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Pastor rebuilding library destroyed by fire

Used book store, providential donation help Oregon pastor rebuild library

by Tim Huber for Mennonite World Review; reprinted with permission

One night in May of 2011, Lowell and Patty Stutzman and the youngest of their children were awakened by a knock at the door. Someone passing by saw the roof was on fire.

“We called the fire department, and they came rather quickly, in 10 or 12 minutes, but they ran out of water numerous times,” says Stutzman, a Mennonite Brethen pastor in Grants Pass, Ore.

That night, the family watched as the top floor of their house burned and as water and smoke damaged the remainder of the home beyond repair. While the family salvaged things from the main floor, the upstairs was lost, including Stutzman’s library.

Decades in the ministerial field had resulted in more than 2,000 books. Commentaries, Bibles and an assortment of other volumes—many underlined and notated into heirloom status—were gone by morning.

“I had five Bibles and since the early ’70s had been keeping extensive notes in them, and my thought was I’d pass those on to my kids at my passing, and all of those were destroyed,” says Stutzman, pastor of New Hope Bible Church. “The only book that was saved was my most favorite commentary, a Believers Church Commentary on the Book of Mark. So I preached out of Mark for a while.”

Stutzman, who grew up in the Mennonite Church, now faced the challenge of reassembling portions of a collection that spanned from George R. Brunk to John E. Toews. Since the Bible commentary series had been produced by a predecessor agency of MennoMedia, he gave them a call. Unfortunately, the books were out of print.

But just across Main Street from the Newton, Kan., MennoMedia office sits Book ReViews, a nonprofit used-book store with an extensive collection of Mennonite titles. MennoMedia suggested Stutzman give Book ReViews volunteer manager Vern Preheim a call.

“He was very helpful in helping us locate some of those unique pieces that have to do with our Anabaptist history and church history and our Mennonite Brethren history,” Stutzman says.

Preheim was on the hunt, and the pile of books headed for Oregon began to grow, when a providential donation from just up the road in Hesston arrived at the store.

“A retired Mennonite Brethren pastor by the name of David Block died,” Preheim says. Block had served congregations in Shafter, Calif., Balko, Okla., Newton, Kan., Grant, Neb., and Congerville, Ill.

“His wife had passed away earlier,” says Preheim, “and the children had brought a lot of books to the store—I would say 60.”

Stutzman purchased most of the donation. Almost precisely one year after the fire, Book ReViews shipped the seeds of a new library—nearly 100 books.

“God’s timing in so many of our experiences in the last year has just been amazing,” Stutzman said. “(Preheim) had a bunch of stuff ready to box up, and he just added it to the order.”

Coming from one pastor to another by way of a used-book store, the books aren’t exactly in mint condition.

Though Stutzman lost his notations and underlines, he has gained Block’s.

“It’s interesting to look at those notes and see his markings as well,” Stutzman said. “In a way it’s another kind of commentary, another way to see how God spoke into this man’s life. That’s what makes the Scriptures living; it finds us where we are.”

Scripture found him with that surviving commentary on Mark. It sparked a deeper reading of chapter seven, in whicha woman begs Jesus to drive spirits out of her daughter.

Unlike other moments, Jesus does not heal the girl immediately, saying instead that he serves the Israelites first. The woman replies, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” For such a reply, her child was healed.

“For me, that has been a huge piece: This woman says, ‘Whatever you give, Lord, that will be sufficient,’ ” Stutzman says. “God has been sufficient in this entire challenge.

“From my experience with going through this and still recovering from some of the challenges that are there, I’ve found my shepherd to be sufficient, that whatever he gives will be adequate for the day.”

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