April 23, 2012
Memorial Service for Timmy and Julie Kurrle
What a beautiful time we had this past Saturday night in the home church of the Kurrles--the Obligado, PY Church of God. I have to confess that a part of me dreaded going, not really wanting to believe that this could be real, not wanting to see the dark cloud of grief hovering over our friend Norberto, not wanting to see pictures and videos of Julie and Timmy that I'd been able to avoid for the most part. But what a surprise God had in store for us!
How I got to the memorial service is a story all in itself, but one for another day. I arrived with dear friends Jamie and Marion Lee, British missionaries living in Ciudad del Este. We'd had the benefit of a 3-hour ride to process the horror and shock of this situation, and prepare mentally for trying to encourage Norberto and the community. But when we arrived, we found we were the ones encouraged and blessed.
We got there an hour early, despite Jamie's very cautious, slower than normal driving. (I think this has been a wake-up call to the entire ex-pat community, who already struggles with driving on these Paraguayan roads with few rules and even fewer people who observe them.) We found our seats in the church, then were greeted by a gracious gentleman who welcomed us to his home congregation. He seemed genuinely surprised to find that we were friends of Julie who had traveled just for the service, and thanked us several times for coming. It was only after we came out and asked him that he told us he was Norberto's father, the man who had just lost his precious daughter-in-law and his energetic grandson. It was clear that he was not here to receive pity or to draw attention to himself. This was a night to support Norberto and to give glory to God for the lives of two missionaries who devoted themselves to Him. As we met Norberto's mother, his brother, and his two sisters, they echoed this same humility and acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God.
Expecting that we'd not be able to speak to Norberto because he'd probably arrive just before the service started, we were shocked to see him come in early. He had work to do and was here to make this night perfect. We spoke with him for a moment and despite the questions in his eyes, the loss in his voice, the cut between his eyes and bruises around the right one, we were in awe over the peace exuding from this man who'd just witnessed horrors I can't begin to fathom and was walking through a valley I hope I never know. We were looking at a man whose home had been destroyed but his foundation was solid, built on the Rock that is the only true refuge.
Across the front of the altar, someone placed photos of Julie and Timmy playing, of Norberto and Julie in their wedding, of the whole family together, of little Timmy doing those things that boys do. To the side was a table with various things Norberto had chosen to display--Timmy's baseball and glove, his favorite pajamas, one of Julie's simple white dresses, the books she'd been reading most recently (she did love to read!), her well-used Bible. A photo show was projected on the screen with a mix of candid shots and videos, a vivid reminder of just how close to each other this family was.
Various people came forward to share how they'd been impacted. A man from the neighborhood whose son was Timmy's best friend, always hanging out at the Kurrle home. The scout troop in full uniforms with a flag they'd painted for Timmy in his favorite colors. A young lady who'd come last year to the training institute the Kurrle's started and been taken under Julie's wing. Timmy's teacher who said she'd felt the difference in the school in the time Timmy was a student there and knew it was because Norberto and Julie were covering it in prayer. Marion who shared of dying from a double brain hemorrhage, getting to heaven's gates, and asking to come back if she could make a difference in the salvation of her family (to which Julie replied, when Marion told her that story, "I don't think I'd have had the self-control to turn back! I'd have run through those gates!"--and I'm sure she did.)
I shared about how she'd helped me learn so much about Paraguay and being a missionary mom/wife here, and how I was nervous to meet her in person because I didn't think she could live up to being the person she seemed to be online, but she was all that and more. I told Norberto what she'd told me at a conference we attended recently, about how blessed she was to have a Godly husband who treated her like a princess and took good care of their family, adoring their kids and leading them all in the ways of the Lord. I told him what a blessing it was to be able to look back on his life with them without regrets, knowing he'd given his all for his family and devoted himself to them as God had directed him to do.
Mixed in with the testimonies were various songs, such as Julie's favorite (Amazing Grace), the one Timmy sang at his last birthday (a German praise song), and a few others with special meaning. These were sung by Norberto and his brother and sisters. His parents also shared how they were trusting in God, how they were thankful for the lives of Norberto and Anahi, and how much they loved Julie and Timmy.
And when everyone felt they'd said what needed to be said, Norberto went forward. I imagined he'd never be able to finish the speech he'd prepared, but he stood in the strength of the Lord and shared his heart. A real missionary, this man recognized the opportunity before him and spoke of God's plan for family. He encouraged those parents in attendance to love their children, to spend time with them. He told the story of his last evening with Timmy, how they'd built some homemade bomb gadget and Timmy wanted to light little explosions for the next two hours. Norberto was tired and they'd be traveling early, but he lit and re-lit and re-lit that thing until Timmy was worn out and ready for bed. In his pajamas, he wrapped his arms around his daddy's neck, thanked him for staying up late to play with him, and told him he loved him. Then, taking advantage of his daddy's softened heart, he asked if he could sleep in the bed with mommy and daddy that night. I'm sure Norberto will always be grateful for saying yes to that request.
Julie had gotten up early that morning to fix a ton of sandwiches for their road-trip, because, well, she was just that sort of Proverbs 31 woman. She took care of her household. As Norberto picked up the books to show us, one was about pregnancy. I took a deep breath as I remembered all the conversations and blog posts and emails and tears over trying to get pregnant despite what the doctors had deemed as almost impossible. The odds were certainly against it. But then Norberto shared that Julie was, in fact, six weeks pregnant. And so we learned that one more of Norberto's children than we'd thought, is in heaven with his or her mother. Heartbreaking, but I think of the joy my friend must have felt at realizing the miracle that had taken place in her body. The moment she must have shared with her husband when she was able to tell him of his little child she carried. And I thanked God that she was given that moment, that miracle. The answer to many prayers.
He told of how Julie, an organized, very intelligent, very business-minded woman, had big plans of climbing the corporate ladder and being a rich lady. Then God turned her life around, and she went after Him and His plan full-force. He ended by saying he'd need a little time to find out what God is saying to him in all this, what He has in mind for him, how he's to get through this. I was amazed that he was even able to think clearly enough to understand and reconcile this so soon, but as I said, this man is grounded in the Lord and surrounded by a natural and church family who are holding his hands as Aaron and Hur did for Moses in Exodus 17. And he's bolstered by the prayers of people all over the world.
As the service came to a close, we watched video of Timmy at about 3 years old, plunking the keys of a piano and singing over and over, "Yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me, yes, Jesus loves me..." and I thought, "Yes, Timmy, He sure does, and now you and Mommy can love Him back, in person."