I’ve been kicking around writing this for the better part of a week and for fear of not doing the subject justice, had elected not to, but, having returned from the funeral home for the visitation of a fellow church member find myself inclined to write.
His name was Al Jelgerhuis, he was 86 years old when his body finally said enough late last week. While it sounds strange to say someone nearly fifty years my senior was a friend, I think I can count myself as one of many who crossed paths with him and considered him a friend.
I first met him when his oldest son, Elmer, married my sister some 25 years ago. Through the twists and turns of life, myself, my wife and my children ended up in the same church as he for the past four years or so.
Quite a life. Those were my first thoughts when I heard he had passed on after mounting health difficulties in the past year.
He enrolled in the army for service in World War II and ended up flying B-29′s over India the same time as his twin brother Elmer. Elmer was shot down on a mission and declared dead. After being given the option to serve stateside Al elected to return to India and continued air missions. In May of 1945 his plane was shot down and he spent 90 days in the Tokyo prison. He entered as a fit army pilot, he left 100 pounds lighter and was eventually discharged with honors in 1946. He earned a Purple Heart.
From there he was married to his wife of 53 years, Della, and they eventually made their home in Orange City where he worked in the Postal Service and was an active member in the church, schools and community.
I will always remember the smile and the laugh he was ready with. Invariably, when his health failed, he would spend a day or two in the hospital but always found his way to church on Sunday where he was ready with a kind word and a compliment; and believe me, when someone like himtakes the time to give a compliment, it is truly humbling.
So that brings us to today. The tears in mourning but also the joy in knowing he is free from the pain that ravaged his body and the illnesses that just wouldn’t leave.
I’ve heard Jim Valvano’s (former North Carolina State basketball coach) speech several times when his body was racked with cancer and he was near death and he said you need to laugh, love and cry every day……that’s a full day he quipped. I look at Al’s life and I think many of his days were filled with those emotions.
Why was he able to do that? Well, I’m sure part of it was because he stared in to hell in that Tokyo prison and lived every day in the knowledge that things could be a lot worse–but I think there’s more to it, much moreand at Christmas I think we can tie it all together.
Al lived every day in the knowledge that his sins were cleared away, thrown as far as the East is from the West, because Christ was sent to live as a man among us and eventually die a cruel death for us and it all started with his birth which we celebrate in a few days.
Having stood by the open graves of loved ones I’m reminded always of Heidleberg question and answer number 1. Learned it in the basement of the Ireton Christian Reformed Church. Honestly, it didn’t mean so much to me back then, but days and weeks like today it states things very clearly:
What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I am not my own, but belong-body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation.
Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures my of eternal life and makes me whole-heartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.
Hallelujah! What a Savior!