If You Had to Sleep in a Shivery Cold Bed, Would You Be the Better for It? Memories of The Punishing Prairies from Balmy Florida

4254138161_07e6691e14_m

During my childhood in Saskatchewan — 80 years ago — the severe winter nights made bedtime a challenge. You may find it hard to believe what I’m going to tell you but here’s my story.

Our house had no central heat and its walls were not insulated. Storm windows installed each Fall weren’t much help. As Winter progressed, my bedroom window upstairs gradually frosted over completely, and nature decorated it as a winterscape. For three months the frosted panes looked as if the images of snow drifts or ocean waves were etched into them by human hands.

Here’s how you went to bed at night: First, you got into your nightclothes in a small pocket of warmth behind the coal stove in the living room. Then you flew up the stairs as fast as you could in the unheated hall to limit contact with the cold steps.

On the kitchen stove, a caring mother had earlier heated one of the old clothes irons. It was wrapped without its detachable handle in layers of newspaper and slid under the covers down to the foot of the bed. What a welcome partial reprieve from the cold flannel sheet and two or three quilts to touch this warmed area with your feet! When you wakened in the morning, the water vapor in your breath had frozen so the sheet covering your chin was covered with frost. You also learned to move as little as possible because your body had warmed everything near it and everything outside this zone was shockingly cold.

Yet, in a way appreciated in comparison with sleeping outside, you felt snug and protected: The house gave shelter from the wind, and there was slight heat from the stovepipe that ran up through the bedroom.

The final challenge of a long winter night came in the morning when you threw back the hump of quilts resolutely and made a dash for the front room downstairs to dress for the day behind the coal stove. Top speed was essential in descending the stairs in order to limit the contact of your feet with the steps just as you had done coming up them the night before.

By the time you were back into your long one-piece underwear, corduroy pants, flannel shirt, and wool socks you had pretty well forgotten the experiences of the night and were ready for the fresh, brisk day.

I think of those bitterly cold winter nights from a lovely place we stay for some months each Winter in Florida. And I marvel at the difference in our evening routine when we turn on the electric mattress warmer recently given to us by our three children to warm their nonoginarian parents. What luxury!

But, who can forget the rigor of those cold nights? Who can forget the valor of parents who defended their young against the severity of the elements to the best of their ability and resources? I celebrate with thanksgiving the rigors of my childhood and the care of my parents but at the same time both Kay and I feel only deeper thanksgiving for a warm bed now!


Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Derek Gavey (via flickr.com)

Could You Handle a First Day in School Better than Mikey? (A Slice Of Life by Kathleen G. Bastian)

14269622409_9468fd3e5e_mMikey would turn four by Christmas so he was old enough to attend the pre-school I, Kathleen, directed in the Free Methodist Church in Greenville, Illinois. It was 1971 and I held the school three mornings a week.

Mikey, the fourth son of a local doctor, had looked forward eagerly to the experience for most of a year because his next older brother, Matthew, had attended the previous year and Mikey had gone with his mother regularly to escort him to the church. He had seen what fun the children had in pre-school and also how much his brother enjoyed it.

Now, in September, at three-and-a-half, the big day came. He was standing in line with his mother to register. Several mothers and their children were ahead of them. The room was quiet.

Suddenly, he realized that one at a time, the mothers were leaving their children and going home. Mikey panicked, looked up into his mother’s face and said out loud, “I quit!”

He continued to whimper a bit as his mother instructed me to complete his registration. She intended to leave in spite of his protests but I persuaded her to stay until Mikey was comfortable.

She stayed through the play time. When the children went into the story room his mother told Mikey she would be just outside the door. Half way through the story, Mikey wanted his mother.

I quickly opened the door. His mother was gone. Mikey began screaming and sobbing. I tried to comfort him. An idea struck me, and I placed my expandable bracelet wrist watch on his arm. I showed him the small hand and told him that when it came to the top at 12 his mother would be there to pick him up. I then slid the watch as high on his arm as I could and it held. He stopped sobbing and entered into the morning’s activities.

When his mother arrived for him he was delighted. They started to leave but as they were about to go through the swinging doors he looked up and whispered something to her. She nodded and he ran back and gave me a big kiss goodbye. From then on Mikey came to preschool happy and unafraid.


Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Bridget Coila (via flickr.com)

 

What Serious Ministers of the Gospel Do: Pastoral Care (Part One)

handshakeOur son, Robert, converses every now and then with a Lutheran minister. This man has agreed to come out of retirement several times to serve one congregation after another until the congregation’s officers find a long-term minister.

Recently, he reported to Robert that during one congregational interview a woman on the committee asked, “Do you visit in homes?” He replied without hesitation, “Oh my! That goes without saying.”

He then explained to Robert that through the years his custom had been to tell each congregation that if anyone had a neighbor or knew of someone in need or in the hospital who had no pastor, he would make a pastoral visit. To him, this kind of home or hospital visitation was an important aspect of pastoral care.

Pastoral visits, in some places, may have been taken from the pastoral agenda or at least dropped to a low priority. I heard of a young pastor who declared to a friend, “I don’t do hospital calls.”

I am sure the retired minister, along with a host of other pastors in chorus, would say “What a missed opportunity!” Such personal visits (at a home, in hospital, or in the pastor’s study) often open an opportunity to understand heart issues and present Christian counsel. They also allow pastors to minister to shut-ins, to families in distress, to newcomers to the congregation, and to parishioners who appear to be dropping away from congregational life.

Pastoral visits have a deep social dimension. They include conversations about troubling or unresolved moral, relational, and faith issues. Their ultimate purpose is to apply some aspect of the Gospel to the soul. Thus, after a pleasant conversation, the pastor may ask a question about spiritual matters or may read a brief scripture and offer prayer. When such ministry is maintained the results are placed by faith in God’s hands, and when fruit appears, pastors give thanks to God for his goodness.

One Sunday evening in the church I served in Western Canada I noticed a young man in the congregation I had never seen before. After service I spoke to him briefly. The ushers had obtained his address in the visitor’s book. A couple of nights later I went to his apartment. I learned that he was a 19-year-old German immigrant to Canada named Gunter whose loneliness had prompted his visit to the church.

My apartment visit and the warmth of the people of the congregation drew him back. Several Sundays later in an evening service Gunter came to kneel at the altar to give his heart to the Lord. When we stood around him afterwards we asked if he would like to say something. He said only, “I feel much more better.”

He was a quick learner and soon mastered English. In time he attended Seattle Pacific University, trained for the ministry, graduated, married, was ordained, and served as an effective pastor until a rare disease took his life regrettably. I will never forget that pastoral visit with my friend, Gunter, in his apartment.

I could draw up a list of memorable pastoral visits. Some, like this one, added tangibly to God’s Kingdom. For others, I have no follow-up. Many visits are cause for rejoicing. At the same time, there are memories of pastoral failures too — missed opportunities, ineffective approaches, broken connections. In our humanness we pastors on occasion come short and must commit our disappointments to the Lord and his mercy.

But, oh how precious the memories of heart-to-heart conversations in a home or pastor’s study concerning the deepest issues of life. And how enriching the knowledge that the good fruit of those visits still flourishes decades later. And how comforting the thought as well, that the results are the Lord’s and his Spirit is still working in the lives of those visited decades ago.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Sam Butler (via flickr.com)

Chokecherries and the Mystery of Providence

15556356962_cd274884a3_mI was six years old and my sister, Eunice, was three-and-a-half. It was late August, 1931, in southern Saskatchewan, and my parents planned to take us down to the old farm three miles south of town to pick chokecherries, a wild sour cherry used for jam or jelly. This would be a big outing for us prairie kids so we were restless to get going.

Mid-morning I looked out the window into the back yard and suddenly realized that my father’s Model A Ford truck was gone. At the same time, there was no sound in the house so my six-year-old brain concluded with a bit of shock that our parents had gone without us.

In retrospect, my father likely had gone to gas up the truck and my mother was quiet in the bedroom upstairs. But in the moment I thought they were on their way and I was set to get my sister and me there on our own.

So we started our journey. This meant crossing the alley behind our Fourth Street home to Third Street. We followed Third Street a block-and-a-half east to Souris Avenue which ran diagonally south. After walking about three or four blocks on Souris we went down a first slope and then, at the edge of town, down a second much longer hill dropping gradually into the three-mile-wide valley south of town. There were no sidewalks; we were walking on the road.

Where the road became level on the valley floor, a man was sitting on a flatbed wagon pulled by a none-too-energetic nag. I asked for a ride and he stopped the horse so we could climb up on the flatbed at the back, our legs dangling over the edge. He didn’t ask where we were going. I helped my sister up and then climbed up myself.

Half a mile or so farther south along this road another road veered off to the southwest and rounded the base of a large, treeless hill. Just past the hill the road swung straight west, crossing a bridge that spanned a narrow river. At this point we were a good two miles from our home.

During our silent ride under the big-sky prairies the only sound we heard came from the incessant crunch of the gravel under the metal wheels of the wagon. The driver had nothing to say to my sister and me. It was as though we weren’t there, but I knew we were on the right course.

One or two hundred yards beyond that bridge, on the left, was the entrance to the Pawson Nursery. It opened to a long single lane and it was the last road we must take to get to the farm.

I called to the driver and he stopped his nag so that we could get off. Still no words were exchanged. I estimate we were already well on the way to three miles beyond where our adventure had begun. Now we had to walk the long narrow road south past the nursery and on toward the farm.

After reaching the Pawson house, a narrow single lane went west towards the next property where the chokecherry bushes and our parents would be waiting, I thought. This lane was the scariest part of our venture because the trees on both sides of the lane had grown to meet overhead. I remember this portion as shady and eerie to a little boy, but it opened eventually to a clearing with an old farm house. To my surprise, our parents weren’t there.

The occupants of the house became aware of our presence — two little unknown children in their yard. There was something strange in their reaction. It was probably consternation mixed with a degree of shock. They asked our names and we told them and we said we had come to pick chokecherries. They gave us a brown paper grocery sack and showed us a bush near the house where we could busy ourselves.

They then disappeared indoors. I know now they must have done some furious telephoning. Even as a six-year-old I sensed their uneasiness, but had no idea why. Soon, the Model A Ford came chugging out of the shaded lane. Our parents were half frantic about our disappearance and half joyful to have found us.

Everyone of us who has reached adulthood has come through childhood episodes that were perilous — close calls, serious illnesses, life-threatening accidents, or unusual escapes from danger even if we didn’t perceive it as danger at the time.

When we review such memories there’s a word we should use. It’s called providence. It means that “God governs and guides in all the affairs of our lives.” At these moments of recollection, let’s give Him thanks for His gracious protection.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Sharon Mollerus (via flickr.com)

 

A Great Honor Bestowed at Age 90

greenvillecollegecrestA great honor has recently come to Kathleen and me. Greenville College, the school at which I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English 63 years ago, has bestowed the honor. My impulse is to share the details with my readers but I must first tell you about the college.

Greenville is a Christian liberal arts college. In September it is to become Greenville University. The school was founded in Greenville, Illinois in 1892, by ministers and members of the Free Methodist Church. Greenville, a city of 7000 on Interstate 70, is about 50 miles east of St.Louis, Missouri.

Today the college has 1600 students and offers more than 50 majors. It was smaller by far when I was a student long ago, but it continues with the reputation of providing solid higher education and sending a significant number of students to graduate school and then onward to lives of character and service.

I graduated from GC in 1953 at 27 years of age. With three small children in tow, Kathleen and I then went on to Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky for a three year program of pastoral education. Only eight years after I graduated from Greenville I was brought back from Western Canada to be the pastor of the college and community church. The new church building was just across the street from the campus, and this move began for us a 13-year, wide-ranging pastoral ministry.

Later, at 48-years-of-age I was voted into the bishop’s office for a period of service that lasted 19 years. Kathleen and I took that election with full intent to treat it as another though broader pastoral assignment. Our life’s commitment to the pastoral office did not flag.

A few months ago, 63 years after my graduation and 42 years after completing my 13 years as pastor of the Greenville Free Methodist church, President Ivan Filby asked me a question that took me by surprise: Would my wife and I consent to have the college name a renewed School of Theology, Philosophy and Ministry after us, and would I also be agreeable to having a Chair of Pastoral Theology and Christian Ministry established in my name?

Needless to say, we were astonished and felt deeply honored at the same time. On several occasions during our Greenville pastorate we turned down invitations to other enticing Christian ministries. I refused such offers in order to continue as a local pastor. So we said yes to President Filby’s inquiry.

Now to the formal inauguration of the Donald N. and Kathleen G. Bastian School of Theology, Philosophy, and Ministry. It occurred just three weeks ago, on October 5 and 6. For months Linda Myette, Vice President for Advancement, and her staff, had been working diligently to put together a two-day program of celebration of this event. In addition to the school, the Donald N. Bastian Chair of Pastoral Theology and Christian Ministry was to be established.

So, on October 4 members of our family converged on Greenville. Kathleen and I and two Greater Toronto children Carolyn and Don with spouses, Doug and June, traveled together. Son Robert and wife Jan drove from the Chicago area. Two grandchildren, Charis and Zach, also drove from there. A grandson, Jonathan, and great granddaughter, Rebekah, came from Pennsylvania. It all turned out to be the experience of a lifetime for all of us.

Among many wonderful moments of the two days, here are the three highlights for me and for Kathleen as well.

First, to start the celebration we listened to heavenly choir pieces in chapel, and afterwards I preached the sermon to an attentive student body. The text: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and all things needful will be added as well. For me and for Kathleen, that verse summarizes the life we have attempted to lead, and I believe the students received it as a challenge from the Lord for their lives too.

img_2712A second highlight was the ribbon cutting and the uncovering of the large plaque at the front door of the school of theology, announcing the new name of the school housed in the JKL building, a gift to the college made by Don and Esther Jones.

A large group of friends, family, and community gathered outside to hear the greetings, comments and proclamations. The ribbon cutting made us feel we will always be a part of Greenville.

Third, I had been asked to be guest lecturer for a one-hour class of about 20 ministerial students. My subject: The Pastoral Vision. It was a joy to break down the pastoral task into three main components: Ministry of the Word, pastoral care of persons, and administration, and to illustrate these assignments from a long life of ministry. The class was alert and engaged and afterward we enjoyed a special luncheon with them. What a privilege to connect and share with a coming generation of likely pastors.

Please share with us in giving all glory to God for the possibilities launched on this occasion.

And join Kathleen and me in praying for the students of Greenville University, rejoicing with us in the faithful service of President Ivan Filby and his wife, Kathy, as well as the faculty, staff, administration, and trustees of this greatly loved institution!

My First Car

1934_ford_two_door_sedanIn the summer of 1947, at age 21, I bought my first car — a 13 year-old 1934 Ford.

The auto industry had been making tanks, military trucks, and other war materiel, and was just getting back into production of automobiles after the Second World War. Even good used cars were scarce at a reasonable price. A friend of mine, Frank, told me of a relative of his north of Toronto who had a car he had quit driving for health reasons.

I went to his farm and bought the car for $300.

This car had one instant appealing feature — a remanufactured V8 engine. At that time, Ford held the patent on V8 engines so only Ford could produce them. Those engines were quick on the take-off and peppy on the road but they were known to burn oil. Nevertheless, this Ford with a replaced V8 engine was a treasure to me.

After that one feature in the plus column there were several in the minus column. After all, it was a 1934 vehicle bought in 1947. Cars back then became undependable more quickly with the passing of time and needed repairs sooner than today’s automobiles.

So, let me list some of the minuses. Its two-doors opened from the front. They were sometimes called suicide doors because if they ever became unlatched and opened while traveling at any significant speed, they would catch the wind and who knows what would happen to the door, or the driver’s side of the car. Or, for that matter, the driver if it was his door. Seat belts were not yet invented when that car was built.

The bottom of both doors had rusted away quite badly so in the winter, driving in a cross-wind provided extreme air conditioning. The driver got the worst of it because he had to keep his feet on or near the pedals regardless.

Another minus was that some of the basic instruments had long since quit functioning. The gas gauge was useless. I tried to keep track of the gas level in my head but on more than one occasion I ran out of gas on the highway and had to cross a field to the nearest farm to get a small container of gas. Back then that trek could turn out to be a neighborly experience.

The speedometer didn’t work either. You had to figure how fast you were going in comparison with other cars on the road. This wasn’t really taxing because the volume of traffic even on the recently built Queen Elizabeth Way was a fraction of the traffic today.

Kathleen and I were married in late December a little less than five months after I bought the car. Soon afterward we had to drive to Watertown, New York, from Toronto — a little over 200 miles. I was to speak there for the weekend. On that trip the rain pelted the car and revealed another frailty: the cowl above the driver’s feet leaked water badly. My bride diminished the problem by unwrapping sandwiches she had made and placing the wax paper (no plastic wrappings yet) over my feet.

On occasion people referred to that vintage car as a puddle jumper or bucket of bolts. When my friend, Herald, rode in the back seat he teased that the car was equipped with buggy springs. That 1934 Ford was an adventure and, at the same time, an object for good-natured quips.

In the spring, I saw an advertisement for a car paint that could be applied with a powder puff (the puff included). The grey paint on the car had become drab so I bought the paint and on a Saturday morning Kathleen and I cleaned up the car and did the paint job with the powder puffs. It was a small act of love towards that old car. The results were a much improved shiny black body, but the doors were still rusted at the bottom.

My first car had one distinguishing feature that very few cars have to this day: a bullet hole through the back wall (there were no trunks back then). More than once, people who noticed it quipped that I must have outrun the police. I insist to this day that the bullet hole was there when I bought the car.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: carsguide.com

How Little Winnie Prompted Me to Be a Writer

6463476471_4e8ab0ce9a_m (1)I was twelve when I met my cousin Winnie in Seattle. She was also twelve.

My parents and younger sister and I travelled from Estevan, Saskatchewan, to visit my mother’s sister and family there. We crossed the American border into North Dakota and then spanned Montana, Idaho and Washington State.

That trip covered 900 miles, and on today’s roads takes about 18 hours. But we travelled 1937 roads. And we made the trip in a 1929 deep maroon Model A Ford, the frame of which had been damaged in an accident before my father bought it. When he learned of the damage it was too late. The car was ours.

The car performed acceptably up to 35 miles per hour but driven faster than that it began to shake and vibrate in protest.

So, the four of us chugged along at 35 miles an hour across the vastness of the West and through the grandeur of its mountains. I particularly remember going through the Blewett Pass. Its many curves would not have permitted speeds to rise above 35 miles per hour.

In Seattle we found our relatives — Big Winnie, my mother’s sister; then Edna, her daughter and Little Winnie, my second cousin.

Big Winnie was only 4’ 10” tall, but the adjective “big” reflected her status as the matron of her family. Little Winnie got that name when she was small, but at 12 Little Winnie was already taller than Big Winnie.

Having never met before, at first there was a usual shyness, but children have an instinct for “strangers who are family.” I remember the pleasure at getting acquainted with a new cousin.

I recall only one conversation between Little Winnie and me. We were alone, swinging gently on the front porch swing when I asked, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” Without hesitation she said, “I’m going to be a writer.”

I replied, also without hesitation, “I’m going to be a writer too.” I don’t know where that came from. To my recollection I had never previously had such a thought. I don’t remember my response as competitive or teasing. Little Winnie had simply planted a fresh idea in my head and I warmed to it instantly.

Our family chugged all the way back to Saskatchewan in the wounded Model A and soon after arriving home, it was time for school. I was going into grade six.

Miss Walden was a new teacher, young and very motivating. She soon had us doing other things besides “school work”, such as doing drills in place to the music of a scratchy gramophone and coming to the school on Saturday mornings to sand and re-varnish our desks.

She even had us writing stories or poems for possible publication. At the time, the Regina Leader had a page on Saturdays for children’s compositions sent in from children among its readership. Miss Walden was faithful in encouraging us to write and she sent some of our efforts to the paper.

I remember one piece I got published, inspired by what was going on at our house, I wrote a half-fanciful Mark Twain sort of story about spring house cleaning. The first sentence began, “I entered the house to be accosted by the smell of calcimine.” Back then walls were often refreshed with a whitewash called calcimine.

I remember that my Mother worried that some readers might read my distortions as a true account. She didn’t like the fabrication of my pulling fishing gear from under my bed and pitching it out the window.

I don’t know whether Little Winnie became a writer. I know I began writing in earnest at the outset of my ministry — not only sermons, but articles, booklets, even books — and here I am in my ninety-first year still writing, by the grace of God.

Bookmark and Share

Photo credit: Julie Jordan Scott (via flickr.com)