Monday, May 25, 2015


Photo by Ruth Jenkins
I woke in deep emotional pain on Saturday, May 23 2015 at about 2 a.m.   Thankfully, my wife Jana woke with me and graciously calmed my spirit.   A few hours later I was sleeping again.   I slept in a bit and woke assuming whatever was causing the emotion would be gone.   Instead it remained.   I thumbed through my Bible and skimmed newspapers trying to find either comfort or a distraction.   The pain remained.    I decided to go on a long bike ride.    Maybe, exercise would provide relief?   The sun lifted my spirts, but something deeper still hurt.   I took a nap hoping that the pain was just exhaustion from three moves in less than three years.

                We had dinner that evening with good friends, Otieno and Kim Ochieng.   We planned my daughter, Sophia’s upcoming gusaba / kwanjula (Traditional African Wedding.)    Their joy, wisdom, and shared service lifted my spirits, but as I drifted off to sleep the pain remained.   Maybe, I was still missing Africa?

                I woke Sunday with the pain still in my spirit.   I knew it was Memorial Day weekend.  We planned to have friends over on Monday.    I planned to cook muchomo (grilled meat.)   Maybe, the pain was missing the churches we had planted and pastored?   Sundays can be painful.

                Then I remembered the life rhythms of my American childhood.    We used to go to our family cemetery in Elmore, Minnesota on Memorial Day.   We always stopped at the grave of my great uncle, Sanford Cornelius Eichhorn.   I remember being there with my grandmother, Minnie Sophia Eichhorn Jenkins.   She was such a treasure to me that I named my first born daughter, Sophia after her.    Grandma Jenkins was full of wisdom and hope.   Yet, her pain remained on Memorial Day.    Her brother, Sanford died as a soldier on the battle fields of France in World War One.  

                I googled my great uncle, Sanford Cornelius Eichhorn.  The date of his death was May 23, 1918.   Ninety seven years ago he paid the ultimate cost for our freedom.   Childhood memories and rhythms were catching up with me.    Life for all must go on.    Yet going on is more than grilling meat with friends and watching baseball games.    When life goes on we establish rhythms.   Those rhythms make places for memories of grief.    That grief brings our resolve.    Some matters though painful we must never forget.

                After so many years in Africa re-developing my American rhythms is tricky.   Many have forgotten the rhythms and ideals of my American childhood.    This one I will not forget.    Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives for freedom.   They had names.   They had parents and siblings.   They had stories.   They had great promise.   

                Somewhere in my unpacked files are the diaries of my grandmother Minnie Sophia Jenkins.   In them are the stories of her childhood with her brother, Sanford.    I can’t find a picture of her nor of my great uncle Sanford either online, on my computer, or in my family photo albums.  The next time I am with my parents or aunts and uncles I will find those pictures.   My great uncle Sanford was the first born child of Cornelius and Lola Belle Rowe Eichhorn.  I have few memories of my great grandmother, Lola Belle Rowe who passed from this life to another in June, 1971.  I remember her joy.   I also remember her grief when the name of her son Sanford was mentioned.  He was born on June 3, 1897 in Elmore, Minnesota.    His next born sibling was my grandmother.    He grew up on a farm on the Iowa border.   All the memories I heard of him were good.   He and my grandmother were especially close.   Life did go on after his death.     Yet, his memory was never lost.   

Today I will remember a man I never met, but whose death profoundly affected my great grandmother and my grandmother.    His death like many others gave not only the United States but other nations their freedom.    These painful distant memories must remain part of our life rhythms.   I hope to wake in pain on May 23 each remaining year of my life.