As I See It - Vol. 1, No. 7, July 1998

by Douglas K Kutilek

Volume 1, Number 7, July, 1998

Ionela: A Child's Death in Romania

by Doug Kutilek

Ionela was seven. She was just beginning to get her permanent teeth. She had been adopted along with a younger boy by an older couple, Cornelia and her husband Petru. There was also an older, grown daughter in the family. Cornelia and Petru adopted and loved both Ionela and the boy. To provide for the family needs, Petru had taken work in Israel and had been away from home and out of the country for many weeks.

On Thursday morning, Ionela walked to school as she regularly did. And after school, she walked toward home, accompanied by a boy who lived nearby. As they walked, Ionela had a pencil in her hand and was playing with it. The boy decided to tease her a bit and grabbed the pencil away. He threw it down on the sidewalk a few steps back where they had just walked.

Ionela turned and hurried to pick up the pencil, stepping into the path of a truck backing (perhaps too hurriedly) out of a driveway. The driver had seen the children, and had waited for them to pass out of sight beyond a house wall, but he had no way of knowing that Ionela would suddenly dart back into his path, trying to retrieve her pencil.

The impact of the truck knocked Ionela several feet . Her head hit the pavement, causing a severe concussion and immediate unconsciousness. Her life ebbed away in a few brief minutes. She was pronounced dead at the scene, but her lifeless body was taken to the local hospital so that the coroner could officially register the cause of death, a thing required in cases of all but "natural" death.

The badly bruised body of Ionela was taken home and lovingly prepared for the wake that Friday evening and the funeral to follow on Saturday afternoon. Her bloody and soiled clothing was removed and replaced with a colorful pair of new stockings and white shoes, a pink skirt, a clean white blouse and a red sweater she had probably never before worn. The blood was washed off her face, her long brown hair was combed back and her best hair pins were used to hold it in place. The blue and purple bruises on both sides of her head were readily visible, as well as a sizable dark blue knot in the middle of her high forehead. Her long eyelashes were prominent over her eyes now closed in death.

Her newly-clothed body was gently placed in her small wooden casket. A white linen cloth lined the casket and was draped over the sides. Beside Ionela were placed three inexpensive dolls that had no doubt been among her favorite toys. The casket was placed on a table in the middle of the cottage's compact sitting room.

Friday evening at 8:15, the wake began. More than fifty relatives, neighbors and friends crowded into the low-ceiled room, spilling into the adjacent short hallway, and out into the courtyard. The close quarters and low ceiling soon made the room uncomfortably warm. Several hymns were sung. The American preacher visiting in town spoke from John 14:1-6. In the presence of death, the human heart yearns for the consolations of God's promises. The Romanian pastor translated, and spoke as well.

Saturday afternoon, well before three, a large and rapidly expanding crowd assembled in and outside the small house. The sky was bright and the sun was warm. By three o'clock, the house and yard were choked with people. Sober-faced men. Women all but invariably attired in long black dresses, with heads covered. School children, all with bundles of spring flowers in their hands to offer in tribute to their schoolmate--daffodils of all sorts, red tulips, branches of blooming yellow forsythia, leafy new growth of lilac, and more. The children's choir from Ionela's church, numbering perhaps thirty, dressed crisply in white shirts and blouses with black or dark blue slacks and skirts; they also bore flower bundles. The choir would sing two numbers during the service and lead the funeral procession the two kilometers to the cemetery. There were, besides, teachers from the school and the members of the church fanfara (a brass band totaling eight to ten players this day) which would play at the house, during the procession and again at the graveside.

After a brief private service in the house, the preachers conducted the body to the place prepared for it in the yard. Straddled across two common stools, the open casket was soon surrounded by inquisitive children and knowing adults.

The aged deacon led the diverse congregation in a couple of hymns, lining out the verses for those who did not know the words or have hymn-books. Penned-up turkeys gobbled and strutted in a pen at the side of the house. No one but the American preacher seemed to notice.

The American preacher spoke first. As the Apostle commanded, he sought to comfort those who mourned with the blessed hope of Christ's return, as recorded in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The fear of death that faces those without the knowledge of Christ, but the hope and consolation for those "in Christ." He concluded his remarks after about twenty minutes. The Romanian pastor again served as translator. Next the Romanian pastor spoke. His remarks focused on the daughter of Jairus (Luke 8:40-56), but there would be no resurrection this day. The need for personal faith in Christ was emphasized by both who spoke.

During the outside service, the casket was crowded about by dozens of curious and puzzled children, some as young as five or six. Such a strange experience: all the funerals they had attended before were of old people--grandparents, great uncles and great aunts, aged neighbors--but never before had they seen one so young in death. Halfway through the preaching, the children began to lay their flower bundles in the casket with Ionela (they would later be retrieved and carried to the cemetery). She was soon surrounded by a sea of color.

The horse-drawn hearse was just outside the entrance to the yard. The driver was an antique, white-haired man. The team consisted of two horses, one black and one white. The glass-sided hearse was black and had painted on either side the solemn Scripture admonitions "Prepare to meet thy God" and "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found." Did anyone but the American preacher notice?

The casket, still open for view, was placed in the hearse and secured for the two kilometer journey to the cemetery. The children's church choir led the procession followed by the fanfara, then men from the church, the preachers and the aged deacon. Next came the hearse, followed by the immediate family and the assembled mourners. From front to back, the somber group stretched a full two hundred meters and more, the hearse being almost exactly in the middle. Slowly the assemblage moved and the band played its mournful dirges.

The route to the cemetery took the entourage directly past the spot where the grievous accident occurred. A young man from the church showed the preachers and the deacon the still-visible stains of Ionela's blood on the pavement. As the hearse passed the place, the uncontrolled sobs of the mother were heard. Daily she will pass this spot, and daily she will grieve anew.

Though long and slow, the walk was not unpleasant. The cherry, plum and peach trees were awash in blossoms white and pink, and they gently perfumed the air. The yellow forsythia, the white and gold of daffodils, the red tulips and the blues and yellows of other flowers almost...almost...distracted the mind. But no. There was something incongruous about such a funeral in Springtime. In Autumn, perhaps. In the gloom and cold of deep Winter, naturally. But not on such a day as this.

Along the way, most people stopped their activities and stood in respect. Women leaned out of house windows, and men stood in doorways. Some shed tears of sorrow.

The procession went up a long hill, a hill crowned with a long-used cemetery. The first grave inside the wall was that of a five-year-old boy. Another funeral that came too early.

About midway across the cemetery was the open grave, dug earlier in the day or perhaps the day before in the sticky, wet clay. The excavated soil was piled on both sides of the grave. The wooden poles on which the casket was to rest spanned the opening from dirt mound to dirt mound. The much-used ropes by which the casket would finally be lowered also spanned the grave. The American preacher spoke a few more words, this time based on Jesus' words about receiving the kingdom of God like a child (Luke 18:15- 17). After these final words, a final hymn and a final band number, the white cloth which lined the casket and cascaded over the sides was drawn up over the small, lifeless form. The domed wooden lid, which listed the occupant's name and age, was slid into place and the iron nails which were to secure it were driven into the wood. The ropes were held securely, the poles were slid back, and the casket descended, carrying the body of Ionela to its resting place until the resurrection of the righteous. The casket was then showered with the children's flower bundles, along with coins from a few superstitious adults who believe the coins will help the deceased in the afterlife.

A few individuals threw clods of dirt onto the casket, then the grave diggers used their hoes to pull dirt quickly and efficiently back into the grave. The grieving mother was overcome with sorrow and collapsed in a faint. Women close by caught her and supported her; the aged deacon, a retired physician, attended to her.

The crowd dispersed, most on foot, most to the usual routine of life. But not the family were a familiar voice, a precious smile, a treasured hug had been suddenly stolen away. Not today, not tomorrow, indeed really not ever will there be "routine." Every time there is an empty place at the table, every night the empty bed is seen, every time that terrible place of death is passed, every time the laughter of children is heard outside, every time the flowers of Spring return to gladden the earth, there will be a reminder, and every time there will be sorrow. But not the sorrow of those "who have no hope." Christ has promised, and Christ will fulfill His promise. He has prepared a place. And He will come again. The dead in Christ shall rise. Ionela shall rise. "And so shall we ever be with the Lord. Comfort one another with these words."

The Question of Child Salvation

For years I sought some good treatment of the subject of the "age of accountability" and the question of the eternal destiny of those who die before they reach this age. I finally found a treatment that is thorough and Biblical and which I can heartily recommend to anyone wrestling with this issue-- and virtually every preacher will have to deal at some time or another, or more likely many times, with parents who have suffered the death of a child. It is imperative that the preacher have a clear understanding of the matter IN ADVANCE of such a situation.

That commendable treatment, which I strongly urge every reader to carefully study, is found in A. H. Strong's SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1907), "The Salvation of Infants," pp. 660-664. If there is a better work on the subject, I have not yet found it.

Personal Notes

The editor recently completed a Th. M. thesis at Central Baptist Seminary, Minneapolis. The thesis is titled, "The Text and Translation of the Bible: Nineteenth Century American Baptist Views." Baptist-produced English Bible revisions are explored, and the published views on the matter of Bible texts and Bible translations of a virtual "who's who" of 19th century American Baptists are examined in detail, including, Broadus, Boyce, Manly, Jr., Carroll, Graves, Armitage, Cathcart, Hackett, Conant, Hovey and others. A photocopy of the 91-page thesis may be purchased for $12.00, postpaid, by writing to the editor at 10921 Rolling Hills Dr., Wichita, KS 67212-5959


Most of the books in my library were purchased used. I don't like to pay "full retail" and so settle for good used copies many times. Furthermore, many of the books I have invested in were out of print and otherwise wholly unavailable, and I had no other choice.

Occasionally, one of the books I acquire has an interesting travelogue of its previous owners and travels. One such tome which recently came into my possession was W. T. Whately's A HISTORY OF BRITISH BAPTISTS. Though published as recently as 1923, it has had at least three previous owners (five, if you count bookstores). The apparent first was Colgate University, whose library bookplate still is pasted inside the front cover. The name "Colgate University Library" is also perforated through the title page. For some reason, the university disposed of this book to Kregel's used bookstore in Grand Rapids less than two decades after it was published.

One D. D. Tidwell of De Leon, Texas (perhaps a relative of Southern Baptist theologican J. B. Tidwell) wrote opposite the Colgate bookplate his name, city, and the date of purchase: January 11, 1940. At the bottom of that same fly- leaf, the fact is recorded that it was purchased from Kregel's of Grand Rapids, Michigan for $1.00. Perhaps Mr. Tidwell made a "book-hunting" trip to Grand Rapids, or perhaps he purchased the volume from a mail order catalog. Whatever the circumstances, the book left the winter cold of Michigan and went south to Texas.

The third recorded owner was the Roberts Library at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth. The names of the library and the seminary are stamped (in two different sizes) on the top and bottom of the book, as well as several times inside the book on various pages, though there is no seminary library bookplate. There is an accession number (93935) stamped on the first page of the foreword, but it is unclear whether this number was placed there by Colgate University or by Southwestern Seminary. I would guess the latter, since the Dewey decimal numbers on the Colgate bookplate are hand-written in black ink, yet books I've recently borrowed from Roberts Library had no similarly- placed accession number. I imagine that this book was donated to the seminary at Mr. Tidwell's death, though it seems to have never made it to the stacks, since no seminary bookplate or classification number is found on the book. Maybe it was a duplicate.

>From the seminary, the book made its way to ABC bookstore in Springfield, Missouri, along with a group of other books on Baptist history. And there, less than a week ago, it came into my possession. Whately cost me $6.00. I generally buy almost any promising book on Baptist history, one of my areas of special interest. I trust I spent wisely and well. The proof will be in the reading.

A book may long out-live any man. It can bless (or curse) for long decades after it was written. It can pass through many hands as it goes about its work of informing, motivating, encouraging, instructing, or misleading, deceiving and corrupting. None but God can tell what its long-term destiny may be or how much it may do for good or ill.

Thoughts on Democracy

In the June, 1998 Conservative Book Club newletter, there is a quote from one Alexander Fraser Tytler (1748-1813), Scottish lawyer, university professor, and judge (for a biographical sketch of Tytler, see THE COMPACT EDITION OF THE DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY. Oxford: University Press, 1975. Vol. 2, p. 2,131). In his book THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ATHENIAN DEMOCRACY, he wrote--

"A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves money from the Public Treasury. >From that moment on the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the Public Treasury with a result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations has been 200 years. These nations have progressed through the following sequence: from bondage to spiritual faith; from spiritual faith to great courage; from courage to liberty; from liberty to abundance; from abundance to selfishness; from selfishness to complacency; from complacency to apathy; from apathy to dependency; from dependency back into bondage."

Book Reviews

THE PATTONS: A Personal History of an American Family, by Robert H. Patton.

New York: Crown Publishers, 1994. 320 pp., $25.

Robert Patton is the grandson of famous World War II General George S. Patton, Jr. The book is, as the title indicates, an insider's account of the several generations of the Patton family in America, beginning in the mid-18th century, though it might also be characterized as a personal biography of George S. ("Georgie") Patton, Jr. (by far the most famous member of the family), with an extended treatment of his ancestors, followed by a brief narrative about his descendants.

The Pattons have a long tradition of military service. An ancestor, Hugh Mercer, was an important American general during the Revolutionary War. Georgie Patton's grandfather and one of his great uncles, both graduates of Virginia Military Institute, died in the service of the Confederacy during the War of Northern Aggression. Georgie's father also graduated from VMI, but did not see active military service. Georgie, after a year at VMI, took 5 years to complete the course of study at West Point. His son, George S. Patton IV graduated from West Point in 1946 and after leading a tank unit in Korea, served three tours of duty in Vietnam as a general.

The Pattons had their roots in Virginia (and before that Scotland) until after the Civil War when, destitute and widowed, Georgie's grandmother moved with her son to California. There the family prospered. Georgie's father made a small fortune in land development and growing citrus fruit and grapes. He married into more money, and his son Georgie, when he took a wife, married into a very substantial fortune, which made him perhaps the richest man ever to serve in the U.S. military. (Contrary to popular opinion, Georgie did accept his military pay). As a result, inspite of the usual hardships of isolated military posts and poor pay, Georgie and his family never lacked for any material thing, and regularly were found in the highest social circles.

Georgie was very much the spoiled child. He was home schooled after a sort until age twelve. This consisted of merely being read to from Scripture and various books. When he began attending private school at twelve, he could quote verbatim long passages from Scripture, literature and poetry, but could neither read nor write. One consequence was that all his life he was a very poor speller.

Georgie was a bundle of contradictions. Full of braggadocio yet always feeling inferior and insecure, never believing himself worthy of his ancestral heritage (which was itself in large measure ficticious). His theology was a strange mixture of Christianity (after the Anglican sort) and Eastern mysticism. His well-exercised child-like imagination ultimately led him to believe himself to have been an eternal soldier from cave-man days through ancient history and into the modern era, fighting and dying in battle, only to be re- incarnated to fight and die again and again.

Georgie first saw military action in 1916 in Mexico under Blackjack Pershing during the Pancho Villa disturbances. He went to Europe at the beginning of U. S. involvement in World War I in 1917, but greatly feared he would miss front line action because of his position on the staff of General Pershing. He put in for front line duty, and was given responsibility to train and lead the first American tank units into combat. He was wounded in battle and highly decorated.

Georgie Patton's exploits in World War II are not described in detail by his grandson though various incidents are related (for some accounting of Patton's actions during World War II, see Patton's own book, WAR AS I KNEW IT, or the biography, PATTON by Ladislas Farago, which served as the basis for the on-the-whole quite accurate 1970 film, "Patton." Dwight Eisenhower's CRUSADE IN EUROPE places it in its larger perspective of the whole European theater of action) . It may be said without any fear of contradiction that under Patton's leadership, the U.S. Third Army (numbering at its peak over 500,000 men under arms) was the greatest army in U.S. history, indeed in world history. From August, 1944, when it was activated until May, 1945, Patton's Third Army inflicted more casualties on the enemy, captured more of their soldiers, liberated more towns, villages and land in less time than any army in history. It seems that all of Georgie's prior life experiences were a preparation for those eight short but highly important months. Georgie died of a broken neck suffered in a car accident while on a pheasant hunting trip in Europe in December, 1945. (Douglas Southall Freeman, biographer of Lee and of Washington, was chosen by the family to write Patton's biography, but died before he could begin the work).

Because of his access to family papers and never before published personal correspondence, as well as person interviews with family members, Robert Patton has been able to write a very insightful account of his ancestors. He is a competent writer. Anyone interested in U.S. history and biography, especially of the military sort, will find this volume worthwhile.

CITIZEN SOLDIERS by Stephen Ambrose.

New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. 512 pp., hdbk. $27.50

While many histories of the Allied defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II have been written, most have focused on the "grand strategy" and the movements of armies at large. Ambrose, a voluminous writer on American history, has focused instead on the war as lived by the front line troops, especially the infantry rifle companies, tracing the progress from Normandy through the hedgerow country, on to the breakout, the Bulge, the winter campaign of '44-'45, and ultimately the capitulation of the Third Reich in May, 1945. The account is based on hundreds of interviews and written first-hand descriptions by soldiers who took part and survived to give their story. Most of those interviewed were Americans, though some German veterans were also interviewed. The misery, terror, and incredibly grueling routine on the front lines is graphically detailed (with, not surprisingly, a heavy dose of profane language at times).

Some attention is also given to the airmen who flew close support for the ground troops, and those who engaged in daylight bombing missions over Nazi German, flying through a murderous cloud of flak. The experiences of front-line medics and POWs are also recounted.

It is a worthwhile exercise, as we celebrate this month the anniversary of America's Declaration of Independence, to reflect on the very high price those of an earlier generation paid in order to bring about the defeat of tyranny and insure the blessings of liberty to themselves and their posterity. Of the several histories of World War II which I have read, this one more than any other brought home to me just what personal sacrifice was made by others before I was born to ensure that I could breath the invigorating air of freedom.

MEL TROTTER: A Biography by Fred C. Zarfas.

Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1950. 133 pp., hdbk.

For most of my Christian life, I have off and on heard mention of the name Mel Trotter, and though I knew that he had something to do with rescue missions, I knew little else. When I recently came across a used biography of Trotter and at a very low price, I thought I would add to my knowledge.

Mel Trotter (1870-1940) was raised by a Christian mother and an alcoholic father. He chose to follow his father's example, and by age 27 was a bankrupt, ragged, suicidal drunkard. On his way to the icy waters of Lake Michigan in Chicago where he planned to "end it all," Trotter was invited into the Pacific Garden Mission (where Billy Sunday had been converted a few years earlier). That night in January, 1897, the many prayers of his mother for his salvation were answered. His life was immediately and dramatically transformed.

He began to work in the mission, and in 1900, was invited to Grand Rapids, Michigan to start a rescue mission there. He led that mission for twenty years, and at the same time began similar works in 66 other cities. He also worked among the U.S. troops in various States-side army camps during World War I and saw thousands of young men converted. For the last twenty years of his life, he devotd himself to the work of an evangelist, holding numerous city- wide crusades (earlier, he had often substituted for Billy Sunday, Wilbur Chapman and others when they when they became ill or fatigued during protracted meetings).

The author was Trotter's successor at the mission in Grand Rapids. Frankly, this little book is a very mediocre production. Trotter wrote an autobiography which I am sure must be better than this volume. Certainly, Trotter seems to merit a better accounting of his life than is given here, though this served the purpose of giving me a better knowledge of his earthly labors.