and He is also in the backroom of Mentorworks with Lori and across the street with Dan, grinding meat in the grocery store.

God is with us. I need not be afraid; God is with us this Christmas—Immanuel; a light for the Gentiles and the only hope for the future. God bless you this Advent season.

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