Friday, September 11, 2009

All Because Two People Fell In Love

When I knew I would be needing a place to stay in the Hawthorne/Paramus area I flipped through my mental Rolodex of who I might know in the area. It came up blank. My parents reminded me that the Veenstras had a family home in Hawthorne and that they likely still live there. A quick jump over to gave me an address and I wrote Roger & Carolyn a letter. Then I waited.

I didn't have to wait long. A couple days later my phone rang and it was Roger. By all means, he said, their house is open to me. What made that moment and his willingness so special was that I had not spoken to or seen Roger Veenstra since I was 6 years old. As in, just finished the first grade.

Roger, his wife Carolyn and their five children (Susan, Sandra, Randy, Rodney & Luanne) spent two summers up in West Hebron directing the Summer Youth Ministry in 1979 & 1980. To say that I loved Summer Youth Ministry would be an understatement. Most of the coolest activities were reserved for senior and junior high age groups, and I openly envied those who got to participate. Luckily as the preacher's kid I got to sneak in to one or two as a hanger-on when my dad attended.

The summers Roger & Carolyn directed the program are the first that I remember. What is most vivid in my memory bank can pretty much be summarized in one word: fishing. Roger loved to fish and my brother and I loved going with him up to Barkley's Lake. The feel and smell and meditative energy of getting out on the lake at 5:30 or 6:00am are still potent to me.

Unfortunately, when the night that I was coming through Hawthorne was confirmed, it turned out that Roger and Carolyn would be at the shore celebrating an annual tradition with friends. Never fear, they said. Their daughter Sandra and her family were staying with them for six months on home leave from their ministry work in the Dominican Republican and they would be home to welcome me.

So Sandra and her husband Steve and two of their children - Hannah and Mark - drove the welcome wagon for me in Hawthorne, with a special assist from Randy, the Veenstra's first son, who very thoughtfully went out of his way to stop over later in the night to say hello. There was plenty to talk about around the dinner table and afterward. Roger & Carolyn's family, with five children, sons and daughters-in-law and somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 grandchildren has deep roots. There is a large family photograph of all them that hangs in the living room that tells the story with a single phrase. Above the painting reads, "All Because Two People Fell in Love".

There was one other treasure trove of interest for me in the Veenstra household. Roger had thoughtfully gone through his keepsakes and pulled out his scrapbook from those summers they spent in West Hebron for me to look at. There is something exciting about seeing pictures from long ago that I have never seen before. It's a different type of enjoyment than the pleasant warmth of seeing your own family's pictures. This feels almost like discovery. There in front of me were all the familiar faces of my youth. Pictures of my uncle John and his wife Bobby right after she arrived in Hebron and they started dating. Photos of my grandfather Big Daddy presiding over the BBQ pit on a Hebron Day. There were snapshots of the senior high youth group at a retreat - Andrea & Rick Waite, Chris Worthington, Sam & Sue Coldwell, Jerry Weaver - all the older kids I looked up to in my early days. Seeing those filled me with appreciation for where I grew up and for the tight knit community that shaped those first 10 years of my life.

Also in his scrapbook was the original job description for the Director of the Summer Youth Ministry. Whoever wrote it (my dad doesn't claim authorship) indicated that the program was started to combat a general aimlessness among local youth during the summer. That made me laugh out loud. Whether we were truly aimless or not, the directors who I remember leading that program, especially Roger Veenstra and Bob Myers who each did it for two years, brought a lot of God's love in action to West Hebron. And for a rousing salary of about $125 a week, I think we know that love was pretty much the only motivating factor. That love lives on in each of the lives they touched.


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