OK, I know. This isn't a subject we westerners like to dwell on.  In fact, we do everything in our power to avoid pain, suffering, and death.  We insure ourselves against all forms of accident, illness, and even life, and then we're surprised when something bad happens to us.   Go figure!  The fact is that pain, suffering, and death are a part of our earthly existence.  If you don't believe it, go to Haiti right now or some places in Africa where war and violence are a daily fact of life.   We have seen so many children die during our years in Niger that you almost become numb to it.  Let's face it.  All of us have to die.  We'd better come to terms with it.

I had thought I would write a blog on death about ten days ago.  The earthquake in Haiti had just taken place, and the devastation and pain there was unimaginable.  I also know about various conflicts and violence in parts of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, and those places were on my heart as well.  Then something happened to bring the reality of death very close to home.

The past ten days have been tough for me.  My dad, Robert (Bob) H. DeValve, died on 17 January 2010.  He had been diagnosed with a ideopathic pulmonary fibrosis in the fall of 2009.  This lung disease is not very well understood in the medical community and has no cure.  It is also a very serious disease which can cause the stricken to suffer for years.  Though we knew of dad's diagnosis, he seemed in good health aside from shortness of breath and a worrying cough.  We expected him to be around quite a while longer.

Bob DeValve on his 79th birthday officiating at the wedding of his oldest grandson
June 20, 2009

So it was quite a shock to hear that he was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday, Jan 13 with serious breathing problems.  Even at that point the prognosis for a partial recovery was fairly good, but on Thursday night, dad's health declined markedly, and he needed to be hooked up to a suction oxygen mask to keep him breathing. We were called in on Friday morning, and we spent two wonderful days around his bedside.  Dad was aware and lucid, if hard to hear, but he understood what was going on and could hear us.  We sang to him, read Scripture, and prayed.  Don't get me wrong.  It wasn't a picnic.  It was tough to watch him fight for every breath, and it was hard to refuse when he constantly asked for food or water.  He especially wanted hot chocolate, one of his favorite breakfast beverages.

By Saturday night it was clear that there was little hope, humanly speaking, of his recovery, and that the oxygen mask was the only thing keeping him alive.  We could have had the mask removed that evening, but we decided to wait until my brother arrived from Ohio with his wife and sons.  They arrived on Saturday night.  

Sunday morning, the family gathered and held a little service around his bedside.   Then everyone had a chance to say good-bye.  Afterwards, the nurse removed the mask and tried to make him as comfortable as possible.  Dad stunned us by summoning all his strength, raising his hands, and in a trembling voice, pronounced a blessing (we're now calling this the patriarchal blessing).  Here are dad's last words:

"My prayer to God is that you all remain faithful to Him and serve Him and consult Him in all your decisions.  He has His loving hands ready to forgive you, if you will repent....

No matter what happens, come hell or high water, He will carry you through and He will give you a glorious inheritance far, far better than anything on earth. 

And with all your power, all your strength, all your might, you will rest in Him.  Beyond anything I could describe I will rest at His side both body, soul, mind, and spirit.

If you fall, He will forgive you.  I pray you don't fall hard.  I love each one of you and pray for each one of you every singly day.

When you are driving, playing games, or fooling around, He is always there.  He knows what you are thinking right now.

Let me go.  If you want me, Lord, I'm ready.  Take me, Lord Jesus."

After he finished, there was a pause and sobs, and then we all started singing.  We sang him to heaven.  About an hour and a half later, after struggling for every breath and with his family praying and crying around him, he flew to Jesus.

The memorial service was held at his home church, Trinity Covenant in Manchester, CT on Friday evening, Jan 22.  Dad had been active in the church right up to the time of his death, serving both as retired pastor of missions and mentoring and as a member of the care team, visiting countless sick and shut-ins. He also visited prisoners in jail, discipling and mentoring them.  Over 500 people showed up for the memorial, a testimony to a man who had touched many lives and to the God he served.  The service concluded with the singing by the choir of the "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's Messiah.  That was dad's special request.

                                          Dad and Mom with a grandson, Summer, 2009

Now comes the tough part: living in the light of eternity.  Dad's legacy to us is huge.   No one could walk in his shoes.  But we can believe and obey God like he did. And we can fulfill the vocation God has given us to the best of our ability.  My prayer is that there will be many in heaven because of dad and his life.  It was a privilege to have known such a wonderful man and be called his son.  He was not perfect, but now he is.  Bye for now, dad.  I'll look forward to seeing you in heaven.


Christmas Traditions

Every family has its Christmas traditions.  Ours is no different.

On Christmas Eve we often have some ethnic foods (like curry or some kind of world food) and then watch a film.  In the past that film was often the Jesus film in Songhai.  This year we watched "It's a Wonderful Life" on tv.

In Africa we always celebrated Christmas as a family the day after Christmas (Boxing Day).  The reason is that we usually celebrated Christmas Day with Africans by going to church and then sharing a big meal of goat meat in sauce over rice.  Holidays in Africa are community celebrations, not private family affairs.  So, we spent Christmas Day with Africans and then had our private family celebration the next day.

Whatever day we celebrated, we started off with a reading from Scripture by dad (me) and a prayer, then we opened our gifts. 

We started with the stocking gifts.  Over the years, Nancy has made individual cross-stitch stocking(except herself, she uses a nice bought stocking), so we have something unique to each of us.  Then we proceed to the opening of the gifts under the tree.

In Africa, we have a little two-foot artificial tree that we use, and we don't put gifts under it until Christmas Eve.  In the US, we buy a real tree and put the gifts under the tree whenever we finish wrapping them. 

We never played "Santa Claus" in our house.  The myth of Santa makes me sick, but we know that the myth is based on a real person named Saint Nicolas.  The fact that Saint Nick lived and worked in what is today the modern country of Turkey is all the more fascinating for our family since I have intimate connections with the country of Turkey.  I was born there.  So we tell our kids the real story of St Nicholas.  To me it's more inspiring and fun than the fake "Santa in the mall" junk. 

After opening gifts, we have our traditional breakfast of sticky buns, a practice borrowed from the Hall family (Nancy's parents). 

Later in the day we have a feast of turkey (chicken in Africa),

potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and pie.  This year we celebrated with special coke--in bottles like we get in Africa.  It just tastes better in a glass bottle!  :)


It has been fun over the past three weeks to have our kids home from college.  We've made cookies and memories together and cherished the moments.  Wish I could slow time down.  Now we're in Alabama for a wedding of a friend who spent some time in Africa.