Today (Tuesday) we bore the sad and unexpected occasion of laying a highly respected community leader to rest. Jerry Haak’s relatively short life defined the phrase ‘servant leadership,’ having impacted agriculture, churches, schools and families not just here in the Yakima Valley, but all over the world. Most other men would feel satisfied to bring success to any one particular realm in life, be it his church, or business, or a board or committee, but this farm boy turned banker turned agri-businessman was successful in all of these areas of life and more, building an unrivaled resume of transformational leadership, all while raising a beautiful family.
Although Jerry certainly earned respect, prestige and financial accomplishment, he was not motivated by these worldly ambitions. Rather, the impacts he made were fueled by the gratitude he had for the undeserved grace God gave to him. Jerry would be the first to exclaim that his prolific successes were not his achievements, but the achievements of God working through him. Because Jerry worked tirelessly for God’s glory, on Christmas day he heard God say to him, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”
Jerry’s funeral typified the tension in which Christians live. On one hand, we rejoice in the fact that Jerry now sits in the presence of God, where there are no more tears or pain or suffering. Yet at the same time we are gripped by sorrow and pain as we grieve with his family and wonder how to go on without him.
Sadly, as members of Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church this is the fourth time in five years that we have faced this tension as we’ve buried one after another of our leading men in their fifties. John Newhouse, Bill Timmermans and Frank de Jong all led exemplary Christian lives, as Jerry did. All were successful businessmen who positively impacted the Valley. All of them put their own needs aside whenever the community called for help. All of them were tremendous fathers. All of them seemed to be doing everything the way God intended, yet none of them lived to see their 60th birthday.
Our church places a great deal of emphasis on God’s sovereignty. This doctrine, which teaches that all things are controlled by God, often gives us great comfort. Yet in times like this it may make God seem cold and callous, and maybe even complicit in the fact that He allowed these untimely deaths to occur. These harsh realities drop us to our knees as we cry out a one word prayer: WHY?
We are not the first to struggle with God’s will. In fact, some of the men who walked the closest to God also openly questioned His plan. David repeatedly asks if God is even paying attention in the Psalms. Elijah begged to die since it seemed to him like God’s plan failed. Peter chose to save his own skin rather than identify himself with the condemned Christ. Even Paul expressed “unceasing anguish” in trying to comprehend God’s will.
God’s response to these heart wrenching interrogations is consistent and frustratingly simple: “Be still, and know that I am God.” He is omnipotent and omniscient, we are weak and ignorant. He has promised to forever hold us in His hand and has provided tremendous evidence of His faithfulness.
Christians consider themselves as pilgrims in this world. Jerry Haak, like the brothers who were called home before him, reminds us that waiting on the Lord is not an idle pastime. Rather, we are called to live in and build a community that prospers (Jeremiah 29:5-8). Jerry accomplished his work. His boots are now empty and the committee chairs he sat in will need to be filled. Most of us do not have all of Jerry’s talent and ability, but all of us have some of it. Can you imagine how this community would prosper if we all begin to use it like Jerry did?
‑ Chad Werkhoven is a resident of Sunnyside,
and a member of the Sunnyside Christian Reformed Church.