The Jones’

We arrived in St Catharines at just about the time predicted, four PM. We hadn’t seen Ernie and Debbie Jones for some time. When we lived in Minnesota we often came-  around their way and would spend a night or two. In those days,

Niagara on the Lake

most of the kids (Aaron, Tim and Katie) were still living at home but now they are all married with Tim and his wife living on the west coast. We enjoyed a nice supper and made plans for the next day touring around the area. Our day trip would take us to some charming and favorite spots like Niagara on the Lake and Niagara Falls.

A more recent Ernie

For those that may not know, Debbie and Ernie became our friends in Merrickville during the revival that took place there between 1975 and 1979. Debbie was first to meet the Lord and her reluctant (suspicious) husband came along a few months later. Their conversion stories are quite remarkable and briefly, I will tell it here.

Debbie was first to show up being brought to church meetings and bible studies by two friends who had begun a conversation with her at work. It didn’t take long before she responded to the offer of the gospel and having been transformed, she became very active in fellowship. As in many other cases, she began to urge her husband, Ernie, who directed the regional emergency services in Smiths Falls. Ernie was also an athlete of some note and played a good game of hockey. All of his practices, scrimmages and games were scheduled on Sunday nights – for him conveniently at the very same hour that we held bible study. Debbie could be then and still is very insistent when she sets her mind to it – whatever IT might be. Finally, Ernie gave in, promising to come if ever there was a night when hockey was cancelled. This was good enough for her and it only took a couple of weeks before poor Ernie wrenched his knee. In fact, the injury was so bad that he couldn’t even walk. It turned out that he did show up one Sunday night in October. Our bible studies were held on the second floor with a long, narrow walk-up of about thirty stairs. He took one look at the challenge and said that he just wouldn’t be able to make it, but that’s when several men got the idea to haul him up in a chair. Though Ernie was a strongly built man, they sat him in the chair and toted him up to the room filled with about fifteen or so others.

Ernie now tells me that he traded mocking critiques with another skeptical visitor on that first night. Yet, in spite of this, he was curious enough (or perhaps it was just to please Debbie) to return on the next Sunday evening. On that night he committed himself to Christ and from that moment Thanksgiving Sunday (the first week of October in Canada) he has never wavered in his testimony and resolve.

Several weeks later, in late November, I was sitting at my office desk when the phone rang. It was Ernie, who had been reading the Bible and discovered that everyone who became Christians followed their decision with baptism. He said, “I want to get baptized!” My immediate thought was, where might we be able to do this?  I suggested that we call a church with a heated baptistery and ask when they planned to  have a service and perhaps we might join them. Ernie didn’t buy the idea and quickly said, “I don’t want to wait. I want to be baptized in the Rideau River like all the others.” I reminded him that these baptisms took place in the summertime. Certainly by November 28th, temperatures in the Ottawa area are near or below freezing. Nevertheless, this is what he wanted so I arranged a beach side event for later that night.

It was already dark when ten or more cars lined up with their headlights aimed at the water. I stepped into the freezing water and immediately wanted to retreat. I doubted that Ernie (even as strong as he was) would be able to endure the frigid waters. It had begun to spit snow and we could see the big flakes bouncing off of the headlights. Out we went, deeper and deeper. Once we made it to waste high water, with Bud Narraway alongside, I made quick pronouncements and down he went. There was no time for small talk or long stories. It was just in and out and then an almost run to the shore and the heated car.

As I felt my foot finally touch dry land, a rather “girlie”, silhouetted Debbie called out. “If he’s a gonna, I’m a gonna too.” I didn’t think I could manage another and delegated this one to Ross Ayling. Bud who remains to this day as tough as a boot went right back out while I huddled in the front seat of our car under the heater on full blast and wrapped in a quilt. This was their start and they meant business then, as they mean business today.

We share many fond memories over the years and it is nice that even after a five year absence when we have not met face to face, there is absolutely no getting re-acquainted. Things are just as we left off the last time, and the time before and the time before that.

The Jones’ – more to come…

Somewhere between Leon Redbone and James Taylor

Fred and Rose at Fratelli’s

No conversation with Fred ever ended before mid-night. He is getting older so this was a first.

P.S. You may recognize from the tone of this one that it was written by Jeanne but let me take a minute to clarify the title I have given this article. Though Rosie must be credited with leading the way for the family to faith,  Fred has brought a great deal of gifting to the kingdom. Most of you have never heard of Fred Williams. Probably most don’t know the name Leon Redbone either. It was Fred that introduced me to Redbone and somewhere between Redbone and Taylor (whom everyone has heard of)  you’ll find Fred Williams’ musical mastery. In addition to being a very gifted guitar player and vocalist he is also a consummate lyricist with many outstanding and unique gospel stylings to his credit. He and his son Joel are talking of bringing their talents together in a CD of Christian music. Those that know them should spur them on, “especially as they see the day approaching.”

We’ve been trying to set up a time to see Fred and Rose Williams since we arrived in Ottawa. With Rose working two part-time jobs and Fred busy with prison ministry and work, it’s not easy to find a window of time. But on Thursday evening we finally pulled it off. Since they were driving in from the Perth area (after Rosie got off of work at 7), we planned on coffee and dessert around 8:00. Tony picked Fratelli’s, an Italian restaurant in Kanata, since they have authentic Italian food and some wonderful desserts. With some time to kill before meeting them, Tony and I decided to go to a late afternoon matinee at the movie theatre nearby. After reading the book, I wanted to see the movie version of “The Help.”

In typical Tony fashion, he spotted two Mormon boys sitting on a bench outside of the movie theatre and immediately launched into a discussion about DNA and Mormon claims about the origin of Native Americans. As he said later, he didn’t engage them to try to win them on the spot as much as to create some questions in their minds and in the minds of the other two young men sitting with them, who did not appear to be Mormon. You might think that I was worried about being late to the movie, since we only had a few minutes to buy our tickets and get in. But no, I knew how adept he is now at keeping track of time (unlike when he was a new Christian). He broke off the conversation in time to join me with minutes to spare. We were really enjoying the movie but were concerned about how long it was running. We finally had to walk out on what I think were the final five minutes (we’ll have to rent the DVD now to make sure) in order to get to Fratelli’s in time to meet Fred and Rose.

Fred and Rose are long-time friends in the Gospel. Way back in the mid-70s, they were living in the Merrickville area, as we were, when the revival hit. Fred was a talented musician, carpenter, and debater for his current religious leanings – Buddhism. He also sported a thick braid that hung way down his back. From the Hippie era ourselves, we weren’t put off by his style, but we did find him harder to win to Christ than others we met. We hired Fred’s wife, Rose, to work for us in our advertising company and in a short time she gave her heart to the Lord. Needless to say, this bothered Fred a lot. Every time we saw him, it seemed he wanted to push us back by engaging in vehement arguments. Although our whole Christian community was praying for him, some of us started to think maybe he’d never come around. We were faithful to continue to witness to him but we had little faith that he would respond. His wife, however, believed that God would save him. And He did.

It was a glorious turn of events and we got to see the transformation in Fred day by day. Soon he became our favorite song leader in the morning services since he not only played and sang beautifully but also wrote some amazingly insightful and touching Christian songs. Their family grew as they grew in their faith. Today, their three children, Miriam, Joel, and Emma, are serving Jesus too. Tony and I had the pleasure of sharing a meal with their son Joel at the Hoggs and hearing his musical talents as well. (See the blog entitled “Up’da Line: Carleton Place and Maberly”, August 21, 2011.) There is talk of Joel and his dad doing an album of music together and we are fervently hoping that happens!

It’s hard to catch up with so many years of busy lives in one evening, but we did the best we could. Fratelli’s staff patiently waited as all other customers except us cleared out and we were still laughing and sharing stories on their patio. Tony and I are hoping to arrange for Fred, Rose, and Joel to accompany us on a trip to Europe. We’d love to share their unique gifts and love for the Lord with the Christians we work with in Italy, England, Slovenia, and Norway. How I thank God for how He can weave lives together in such a strong bond that it survives every challenge and endures over many generations!

Merrickville – where our journey started

Locks on the Rideau at Merrickville

More than twenty years ago we lived in the small, historical village of Merrickville, Ontario on the banks of the Rideau Canal. In those days it was simply a quaint, little out-of-the-way place that people accidentally drove through, but today it is a popular tourist destination where on most summer weekends is packed with “day trippers.”

    

Paul Laberge

On Saturday, we had the idea to drive the forty or so miles down to pay a visit to our friends, Paul and Ann Laberge. I have remained friends with Paul longer than I have with any other person. I met him in 1969 when I was a graduate student at Sir George Williams University in Montreal. He was one of the first people who I met there and learned that he only lived five blocks from us in St. Lambert, P.Q.. We hung out together and when I finally moved to Ontario some two years later, he went off to teach high school art in New Foundland. We lost track of each other for a time until he came back around, moved with his wife Penny to a farm nearby us and we struck up the friendship again. Paul lived with us for a time and on weekends he was often at our place or we at his. To our children, he was a kind of Uncle Paul and still is. Later he separated from Penny and lived on his own for a time.

Paul worked for me when I started Adinfinitum ( a creative design house) in 1975. He was the first person I told after I had become a Christian and a week later, Paul also became a believer and he remains so even to this day. He subsequently married Ann, moved in to Merrickville had two children (now grown and married) and has lived in the same house along the canal for thirty years. He is a now a painter of landscapes so we also have this in common. We stopped in and spent a couple of hours.

Ross and Muriel Ayling Home. Converted here in November 9, 1975 First meeting place

Later we walked around the village and took photographs of the locks, the

First meeting place

upper Canada architecture and a few of the buildings that have special meaningto us. For instance, beyond taking photos of the busy streets, I took a shot of the house where we were saved, the small building we met in and our house on Colborne Street, now re-modeled and recently used as a Bed and Breakfast.

Our home on Colborne from 1978 to 1984

In this little town of 900 we saw a small group of nine grow into a large and dynamic congregation of almost two-hunndred in less than tree years. Several hundred people made commitments to Jesus Christ and the church became quite well-known for a period of time. Often sixty people would come out to Bible study and stay until 2 in the morning. Even thirty years later most folks from those Revival days remain in contact with each other.

Jeanne with our old friend of nearly 40 years, Denny Ayling

While walking to my car, I had this inner compulsion to go into the Mainstreet Restaurant just to take a peek. There sitting in the corner was now, seventy year old, Denny Ayling. Denny was a fixture of Merrickville and for all of his life he has shuffled up and down the streets. Denny lives in a group home and he is what some might call “retarded” but don’t be fooled by his eyes that don’t quite track, or his shuffle and unusual posture. Denny is as sharp as a tack.

Surprised, I walked over to him and said, “Denitt, do you know who I am?” He finally set his right eye on me and replied, “Tony, Tony Hedrick, how are you?” Denny was in the room the day Jeanne and I became Christians, and though by some standards he might be considered the “town idiot,” Denny was our brother in Christ and dear friend. To this day he continues to be unwavering in his faith and life. He talked of the Lord and His coming. I love his steady uncompromised witness for all of these years. Truly, God “makes the simple to become wise.” By the way, give Denny any date in history and he will tell you what day of the week it fell on.