June 8, 2011

A Life Well Lived

Daddy, is our house going to fall?” I asked my father in the midst of a storm that shook the thin walls of our home. I was 6 or 7 years old. In Brazil the houses are generally built of bricks, but nothing more; no wood frame or insulation. We didn’t have a ceiling, so we could see the roof and all the electric wires above our heads. The storm was in the middle of the night, but I woke up from the terrific noise. I saw a light in the living room, so I ran there. My father was praying, pleading with God to protect our family.
When I joined him, Daddy put his hands on top of mine and said, “Let’s ask Jesus to protect us.”
My brother and mother came also. My little sister was fast asleep. We made a circle and repeated several times the Bible promise “The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him” (Ps. 34:7). Then Daddy poured out his heart to God for protection. We remained still for about 30 minutes, just meditating on God’s love and protection for us.
The storm passed, and as I was about to get up from my knees and go to bed, Daddy said, “Now we will thank God for protecting us.” How blessed we children were to have a faithful father who really trusted God with every problem of life.
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Ready For Baptism: Arthur Westphal (far left) with the author's father, Ernani Girotto (front row, third from the left), and mother, Ester (front row, sixth from the left). The author's brother, Ezer, now a pastor in Brazil, is being held by the woman all the way to the right, front row. They aren't wearing shoes because the picture was taken just prior to their baptism.

I remember being angry with my father many times when I was a teenager, but Daddy stood firm. My anger didn’t concern him. He was going to do the job God had entrusted him to do, leading his family all the way from the foot of the cross into heaven’s gates by God’s grace.

Making Connections
Daddy came from a large, Italian-Catholic family of 10 children. Of the five brothers, he was the only one who went faithfully to Mass with his mother and sisters.
There was no Adventist church in the town of Martinópolis, São Paulo, where I was born later. My maternal grandparents had recently become Adventists when they studied the message with a literature evangelist.
One Saturday evening Daddy (Ernani), a young man of 26 years old, sat in front of their blacksmith’s shop to rest from a heavy day of work and enjoy the evening before going for his shower and supper. My mother (Ester), 18 years old, was passing through his shop with her four sisters, going home after visiting friends. Daddy must have had an eye on one of them, because he decided to follow them home. When they invited him to come in, he told them he wouldn’t then, but he would return the following day. True to his word, Daddy not only went back to their home on Sunday but also took his brother, Ercilio, with him.
My maternal grandfather, who had come from Portugal with my grandmother when they got married, didn’t waste any time teaching them both the Adventist message. My father became an avid student of God’s Word and soon, with Mother, was baptized by Arthur Westphal, a member of a large family of missionaries to Brazil and Argentina who went from city to city baptizing people who were ready for baptism.
My father’s mother was totally distraught with Daddy for leaving the Catholic Church. She cried in horror that her most faithful son would burn in hell forever for accepting another faith. His brothers were angry with him for not working on Saturdays anymore, leaving them to do all the work themselves.
Daddy felt the need to find another trade and work for himself. He decided to become a carpenter. Little by little he bought all the tools he needed. He always told us that he chose to be a carpenter because he wanted to work in the same profession as Jesus.
Home, Church, School
After Mom and Daddy got married, Daddy began to give Bible studies in our home. Many families accepted the Adventist faith. Without a church building in this small town, all the Adventist families got together in our home for Sabbath school and worship. After church we all ate together. Sabbath afternoons were spent distributing pamphlets and passing out offers for Bible studies around town.
Years later all the men got together and built a simple church building that was also used for a school.
When my brother turned 7 years old, Daddy talked the conference into sending a teacher to teach my brother and a few others. The teacher lived with us. My parents gave the teacher the best room and bed we had in our house and never charged her for room and board.
Every summer literature evangelists came to town and stayed in our home without being charged a penny. At the end of the summer they usually gave us books as tokens of appreciation.
Later we accommodated many recruiters from the boarding academy we children attended after our years of elementary school.
I loved to go to our backyard and pick mangoes, caju (a fruit the cashew is picked from), and papaya to blend with water and sugar, to serve our guests.
Whatever It Took
Daddy raised many churches in Brazil. He loved nothing more than giving Bible studies and preaching. He was still active when he died at the age of 95.
My niece, who with her husband watched over Daddy, told me that one Sabbath they took Daddy to give a Bible study to a man who had demonstrated a desire to study the Bible.
But eventually the man didn’t want to be bothered with any more studies. One particular Sabbath the man’s wife opened the door for Daddy after hearing his knock, and told him that her husband was hiding.
Insistent, Daddy told her he would go to his hiding place and give him a Bible study there. So the woman took Daddy to their bedroom and told Daddy to look under the bed (beds in Brazil are very high and have only one mattress, making it easy for anyone to hide underneath). Daddy lay down on the floor and shook hands with the man. Embarrassed, the man came out and never hid again.
Did Daddy’s method help the man to be ready when Jesus comes? Only eternity will tell. However, I am certain that when Jesus comes, He will say to Daddy: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world” (Matt. 25:34).
Even so, come, Lord Jesus!
Eva Holdridge lives with her husband, Jerry, in Keene, Texas. This article was published June 9, 2011.