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We watched him shave–at least I did. I mean, I didn’t stand there gawking like some silly ten-year-old idiot, but when he was up beside the mirror in the crisp morning air, when he’d spread a palm-full of shaving cream, grab his razor from his bag and draw it across his chin, I couldn’t help but wish the years away. I didn’t want to be a kid. I wanted to be his age. Shoot, I wanted to be him at his age.
Never more so than when he was out on the diamond playing short. He had as much range as I’d ever seen and a wonderful arm. He was a natural–that’s what I remember thinking–fluid covering second on a double play, a smart hitter who didn’t need to broadcast the power he’d already knew he had.
In the cabin at night, he didn’t push God. Young staff thought they could remake a kid with a couple nights of weepy devotions, turn us all into Jesus freaks. Wasn’t going to happen, and we knew that when we took the first step on the bus to Bible camp. I mean, there was the lake and the girls. I looked forward to camp, but not the whole testimony thing. No way. I was no chump.
But this guy–Bill, his name was–was different. He was in our cabin every night for devotions, and you never once felt as if he was the dentist, looking to fill spiritual cavities. Mostly he talked about himself, not in an proud way, but in a serious way that still had him smiling. Devotions were no pain.
When he pulled on that Calvin College letter jacket and talked about playing ball, he won my heart. I wanted to be what he was–good and kind and not pushy, a guy who could turn a double play and make the kid playing second as much an all-star as he was.
That’s what I remembered from 1960. Name was Bill.
During the summer of 1978, my wife and I rode herd on a bus full of kids from Siouxland, trucked them down to Cary, Mississippi, where most of them taught at a summer Bible school out in the country, while the rest of us did odd jobs. I’ve never been particularly handy, so someone–I don’t know who–sent me into the Center’s library to make sense of the place.
Cary was a CRC Goodwill store. Every last thing was marked with church names: Oskaloosa, Hudsonville, Sioux Center Bethel, Lucas, Boston Square, Third Kalamazoo. Stepladders, cups and saucers, folding chairs (both wooden and steel), pots and pans, and, of course, library books, all hand-me-downs. Promise not to tell, but I stole a few books. I didn’t think Black folks from the Mississippi Delta would be all that anxious to read Rooftops Over Strawtown. Still up stairs in our library. I could return it, I suppose.
We brought maybe 25 kids. A church group from Kalamazoo was there too. One night their pastor led in devotions. The preacher standing beside his table–it slowly dawned on me–was the college kid, Bill, counselor from Bible camp, now pushing forty. I’m not making this up.
I had enough of a preacher in me to know the Bishop of all our fellowships doesn’t drop in-the-flesh sermons into your lap every day; but right there in Cary, Mississippi, He’d staked out a homily for one or both of us that just needed a little grooming.
I’m the one who told his church members and our kids a night later that their Pastor Bill had been a quiet but significant influence in my life one long-ago summer at Bible camp. “He really was,” I told those kids and those volunteer workers, and “right now your pastor has no idea himself that any of that ever happened.”
Seriously. He didn’t.
I’m not making that up either.
A decade or more later, shortstop Bill Huyser made it into Romey’s Place, a novel of mine, as pretty much the character he’d been, to me at least, during that week at Bible camp.
Calvin Simmons [the name I’d given him in the novel], a college guy on his way to the ministry and a shortstop with the best range I’d ever seen, played counselor for us in the barracks. . .On cool nights, he’d wear his maroon and gold college jacket when he patrolled the grounds, and he looked like just about everything I wanted to be–lean, athletic, sincere and moral.
Some years later–Pastor Bill was likely in his sixties by then–I ran into him somewhere and told him about the novel, told him he didn’t have a starring role but didn’t do badly with the cameo I gave him. I didn’t need to say right then that he’d played a thoughtful role in my life–he already knew that.
And years later, when we’d see each other somewhere in Michigan, he’d be sure to come up and chat a bit. I could tell he was proud of that whole story, the story I’m telling you now, a story I’m unwinding here this morning because I was just told that the Rev. Bill Huyser, 97 years old, died last Tuesday, 70 years of service behind him in the church. Seventy years.
Hundreds, maybe thousands of people can and should eulogize him and do a far better job. I’ve traced through what little I know. To me, once upon a time, he was a cool college jock with a Calvin letter jacket, a shortstop who knew how to talk to kids, a man I watched shave, watched place-hit like a pro, and watched love his guys even when, that year, we got in hot trouble in the girls’ cabins.
I’ll gladly step back and allow those hundreds who knew him better, those whose lives he touched, to tell the stories they remember; but I can’t help thinking there are precious moments when the Bishop of all our fellowships does, in fact, drop sermons and stories, fully fleshed out, into our laps.
I can’t help thinking this long story about a sovereign God’s acute timing is a story Rev. Bill Huyser, the old Calvinist preacher, would be more than happy to hear me tell you this morning. See that smile?