Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I recently read Josab’s Fire by my friend Lynn Squire. I felt so inspired by one of the characters, Mrs. Ruth Clumpit, I asked her boss (Lynn) if I could interview Mrs. Clumpit. Lynn provided the contact. Although the telephone line between the nineteenth century and now had a lot of static, she kindly repeated parts I had difficulty understanding. These are her thoughtful responses to the interview. Now, after the conversation, I feel more inspired by her than ever. Mrs. Clumpit is the type of neighbor we wish we and all our loved ones had.
1. Good morning, Mrs. Clumpit. It's nice to see you here. We'd like to talk to you about some recent experiences you've had. Do you mind talking about Mr. Clumpit? I understand he died in a rather tragic way.
Thank you for having me, Miss Baxter. I do not mind talking about my Jethro Clumpit at all. It helps me keep his memory alive. When I first saw him, years ago, he looked so handsome, but very troubled. He leaned forward in his pew at our small church north of Duck Lake, listening to the preacher that day. When the invitation was given, he marched up the aisle and called on the name of the Lord for his salvation. His was a miraculous change, though I suppose everyone who repents of their old ways and turns to the Lord’s way are miracles as well. He stopped drinking, something he had hidden from the Northwest Mounted Police, and fully dedicated himself to the Lord.
Now, that area of Saskatchewan is beautiful. There’s trees and Saskatoon bushes galore. But the weather reigns with a harsh hand. Winters were hard on Jethro, having come from the pleasant climate of southern Ontario. He’d have moved back there except he felt the Lord calling him to be a missionary to the Blackfoot Indians. That’s what brought us to Surbank.
See now, about 1899 Jethro met with John McDougall about mission work. John McDougall, the son of the famous Rev. George McDougall (a Methodist missionary in Rupert’s Land) worked extensively with these Indians. Not long after that, we moved to Surbank—before the town even existed.
Where the cold might get you near Duck Lake, the loneliness would get you on this prairie. Even while Jethro struggled to give the Gospel to those poor Indians, he couldn’t cease praying for Sergeant Dixon. He had such a burden for his friend. I believe it was God’s hand that brought Clarence out to us.
When the Lord chose to take Jethro and our little Joe home after a fight with smallpox…well, I felt abandoned. Mmm. But God is good. He makes a way for us.
2. People just don't seem to realize how difficult it was for a widow to survive in those times, especially without other family to turn to. What made you decide to open a cafe?
Sergeant Dixon. Jethro’s dying words begged me to be fervent in prayer for his friend. I wanted to walk to Calgary and take the next train home to Ontario, but I had no money for a train and walking that distance in the dead of winter, with starving coyotes and starving men, well that was the most foolish thing I have ever considered.
I prayed hard, often screaming at God, I’m ashamed to say. But God already had a plan. The fall before, the railway finished a line on this side of the river, and by March Surbank came into existence when the water tower was built. People on the train would need a place of refreshment as readily as the steam engine.
Dear Clarence (that’s Sergeant Dixon), he and a few of the neighbors hauled wood by sleigh up from the Bow River. Now, when a Chinook came, that was hard. Heard tell one neighbor say the front runners of the sleigh was on snow and the back was in mud, the snow was melting that fast. ‘Course that neighbor (won’t mention his name) has a tendency for exaggeration. Nonetheless, when a Chinook wind blows, the snow melts fast.
Again, I believe God’s hand was in it. By June that year, see that’d be 1902, I opened the doors to my restaurant and did my best to feed anyone who came. At first it was difficult, but the men in the area, and even some of the Indians Jethro served, were faithful to hunt and bring me what they could in exchange for meals. I relied heavily on my winter stores from previous years and worked long hours growing the largest garden I’ve ever had (God truly blessed with an abundant harvest). By fall of that year I earned enough to actually purchase some goods from Calgary.
3. With all the sorrow and worry and busy life you have yourself, you found the time and strength to help Mr. and Mrs. Black. Where do you find all this fortitude?
None other than from my Lord and Saviour. Each morning I would get up with my mind whirling with what needed to be accomplished. I know to say I simply prayed then went about my day seems trite, but truly that was what I did. When you’re in a tough spot, it does no good to dwell on the negative side of your situation. That only ties you in a knot. Better to put one foot forward at a time and keep moving, even if it is a slow rate.
Keeping Sarah in my prayers moment by moment enabled me to keep my heart close to the situation. That kept me sensitive to their needs. I think having experienced the kindness of others myself during my trial helped me work to be kind to Sarah.
I do want to add one more thing. Humility. I’ve watched people over the years and have seen that those who are truly humble are the most effective in helping another. These people don’t blame. They recognize that they too have made mistakes. They don’t shrug their shoulders and say, well bad things happen to that person because of the poor decisions he or she made. Humble people don’t even look at that. Instead, their focus is on comforting and looking for ways to help. Blame isn’t a part of their being because they know they are no better than the one suffering, and likely they understand suffering themselves.
As I see it, that kind of humility and servant’s heart is what God describes as love. Love is action, not just words.
4. Why do you think people chose to believe Abaddon, a total stranger, over people they knew for years and trusted?
Why have people believed the Deceiver for centuries? Pride indwells each of us, and when given an opportunity to bring someone down who makes us feel unworthy or less of ourselves we jump on it. I don’t believe this is a conscious move, but we all do it from time to time.
The Blacks are exemplary citizens. You are hard pressed to find anything against them. This makes people uncomfortable and, as much as I love my neighbors, the temptation to listen to something that makes them feel the Blacks are as human as they are is easy to succumb to.
5. Was God truly to blame for Joab and Sarah Black's tragedies?
James 1:13 says: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man:”
I don’t believe we can blame God for the Black’s tragedies. They suffered. There is no doubt about that. But dough not kneaded makes poor bread. Hardships are a way for us to become better people, stronger in faith, closer to God.
Pie doesn’t taste good raw. It needs to be baked. Have you ever burned yourself in a hot oven? It doesn’t feel good does it? But without that heat, baking that pie, you won’t get a tasty treat.
We humans are thick people. We just don’t get God ninety percent of the time. I used to say that God has to thunk me on the side of the head to get my attention. When bad things happen, and it isn’t a direct response to a known sin, then I believe God is simply thunking us on the head to get our attention, to teach something new about Him that we could not otherwise learn.
That doesn’t make Him cruel. Quite the contrary, really. It shows His great desire to be close to us. I picture Him like a momma grizzly, thundering through the trees, pushing aside all obstacles, to get to her bear cub. I think sometimes He has to push aside a few obstacles in our lives to get closer to our hearts, and we see that as tragic.
There is no greater joy than knowing God, and the more we know Him the deeper that joy is. For people that turn to Him during suffering, that joy and a peace lifts them above the situation—something people who don’t believe can never understand.
If our passion for Christ is stronger than our passion for comfort, then we’ll embrace hardship as a way to grow closer to Him. If comfort is more important to us, then we’ll fear tragedy and blame God for our trials.
6. Toward the end of this story, Mr. Dixon found a little strength of his own. Why is it so difficult for people to believe God wants to forgive them? Is it that we want Him to forgive without our asking? Or is it something inside that insists we don't deserve forgiving?
Asking for forgiveness requires humbling ourselves. To ask for forgiveness requires us to first come to an agreement with God that we are indeed sinful and in need of His forgiveness, and requires us to admit that He is wiser and greater than us.
Therefore, what keeps us from seeking forgiveness is pride. Yes, we might admit to ourselves that we are sinners, but to admit it to God means that we are willing to accept His judgment on us. That’s the last hold of pride, refusing to let someone else pass judgment on us.
Often, we want the mercy of God without the judgment of God, but that’s not how God’s grace and forgiveness works. We have to be ready to accept judgment. Fear of that judgment originates in pride.
Clarence wanted to judge himself. He felt he deserved what he got. He thought his judgment better than God’s grace. That’s pride. That’s saying that he knew better than God. Not until he was willing to accept God knew better was he able to accept that forgiveness.
7. Mrs. Clumpit, we appreciate your input today. We'll close with one last question: is there anything you would add to this story if you could?
The Blacks’ suffering impacted our little community. Years would pass before people would begin to forget. Perhaps the greatest result was a mini-revival. Because of the Blacks’ fortitude and faith many people saw how they too could endure hardship. Many in our little community who merely went to church as a matter of course ran down the aisle to fall before the altar before God. They wanted what the Blacks had, and they found it when they humbly accepted the free gift of eternal life through faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins. To God be all glory, honor, and praise.
And thank you, Miss Baxter, for allowing me to share my story and my thoughts with your readers. May God bless you all.