The Stuff Heaven Is Made Of

A Tribute to My Father

By Marina Gruenhage

I don't want to put my father on a pedestal. He wouldn't have wanted that. Always self-effacing, I can't remember him ever seeking honor for himself. If someone praised him, he'd point heavenward, to his Creator, and gave God the glory.

Now, many years after his death, I realize what a jewel of a dad I had. When he was still around-and especially during my adolescent years-I didn't treasure him as I should have. I assumed that all dads were as kind and sacrificial as mine. I didn't appreciate his meek, longsuffering nature, nor did I respect his convictions. Instead, I put him down many times, insensitive to the pain I caused him.

Papa, now you know how sorry I am for hurting you so. Now you know how proud I am of you and how immensely grateful I am for the way you affected my life.

Papa was born in Germany in 1893, and was old enough to have been my grandfather by the time I came along.

When he was 17, he received Jesus as his Savior and decided to share His love with everyone he met. He entered World War I as a young soldier, reluctantly. He would have much preferred to save lives than take lives. Despite frequent opposition, he talked about Jesus at every opportunity. A few of the men had made a sport of mocking him and his faith, and sometimes they were quite mean.

"On one occasion," Papa recounted, "one of the officers grabbed my Bible to look for a certain verse that he and his companions wanted to tease me with. They weren't able to find the verse, but they did find my prayer list tucked between the pages, and read it eagerly. To their astonishment, they also found their names written there." Those rough, proud men humbly returned his Bible and apologized. From that moment on, they didn't tease him again.

Papa also told us about one of his superior officers who had been part of the mocking crowd and often cracked jokes at my dad's expense. On the battlefield, however, he seemed to look for shelter close to my father. "Why are you always hiding behind me?" Papa asked him once. "I'm not bulletproof!"

This time the officer spoke sincerely and without scorn. "There is just so much peace around you. For some reason, when I'm near you, I feel safe."

Papa's voice would fill with emotion as he talked about a 19-year-old soldier who had panicked and was caught deserting before a major battle. He was to be immediately executed, but Papa begged for his life.

"Please give me a little time to talk to him," Papa said, reasoning with the officer in charge. His request was finally granted.

Papa told the boy about Jesus-the One who faced His fears and gave His life for us-and they prayed together. The young soldier then marched bravely into the battle, knowing it would probably cost his life. When they found his body later, his face bore the most peaceful expression. Clutched to his chest was the tract Papa had given to him. The text concluded with this verse from the Bible: "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms" (Deuteronomy 33:27).

After the war, Papa began studying to become a pastor, but had to give up his dream in order to rescue his parents from a financial crisis. With a family to support, he was never able to resume his studies. This didn't hinder him from continuing to share God's love wherever he went, however. He founded a Sunday school, and regularly led Christian fellowships at his local church, standing in for the pastor on many occasions. Visiting the sick and lonely was one of his favorite pastimes.

I was the youngest of six children. When I was small, Papa and I adored one another and spent countless precious moments together. But when I grew older and turned my back on God's love and the faith of my parents, it broke Papa's heart. I barely communicated with him during my teen years, as I didn't want to hear any of the sermons I expected him to preach to me. My mother already preached enough-or so it seemed.

So Papa opted to remain silent, while Mom and I argued a lot. "Why do you talk so much with your daughter?" Papa would ask her. "It might be better to talk with God about your daughter!" Sometimes my heart cringed at the way he would look at me, his eyes full of sorrow. Our sweet father-daughter relationship had faded, and he found the hurt hard to bear. I felt miserable too, but didn't want to admit it, so I put on a tough front.

Papa talked to God about me, and God listened. At the age of 21, I experienced a miraculous transformation. Like a prodigal daughter, I returned to Jesus and asked Him to take care of me. He answered my cry and gave me the love and fulfillment I was longing for.

Papa was so glad! What a joyful reunion we had! Mom told me how over the years he had not ceased to pray desperately and with strong determination, "Lord, help her to find You, no matter what the price!" Thank you, Papa, for holding on for me and for helping me to find true happiness!

When Father went to Heaven a few years later, a short article about him appeared in a local newspaper. In part, it read: "It's a rare thing to encounter such heartfelt kindness and patience as Mr. Gruenhage showed to others. Those who met him could feel that 'he had been with Jesus' (Acts 4:13)."

In his own humble way, Papa was a saint-the sort of stuff that Heaven is made of.

The Sermons That We See

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;

I'd rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.

The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,

Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;

And the best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,

For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done;

I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.

And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,

But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do;

For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,

But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

When I see a deed of kindness, I am eager to be kind.

When a weaker brother stumbles and a strong man stays behind

Just to see if he can help him, then the wish grows strong in me

To become as big and thoughtful as I know that friend to be.

And all travelers can witness that the best of guides today

Is not the one who tells them, but the one who shows the way.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;

One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.

Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,

For right living speaks a language which to everyone is clear.

Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,

I'd rather see a sermon than to hear one any day.

-Edgar A. Guest

Marina Gruenhage is a full-time volunteer with the Family in Japan.