Yossei the son of Yoezer of Tzreidah would say
Let your home be a meeting place for the wise,
dust yourself in the soil of their feet,
and drink thirstily of their words.
Papa Jesse’s sermons usually start something like: Hello there, everybody! Isn’t this a beautiful mornin’? I’m so excited to be here. That lovely woman there is my first wife, Kay. We’ve been married…phew… 55 years. I’m only 75 years old! I’d be 76 ‘cept I was sick a year…
Papa Jesse’s presence is comforting, like Santa Claus or FDR. He speaks with the Carolina twang of a jaw harp. He laughs like a backfiring jalopy. He really does have a belly like a bowl full of jelly. He is the extravertedest extravert that ever extraverted.
Once we were in the Fußgängerzone(the foot-walking-zone) of Papenburg, Germany. He sallied up to a towering German stranger. “It’s me! Jesse! I’ve missed you!” The man uneasily shook Jesse’s out-thrust hand. “Was sagt der littel mensch? What is this little man saying,” he asked his wife. The man started to laugh at the stout, little American beaming up at him. Still shaking hands, Papa Jesse revved up a laugh too. “God bless you, brother!” He came back over to me. “I think he likes me.” He’s a man who loves people.
Papa Jesse is my father’s mentor—took me forever to figure out he was not my grandfather; he was always called Papa. Jesse hired my father early on. To be honest, they are not much alike. My father does not look or sound like Jesse. My father is sociable, though not to the point of transnational aggression. Still my father, as long as I can remember, has called my Papa Jesse his mentor.
I take him to mean that, in some significant way, he wants to be like Jesse. It’s true that even though they are far from twins, Papa Jesse has rubbed off on my father over the last three decades, given him some of the Jesse-Dust. My father will tell you that Jesse, in large part, has taught him what it means to love people, rich and poor; to talk to anybody, even the people you wouldn’t usually talk to; to “do missions,” as the two of them say.
I called Papa Jesse this week. He was on vacation in Williamsburg.
“Papa Jesse, it’s Peter.”
“The younger one?”
“Yeh. Pete Hartwig 2.0.” (I’m named after my dad. Your pity is welcome.)
“Oh brother, I’m so blessed you called.”
“Jess, I have a question for you. I don’t think I’ve ever asked you before.”
“Did you have a mentor in life? Someone, maybe early on, who had a real impact on you?”
“I did. I did. I certainly did. His name was Dr. Ben Crandall. When I started at Northpoint Bible College, he preached the first chapel of my freshman year. He spoke on the verse There was a man sent from God named John. He taught me what it meant to be a man of God. He was the president of the college. And he pioneered a church in Brooklyn called Calvary Chapel. I became his associate Pastor. He was ten years older than me. He’s still alive, bless his heart. I have looked up to him all these years.”
“What about him, Jess? Did he have someone?”
“Yes he did. Yup.” I have to admit, I was a little surprised that he knew the answer to this question. “Her name was Christine Gibson. She founded the college in 1928 to train ministers in the Assemblies of God. Let me tell you, Pete: the graduates of that college are doing amazing things for the Kingdom of God all over the world… and then there’s me!”
He laughed. Somewhere a jalopy backfired.
“But you know there Pete. I’ve had someone who I’ve looked up to for a real long time. He’s about… oh… 30 years younger than me. You know who?”
“Do we happen to share a name?”
“Man, he has gone places far beyond where I ever could go. I’m so blessed to know your father.”
Papa Jesse passed the dust to my father. Ben Crandall rubbed off on him. Christine Gibson discipled him. They have all passed it to me. I do not mean to presume, but I wonder if the dust goes all the way back to Jesus.
Jesus told the disciples that physically followed Him to go and make other disciples. And then He left, floated away like dust on the wind. But somehow, even without Jesus there, the disciples managed it: they made disciples. Lots of them—enough that there are seven churches in Antarctica. Jesus to St. John to St. Someone to St. Someone to St. Gibson to St. Crandall to St. Owens to St. Pete—two thousand years of eating and praying and walking together: all the stuff Jesus did with his disciples. Jesus’ dust floating through history, dust to dust.
I think you find Jesus’ dust by finding dusty people, those to whom someone else once passed the impossibly small particles of humanness. It is not superficial dust—not like paint or gilding. It is the stuff we are made of. It does not wash off. Dust-to-dust means person-to-person, deep-to-deep.
So across the long room of history, we go drifting in the Wind. There’s a certain slant of light—as Miss Dickinson reminded us—that cuts the open air, window to floor. In its Body, a spot of dirt approaches stardom. The Light of the World on the dust of the earth, transfigured unto the dust of glory.