A Clock from Switzerland
I can say thankfully and truthfully that wherever we have lived Becky and I have never been friendless. Basel, Switzerland is a case in point.
We arrived in that ancient city on the Rhine in the fall of 1980. Settling into our one-room apartment we began looking for a church to attend. Many of our American friends were worshipping at the International Church, founded by James Boice, but our goals were different. Our desire during our Swiss sojourn was to get to know the people and the culture. We therefore decided to attend the Baptist Church of Basel (note: not the “First” Baptist Church; there is only one Baptist Church in Basel). It was a small congregation of about 40. Most could speak High German; a few only knew the local dialect. We loved our stay in Basel, not least because of the dear friends we made in our local fellowship. I had the privilege of preaching there several times – in German, of course, except for my last Sunday there, when I had the audacity (or naiveté) to preach in Basel German, much to the delight of some and the dismay of others.
Among our friends there several stand out. Take Frau Schaub, for example. Fluent in several languages, she tutored Becky in German every week, and in three months my wife could hold her own in the language. But perhaps our dearest friend was Tante (“Aunty”) Erika. Erika Hartung was an elderly spinster, a retired school teacher. She lived in an apartment near the Basel Zoo along with her birds. Not just a few birds, but about 60 of her feathered friends. I am sure the Swiss had a law about that (the Swiss have a law for everything), but somehow Erika got along fine with her neighbors as long as she covered the birds’ cages at night.
Erika had taken English at night school and enjoyed speaking the language with us. She even spent a few weeks with us after we returned to California. We took her camping with us in Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Despite her age, she was a real sport. I will never forget watching her as she sat on one of our inner tubes, trying to navigate the Virgin River. She would have ended up in California had we not stepped into the white water and stopped her. Innocently, she wondered what all the fuss was about.
Later, Erika contracted a terminal illness. She needed someone to stay with her, and Becky volunteered. Off she went to Basel for five weeks, helping Erika prepare for the inevitable, getting her household and finances in order, and just holding her hand. When Erika went home to be with her Lord, it was up to Becky to help with her estate.
In our home, Bradford Hall, we have a memento of this dear saint and sister in Christ. Among the items that Erika had wanted to give us was a clock. Today that clock chimes out the hours in our breakfast room. When it rings I often think of Erika Hartung and our friendship with this woman of God.
Today I was walking on the farm with my son and I placed my hands behind my back and leaned forward a bit. Nathan said, “Dad, you look just like Tante Erika.” He was right. That’s exactly how she walked. I suppose it’s an aging thing, but I find myself unconsciously adopting some of Erika’s ways. If I only had half of the kind and generous heart Erika possessed I would be blessed indeed.
September 29, 2005
David Alan Black is the editor of www.daveblackonline.com.