Author: Dueck, Jack
Date published: December 20, 2010
Six-year-old Tina runs into the house, the screen door slamming behind her. "Mama, Mama, there's a car coming."
A Ford Model T chugs up the dirt road, a pillar of dust trailing its approach. Turning into the yard, the automobile shudders into silence.
The driver steps out and asks, "Are you Jacob Thiessen*?"
"I am," Jacob replies.
"I'm Stanley McCann. Are you the Jacob Thiessen who worked for my father on the Sunrise Ranch?"
"Yes, I am that Jacob Thiessen."
From bitterness to grace
In 1926, Jacob and Elizabeth Thiessen had fled communist Russia, losing everything except their faith, each other and their two children. After working as hired hands on Canadian prairie farms, they took advantage of a Canadian Pacific Railway offer for a 32-hectare farm.
Because the mother church was located a distance from some members, including the Thiessens, the outlying communities met locally for mid-week Bibelbesprechungen (Bible discussions). In a large refurbished granary the adults sat around a table, with the children on roughsawn benches. Although the children were often bored in the large church, they always looked forward to those meetings.
Following a Bible reading, discussions ranged widely on how to practise the message in daily living. After a focus on the theme of grace and freedom in Christ one evening, Jacob related that, after working for a rancher some 160 kilometres distant, the farmer had refused to pay him money owed when Thiessen decided to move to farming on his own.
"Times were tough" he said, "and with it resentment grew over his refusal to pay me. Wishing him ill festered into inner bitterness over the honest and good labour I had performed. Praying God to change Farmer McCann's mind did not bring results. Our evening prayers turned hollow, peace and grace held captive by preoccupation with money owed. Finally Elizabeth and I decided that we had to deal with it from our hearts. Forgiving him was not enough, so I wrote him a letter telling him that I was giving him the money. With that giving, we were set free, finding peace and grace."
The granary throbbed with the concluding song: "A place I love and cherish, where the heart no longer is burdened; here the heart sings in sweet tones: O this is God's throne of Grace! Here I found healing."
Payback with interest
"I'm pleased I located you, Mr. Thiessen," says McCann. "Shortly before he passed away, my father called our priest and, before receiving last rites, confessed before me and the priest that he had refused to pay you money you had earned. Then with the priest as witness he delegated me to bring you this cheque in person for the amount owed plus interest."
After a stunned silence Elizabeth says, "We were about to eat our noon meal. Will you join us?"
At end of the meal Jacob says, "Thank you for coming. It is good to hear that your father found peace and grace. But we cannot accept the money."
"Why? It was owed you."
"I wrote your father a letter giving him the money a long time ago."
"Yes, I know about the letter. Well, I'll leave it with you to give away to someone in need."
"No, it's not ours to give. For your father's sake as well, choose a needy cause and give them the gift."
As he leaves, the Thiessen children watch fascinated as McCann braces himself over the radiator while straining at the crank. With a muffled cough the engine thumps into rhythm. McCann shakes hands with Jacob and Elizabeth, then turning to Tina and her brother Peter, he says, "Since we're into giftgiving, let me leave each of you with a chocolate bar. Christmas in July!"
*Att names are pseudonyms. Mennonite storyteller Jack Dueck can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.