Even though I knew it was coming and was sick of living in suspense, even though I knew that message would mean that someone I loved was finally released from great suffering, when I found the text message from my dad saying that Opa had finally gone to be with the Lord on Saturday morning, I couldn’t help but be sad. I’ve lost my Opa and my great Grandpa Baker in the space of a year, and while I know I’ll one day get to see then again, it’s hard to know that I’ll never hear that voice again on this earth.
My Opa was a tall, strong man with an endurance that put us to shame. He was always up for a walk, loved to play tennis, and spend his retirement traveling all over the world to help teach others about his beloved Lord and Savior. Opa was also a very well read, learned man. He was a lot of fun to talk to as he had such a wide base of experience and reading to bring to conversations. Living in three continents gave him a perspective of the world that was fun to listen to.
As I got older, I realized how old fashioned European Opa was, but I loved him for that. His old world dignity, sense of duty, and how when he gave his word it meant something were all part of what made up the strong character of my Opa. This past year I read the books the three Burklin siblings (or should I say, Bürklin) wrote, and I was impressed in all three of them at the character of my great Opa Gustave, and the determination (or stubbornness!) that he passed on to his son (and grandson and great grandchildren!). This same determination is a quality that has stood so many of his descendants in good stead as they serve on their various mission fields. It’s a quality that I find as useful when dealing with my classroom of 5th and 6th graders as Opa did teaching at the German Bible Institute and being a teenager in war torn China.
My Opa had a deep, strong voice that he loved to use to sing hymns. One of my favorite memories of him is at one family reunion my Aunt Ruth, Opa, Oma, and I all gathered around a piano and sang together. I always think of him whenever I sing the song “Open My Eyes That I May See.” Another favorite memory was of the “Burklin Trio” singing “How Shall I Serve You Master” at the 2000 Burklin reunion. That song summed up Opa’s life, as it had his parents and later his descendants. I’m sure that Opa is now singing in the heavenly choir, and one day I’ll join him in singing hymns to our Savior.
While I’m really going to miss Opa, I’m so glad that he is where he no longer feels the pain of his battle with cancer. Cancer took his strength, his mind, and sometimes his voice from him, but now he has a new body that isn’t burdened with age and illness. Opa could barely eat for his last year on earth; now he is enjoying heavenly banquets. How hard it is for us still here to understand that life on this earth is just a beginning, a time to meet our Savior and start to be transformed into Him. We can only see the coldness of the grave, grieve for the voice forever stilled, and believe that the Lord told us the truth when He said He goes to prepare a place for us. I look forward to that day too when I’m released from this body, and will get to stand face to face with my Lord and Savior. Though death is a cruel consequence of sin that touches everything living on this earth, praise the Lord that He has conquered death, and because He lives, we can face tomorrow.
“Strong Son of God, immortal Love,
Whom we, that have not seen thy face,
By faith, and faith alone, embrace,
Believing where we cannot prove;
Forgive my grief for one removed,
They creature, whom I found so fair.
I trust he lives in thee, and there
I find him worthier to be loved.”
From “In Memoriam” by Tennyson