13 May 2009
pastor willie dengler is 60 today
Today is Pastor Willie Dengler’s 60th birthday. Sixty incredible years. We are definitely celebrating today. If it were up to me, all of South Africa would be on holiday...
Willie will be given the following letter on the 17th at a little party thrown for him at the church – so if you know him, don’t go forwarding this to him. Would hate to spoil the surprise. If you would like to send Willie a birthday greeting, send an email to his daughter Bronwyn. - firstname.lastname@example.org – To have it included in the letters that will be presented to him on Sunday, send it by 5pm today (the 13th)…
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 daughter 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, and Bella… We love you. Happy Birthday. Well done good and faithful servant.
Your friend and Timothy,