A funeral represents a time of grief and emptiness. The loss people feel at the death of a loved one can leave them depressed and despondent. However, for those who believe in a life of transformation, such an event also comes with a bright hope.
At the local Brunstad Christian Church fellowship in Melbourne, Australia, nearly two hundred people recently came together to remember and give thanks for the life of Menno Johan van der Staal. He was 74 years old, leaving behind his beloved wife of nearly 50 years, and 9 children, each now with their own families. The life Menno had lived was extraordinary; both in the help he himself had received, and also in the way he in turn had helped and affected others.
Why were so many people gathered to rejoice over this man’s life and legacy? What is it that can draw other people in, and that makes for an attractive life?
What is it that can draw other people in, and that makes for an attractive life?
Menno was raised in The Netherlands, the third of four children. His father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and received a call to travel to Australia. In 1958, when Menno was 21, the family moved to Australia. Some years later he returned to the Netherlands to marry his childhood friend, Wilhelmina (Wilma), and together they migrated to Australia for good. Her qualifications in social work, and his background in teaching, coupled with their love for people led them to start working with children of migrant families.
Menno was a spontaneous person, who loved nature and had a keen awareness of his surroundings. As a young man, he was not particularly adherent to the Christianity of his parents, though he always carried with him the love and respect for God that he had received at home. He had great freedom of expression, and spent many hours articulating his emotions through poems, playing music, and, his favourite medium, painting.
A longing for something more
After a time, Menno was offered a teaching job in The Northern Territory, which he accepted. He and Wilma then moved to a small island community off the far north coast of Australia, where they began to work with indigenous Australian children. There was a Methodist mission post on the island, and Menno, wanting to be of use, started holding Bible studies for some of the boys. However, he soon realised the difficulty of imparting something spiritual to others when he felt he had nothing to give.
Here, in this relatively isolated environment in the tropical climes of Arnhem Land, Menno van der Staal came into a deep personal need over his own life. He wanted to respond to his calling from God, and started searching intensely in the Bible. He and Wilma prayed for a fullness of the Holy Spirit, and received it. From that time on, the scriptures became open and living for them.
How could they actually live the life that Jesus brought?
The van der Staals rejoiced over their new-found living faith, but so many questions remained: How could they go deeper into the Word of God? How could they actually live the life that Jesus brought? They would not have to wait long for the answer. While Menno was in contact with another Reformed Church minister who had also travelled to Australia, he received literature from Brunstad Christian Church, and for the first time heard about the possibility of coming to victory over sin.
Then, Menno’s father passed away, and they decided to move closer to his mother. At about the same time, a fledgling fellowship had started in Melbourne, so Menno and Wilma travelled there and found what they had been looking for: their spiritual home.
Obedience leads to transformation
From this point on Menno gained new wings, as his longing to live well-pleasing to God took over all facets of his life. He began to receive revelation over his own nature, and could acknowledge the evil that was present with him (Rom. 7:21). How he desired to be patient; to speak good words to others and give them the help they needed; to enter into a deep and complete rest from judging others or seeking his own in any way. He felt restricted by his abrasive and critical nature, but now he could make use of the power of that same Holy Spirit, whom he had received when he prayed in his need. By faith and obedience to the Word of God and the promptings of the Spirit, he gradually became transformed from his old life and into the image of Jesus Christ.
Can I come to such a life, ... so that it is said of me, “God is with us”?
A verse that became one of Menno’s favourites was Isaiah 7:14, the prophecy about Jesus, which called His name Immanuel—God with us. ‘Can I come to such a life,’ Menno would ask the congregation, ‘so that others who experience me could say the same thing? That I acquire God’s own virtues so that it is said of me, “God is with us”?’
Though Menno was an elder brother in the Brunstad Christian Church fellowship in Melbourne and in Australia, he never became puffed up or desired any kind of position. He understood that a person’s measure before God is by their spiritual content, not their outward ministry. He pushed the youth forward, and delighted to see their personal growth and development as they served in the church. Young people who lived in a victorious spirit were very much his heroes.
A love for people
Menno’s personal battles against sin in his life of transformation led him to a great respect for a similar work taking place in others. He would often tell how happy he was to see things going well for the many people who occupied a place in his big heart, and he was full of compassion for those who struggled.
Once, during a visit of an elder brother of Brunstad Christian Church, Menno sat and simply watched as his interesting stories and inspirational insights into God’s Word captivated several of our friends. The brother continued to speak to the one, encourage another, and help still others with guidance in various life issues. After a while, Menno sighed “You can be jealous of such a life!” He was expressing his desire for more personal growth, so that he too could impart to his friends what they needed in order to live a life of good pleasure in God’s sight. He saw his shortcomings, and felt he had attained so little of the life that Jesus lived on earth.
But Menno had attained much. It was crystal clear for those around him, and who knew him well, that he had become transformed in those years of following his Master. Menno’s humility had allowed God’s Spirit to mould him into the image of the Saviour he so fondly served and obeyed.
We believe in life!
At Menno’s funeral his eldest son Milenko began the eulogy by describing the overwhelming sense of love from all those who had gathered for the service. This was born out of a mutual bond between Menno and all those who had known him, and who had gained a respect for the spiritual battles he had fought in his own life. And while those of us who were close to him remain behind, and have felt our own deep pain at the loss of such a good friend, we genuinely experience the realisation of the Apostle Paul’s words: ‘but we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.’ We believe in the resurrection! We believe in life! We know Menno has kept the faith, and finished his course. We also believe that we shall see him again, and rejoice together over the eternal values that were able to be formed in him during his days on earth.
We believe in the resurrection! We believe in life!