Today is Pastor Willie Dengler’s 64th birthday. Sixty-four incredible years. We are definitely celebrating today. If it were up to me, all of South Africa would be on holiday…
The letter below has become my annual letter to my hero…
Our Dearest Willie –
First, we would like to greet you in Jesus’ beautiful name. We praise Him today for you and your life.
Where to start…?
It would be too easy to just run down a list of things that you are to us…teacher, pastor, brother, Paul, friend, and father. That would never do justice to the impact that you have had on our lives.
Willie, it was January of 2004 when a puny American kid washed ashore amidst the reeds of what was then called Johannesburg International Airport. You plucked me out of my basket, fed me a Steer-burger, and whisked me away into what would become the most formative 8 months of my life.
In my first 8 months with you, I learned more than I had in my previous 23 years, more than I had in thousands of dollars worth of University education, and more than I had in one thousand sermons. And as much as I love your teaching and preaching, I didn’t learn it in your church pew.
I learned these lessons outside the walls of the church, where you simply lived – and allowed me to come along for the ride. I learned humility and grace at the corner of Nurney and Ashanti, the entrance to Joe Slovo camp. I learned the value of humanity and the I learned to see with God’s eyes. My heart was broken in that place more than once.
I learned on the sidewalk at 106 Nurney Avenue, where Brian, Wayne, Neil, and Peter were shown love beyond what any man deserves. Over and over again.
I learned on Richmond Avenue about mercy and the way that we are to live together. I learned that drunks, druggies, felons and frauds could all be called children of God. And that they were all worthy of a place to lay their head.
I learned. Just by following you.
You taught me how to make lekker braai at Bill Hangar’s house.
You taught me why you should never buy meat from a guy on the street when you grilled up some donkey meat in your kitchen.
You taught me what never to ask for in my coffee when doing pastoral visits – “You’re a liar Pastor Willie! You’re a liar!”
You taught me what a Godly husband looks like.
You taught me that God values the worker so much more than the work.
You taught me that a 37 year-old Kenyan goat is going to taste very much like a 37 year-old tire.
You taught me that a turkey from a dead-man’s freezer (that expired 8 years ago) can still be provision from the Hand of the Father.
You taught me that anyone can teach – but that it takes a whole different element to preach.
You taught me that sorrow and sadness were sometimes right responses to the things of the this world.
You taught me that hope and joy were the weapons with which Christ conquers all.
You taught me that no man can outrun his sins.
You taught me that while kittens may be born in a biscuit tin, they certainly were not biscuits.
You taught me that there was no cost too great to give a man dignity.
You taught me that no one is beyond redemption.
You taught me that there was no cost too great to offer a man salvation.
You taught me that God was real and could be lived for in a broken world.
You taught me that fatherhood was a moment to be cherished and loved.
You taught me that Christ was enough and that there is no greater honor than to lose one’s life in pursuit of Him.
And that was just our first 8 months together.
Sometime in 2005, I brought you a group of rag-tag young Americans. They came hopeful but completely unaware. And, to this day, they all talk about you and your impact on them. Yes, they speak of your people. And yes, they speak of your church. But more than all else, they speak of a man who changed their lives, opened their hearts, and taught them a brand new way to love the poor and broken.
For me, that trip cemented a calling in my heart. These were to be my people. You were to again be my Paul.
So sometime in 2006, Stefani comes to me and says that for three straight nights all she can do is dream of Africa, of Willie and the children of Joe Slovo. She tells me that she believes God wants us to move to Johannesburg. Knowing that she has just given life to my deepest dreams, we begin preparing to move back to you. We sell all of our stuff and give away our dog. We buy plane tickets and quit our jobs. And in July of 2007, we sit down on a plane to return to you.
Willie, just glancing up the page, it is obvious how great an impact you had on me in 2004 and 2005. It was hard for me to believe that our time with you in 2007 and 2008 was even more profound. And yet it was.
The way that you poured into Stefani is something for which I will forever be grateful. The days that you allowed her to weep in your office, the days that you stood in as a father for her, the days that you gave her a hero again… It was the perfect picture of the life that I had witnessed before – only this time with a personal twist. I only hope that I can be for my daughters what you were for my wife. I only hope that men might see the light of Christ in me the way that so many do in you.
Your life has never been easy. It has never been comfortable. It has never been smooth. Yet, through the power of the Holy Spirit, you show up every day ready to be the representation of God’s grace and strength, His mercy and love, His endless compassion.
I cannot thank God enough for you. And I cannot thank you enough for being faithful to live the life you were called to.
Without a doubt, you have had more influence on my life than any other person.
To know you has been my life’s greatest pleasure and to follow and serve you has been my deepest joy.
From myself, Stefani, Bella and Brixton… We love you. Happy Birthday. Well done good and faithful servant.
Your friend and Timothy,
Color signatures of novels’ visual content by Jaz Parkinson. More. Looks like it may be possible to order prints, and even make requests!
(I just finished reading The Road and I can’t believe there is even THAT much color.)
UPDATE from the designer: prints are available, and you can make requests!
My ORIGINAL lung donors. Saved my life back on 10/17/00… #tbt #family #donatelife
There are good hospital visits…like @marykburkholder visits. #LungReunion
I stumbled across a tweet the other day that alluded to man’s desire for control in all things. It is something I’ve spent a ton of time thinking about in trying to root out that idol in my own life. In thinking about it, I’ve come to a surprising conclusion that really shouldn’t be so surprising.
Almost everything we do, buy, and aspire to be is tied to our deep yearning for control.
It is most clear to me in traffic. I am not opposed to traffic, I understand why it exists, and I know exactly how to avoid it. And yet, at times, I am stuck in it. My blood pressure is rising just thinking about it. I want to be where I want to be when I want to be there. And all of the other people are crowding the highway and usurping my will!!
We hate being out of control.
Have a smart phone? You control information. Directions to the restaurant, communication over various streams, memories in the form of snapshots.
Have a mortgage? You control your residential destiny. No one can kick you out or tell you that you can’t paint that accent wall lime green.
Have a pet? You control another life. Tell it to sit, it sits. Want it to stop chewing your TOMS? Yell at it and it loves and needs you to survive. Without you, it dies of starvation (or at least lack of Beggin’ Strips).
It isn’t fun to start thinking about it at first, this concept of just how desperate we are to control something.
The reality is that all of our control mechanisms really just control us, rein us in, and provide certainty.
The mortgage is a self-made prison spread out over thirty years, which features some financial benefits and a bunch of geographic constraints.
That dog that adores you and is loyal to a fault (providing certainty of affection as you walk in the front door) requires all sorts of resources, including food and exercise and (gasp) you to pick up its poop. Who is in control there again?
That iPhone keeps you connected and in control of all of the data in the world and also serves as an anchor tying you to an office you should be free from, Facebook statuses you shouldn’t care about (but do), and the power of Google in your hand. All of this creates a NEED to know and an immediacy about information that has you spending more time staring and swiping at a phone than you’d like to admit.
Helicopter parents aren’t really maniacal deviants, they’re just trying to force an outcome and eliminate as many (uncontrollable) variables as possible.
Dog owners aren’t latent slave-holders, but simply people who have no control over so many things (work, traffic, illness, recession) that having absolute dominion over even one thing sounds like a great idea.
Home-owners aren’t idiots. At least in Texas they aren’t. No need to sell out and become a gypsy family or fret about the economy. Let it ride, move when you need to, and relax a bit - it’ll be worth what it’ll be worth when it’s time to sell.
And, while we’re thinking about it, don’t go throwing your iPhone12 into a lake as a sign of your freedom. Desiring access (read: control) to all of the data streams of your life isn’t wrong, although it may not be entirely healthy.
So what do we do about it?
Being aware, in this case, might be enough. It adds perspective and allows us to make small changes to release our death grip on the controllable aspects of life. Turn off the Email Indicator on your phone. Buy a cat (nah). Let your kid do (or fail to do something) on their own.
And next time you’re in traffic, ease up. Nothing you can do about it anyway. Use that time to check your email again or read more about someone’s perfect life on Facebook. That should help.