August 17 ē 09:49 AM

Letting good stuff rise to top

March 05, 2008
For reasons that will become apparent in a minute or two, I'm going to share a childhood memory that just surfaced.

When I was young, my family always kept a milk cow or two. In my mind, I can see Dad coming in with the pail of fresh milk, still tepid and frothy. It would be Mom's job—mine sometimes—to pour it into the old milk separator in the corner. The cream, we would sell. The skim milk I guess we just fed to the pigs. But for our own use, there was always a big Mason jar or two of fresh milk—in all its unpasteurized, un-homogenized goodness (I thought back then, though I've lost my taste for it now)—in the refrig-erator. As it chilled, the cream would rise to the top, just waiting to be turned into all sorts of luscious things.

The rising to the top—I guess that's where the memory came in.

I had just read Gary Klumpenhower's new book, Native Gems for His Crown. As I often do after having read a good book, I closed it and was just thinking about it—ruminating, if you will—waiting for the "good stuff' to rise to the top.

I glanced down at the cover. When I had first seen it I had been impressed. "What a nice job Isaac Publishing did simulating the turquoise, the gem indigenous to the areas in which the Klumpenhowers had spent nearly forty years of their lives," had been my first impression. "How appropriate to the title, and to the song, Jewels (When He Cometh), quoted in the forward.

I thought of the journey I had taken via the book. I remembered the description of that day, in July of 1963, that Gary and his wife Helen (formerly Helen Van Dyk from Muck Road right here in rural Imlay City) had left Grand Rapids to work as missionaries among the Navajo in Brigham City, Utah. In the back seat of their recently purchased 1957 Ford Fairlane had been the strong cardboard box, fitted with a mattress, which would serve as their two-month old son Jack's car seat as well as bassinet. The days of infant car seats and seatbelts had not yet come, so this Jack-in-the-Box situation was legal.

I remembered the foreward that Jack—a grown man now—had written to his dad's book. A professional writer himself, Jack had resisted helping edit the book. "I have offered no comments nor changed a single sentence. I don't want to make this book better. It is Dad's story about God's work, and it is perfect as it is," he said.

"Wow! For your kid to say that about your book is phenomenal," I thought.

Jack had balanced that statement with a little story of an incident that had happened when he was nearly six, right after the family had moved from Utah to Toadlena, New Mexico. "Looking back on it now, I see how clearly my family was ill-suited for the work on the reservation. We were misfits. But God uses clumsy and imperfect people....Dad was faithful to the call to ministry, and God did the work. I don't fully understand it, but I know that those years of imperfect ministry will fit God's plan. Perfectly."

There is no discrepancy. All this makes sense together. It was God's work. Gary, imperfect English and all (he was an immigrant), was used mightily. He brought the Gospel. He even taught Navajo reading and writing classes, teaching some of the Navajo to read their own language. One of his students said, "I could not get it at first and kept on writing the wrong strokes for high tones, nasal tones and glottal sounds."

"The people always appreciated our willingness to teach the reading of their language even though I knew very little Navajo and my pronunciation was far from perfect. They also appreciated the fact that Helen was willing to be a student and learn along with them. It provided some humorous moments too, such as the time someone held up a picture of a pig and asked in Navajo what it was and Helen volunteered to give the answer. Unfortunately, instead of saying 'It is a pig' it came out 'I am a pig.'"

As I sat reflecting on all I had just read, letting the "good stuff'' rise to the top, I thought of all the times I had wondered where again it was that Gary and Helen had worked. Arizona? Or New Mexico? Now, I realized it was both, plus Utah. The range of their relational involvement was such that when a farewell was held in their honor after 39 years, both the vice-president of the Navajo Nation and the Speaker of the House of the Navajo Council were in attendance.

Because the Klumpen-howers have chosen Helen's hometown in which to "retire", and because of Mike and Helen's "Muck Road connection," we've been having lunch with them probably once a month, having barely skimmed the surface of their experiences among Native Americans of the Southwest. Had we known all this, we probably would have been intimidated.

The first printing of the book, which came out around Christmas, is sold out. I understand more will be available soon. In the meantime, I'd be glad to loan out my copy. I'm sure you can call Gary to place an order, or you can check at Amazing Grace, where the book is also being offered.

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