My grandson Johnny was helping me pressure wash some fences last week. He looked tired. He told me he had been waking up early every morning. “The first thing I see when I open my eyes is four fingers right in front of my face.” I didn’t understand. “It’s Josiah, Pipaw. He knows his birthday is coming up and he is really excited about it. He keeps holding up four fingers to keep us from forgetting.” Cute Joey!
At ITEC, we are celebrating another very special birthday. This one is what our family calls a “Happy-Sad” celebration. The senior member of our ITEC staff, Gene Walrath, has passed from the opening exercises of life into what we Christ-followers know as the unending Final Chapter.
Gene was 93. He has left behind his dear, loyal, spunky, wife of 71 years Elva and their two sons and their wives and two grandchildren. He has also left behind the growing ITEC team, where Gene and Elva are also ‘family.’
Gene and ITEC
I first met Gene right after speaking at his and Elva’s church about 22 years ago. The congregation was comprised predominantly of senior citizens. I wrapped up my talk about it being time to re-evaluate how we in North America do missions. I challenged the congregation to consider investing their time and mature talents with the Indigenous People’s Technology and Education Center (ITEC).
To be frank, the name was larger than the organization back then. In fact, I was both convinced that we needed to drastically change how we did missions, and confident that attempting to change how we were doing missions was doomed to fail.
I had barely stepped off the platform when a man, exuding enthusiasm asked me, “OK, what can I do?” I was surprised at the energy of this older man (I realize now that he wasn’t really an old man; but back then I was only in my mid 40’s). To be completely transparent, I had already come to the conclusion that the foundational concept of ITEC was too old school to succeed. It was radically opposite to the currently popular concepts of missions:
“Doing everything, for everyone, everywhere, forever”, or
making quick forays into foreign cultures to build something and show people there that people here care
I asked Gene to see if others in his congregation would also be interested in joining him. Then, I asked him to give me a call the following week so we could discuss what he could do to help. Imagine my surprise when Gene did call.
More Than 20 Years Serving at ITEC
Twenty years later Gene has still been calling me every week. He asks me how I am doing, and I ask him the same. Gene still has his own shop at ITEC. When his knees gave out a couple of years ago, Robby, one of our engineers fixed Gene up with a souped up electric wheelchair. When cataracts made it impossible to drive, Gene scheduled surgery. Gene had eye surgery last Monday. He told me he could see a little better, but it was going to take a couple days to see clearly again.
Gene, you were so right. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 verse 12 promises, “Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” (NLT) We are happy for Gene but extremely sad because we will miss him very, very much!
Gene’s story has inspired many because of his willingness to serve God faithfully until the very end. God had a plan for Gene, and Gene answered his call by asking, “OK, what can I do?” Let’s follow Gene’s example. Some of us have time or talents to give. We can volunteer. Others of us have been blessed financially and can support ministries like ITEC. We can all pray. Whatever God has equipped us to do, let’s follow Gene’s example of faithfulness and servitude until the very end.