Two incredible men died nine days apart—February 22 and March 3, 2018. One was 99 and one was 88. One was a world-renown pastor and evangelist. One was a local farmer and businessman. But they had many things in common and one thing can be said of both — “He lived the message.” Billy Graham and my father, Thurlowe Gingerich, both lived the message. Billy preached and lived the message. Thurlowe didn’t preach it, but he lived it. Both left a legacy.
This is what I said at my father’s memorial service on March 12, 2018:
Multiple times over the last several years, our father Thurlowe Frederick Gingerich (TF is what he preferred), asked my brother Galen (also a pastor) and I to lead and speak at his memorial service. We assured him it would be an honor and we would do our best to do it when the time came. We’ve both been pastors for around 40 years—each leading hundreds of memorials over the decades. We usually share words of hope and comfort from the Bible. We want the family and friends of the deceased to be given courage and peace. But what do you say at your own father’s memorial?
While I was with my dad a few days before his death, this thought came to mind: His life was the message. He lived the message. Just share what he is remembered for by family and friends. He lived his faith out loud. He didn’t preach it in stadiums to tens of thousands. But just like Billy Graham, he lived it in all situations. TF’s life was characterized by the 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 scripture that says, “we are the aroma of Christ.” We either attract people like fresh-baked cookies or we repel people like a dead animal that is covered with flies and maggots. My dad was the first of those. In reflection, there are seven words that come to mind that describe how my father lived the message.
FAITH – Jesus summarized the whole Bible with four words. Love God. Love People. Moses wrote it the first time, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). And Jesus added, “the second is like it, love your neighbor as your self” (Luke 10:27). Those four words characterized the way TF lived his life. He loved God and he loved people. He demonstrated his faith in how he built loving, caring relationships with his neighbors and how he served strangers. It didn’t matter if someone knocked on the door in the middle of night because they had run out of gas near our farm, 10 miles away from the nearest gas station. TF always got out of bed, went out to the bulk fuel tanks and got them five gallons of gas and he wouldn’t take any money for it. He served his church. He served on multiple non-profit boards. He went to Mexico multiple times to encourage missionaries that he supported. Mom & Dad hosted them in our home. He loved God and he loved people. His faith in Jesus Christ was evidenced in how he lived his life, how he treated people, and how he did business.
FAMILY – Next to his faith, family was at the top of his priority list. He was committed to his marriage to Mom for nearly 67 years. He loved his kids, grandkids and great grandkids. He especially loved it when all five of us children came home at the same time. He always showed an interest in his grandchildren, their work, their plans and their families. As recently as two days before he died, TF did video conference calls with nearly all of his grandchildren who couldn’t be present.
INTEGRITY – Dad’s word and a handshake on a several hundred thousand dollar deal was more certain than most people who sign highly detailed legal contracts. If TF said he would do something, he did it. I don’t recall a single time when I ever saw him cut corners or shade the truth. Even if it cost him more than he thought it would, dad always fulfilled what he promised.
EXCELLENCE – TF’s philosophy was “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing right.” He practiced excellence in every area in life. Whether it was making sure the furrow was straight when he plowed; the fertilizer on the grass fields was spread evenly so there were no yellow streaks; or making sure all the screw heads were turned precisely the same direction on a truck or trailer bed he built, dad lived with excellence. As a child and a teen, there were times I thought he was too precise and expected too much perfection, but I learned from my dad, “If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” And I passed that same viewpoint on to my children who were also sometimes annoyed by how precise and demanding I was when it came to excellence. But now I just smile when I see my adult children winning achievement awards, being promoted or doing their work with excellence. TF influenced them too and I see them passing on the same qualities to their children, his great grandchildren.
COURAGE – Dad was a man of courage. He was not afraid to try something new. He often did that while farming. TF demonstrated courage while trying new crops, purchasing newly introduced equipment, implementing innovative soil conservation ideas or new irrigation methods. TF had the courage to follow his conviction that every week, one day should be devoted to worship and rest. During the grass seed harvest, Dad had the courage to be about the only farmer in the neighborhood who didn’t take the equipment out in the field on a Sunday when rain was forecast for Monday. One of the neighbors would said, “I don’t understand it Thurlowe, you don’t work on Sundays and I do. But you always get it all done before me and you don’t seem to have equipment break-downs like I do.” Dad was a man of courage.
When TF was age 50, he sold the farms and started multiple new business adventures—owning and managing mini-storage operations, small and large office buildings and even owned a group of restaurant buildings across the Willamette Valley. TF had courage. He was an entrepreneur. He wasn’t afraid to step out of the crowd.
My father also had spiritual courage. Mom and Dad were one of three couples from their home church in the early 70’s who were willing to risk being misunderstood as they left their traditional church to start a new outreach focused church to connect with their neighbors. In fact, they hosted this new start-up church in a large room they built on the back of their house. Three decades later, we are sitting in that same church they helped birth, recounting his life. They had courage to follow God’s call, even when it meant stepping outside the customary boundaries of their church and family traditions.
GENEROSITY – Dad was always a generous man. Generous with his time, talent, & treasure. TF had the spiritual gift of Giving. I’ve discovered in my pastoral ministry that people who have the spiritual gift of Giving usually have the ability to generate money and they love to give money to God’s vision and mission. They see a need and meet it. I am aware that sometimes TF gave away 50% of his income to his church and other ministries.
I distinctly remember a time period when the Internal Revenue Service and the Oregon Department of Revenue audited him year after year after year. Because he was a man of integrity and excellence, the tax authorities never found any thing out of order. In fact, they owed him money because he didn’t claim as many deductions as he might have. TF finally got really tired of all the time and effort it took every year to gather all the information for these auditors. He questioned their repeated audits when they never found anything amiss. They admitted the reason for these recurring audits with this explanation: “Mr. Gingerich, you trigger all of our computer’s red flag alerts because you give such an abnormally high percentage of your income to your church and other charitable causes.” They never audited him again.
TF was a generous man. He taught us kids to give of the first tenth of our income at a very early age. We learned from dad that we could never out give God. We saw him care deeply for each of the local churches he has been a part of. In farming, the income from the harvest of crops is seasonal. I know, at times, he would borrow the money to pay his tithe to the church in advance of receiving payment for his crops because he knew the church needed the money now rather than later.
Dad lived life the way that Winston Churchhill described it, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Our dad also knew the reality of what John Wimber once said, “What ever you don’t give away, you don’t get to keep.” And then a final characteristic of our father.
HUMILITY – Honestly, Dad would be a bit embarrassed by the way I’m talking about him tonight. But I have the microphone, he doesn’t. And remember, he asked me to speak. But seriously, he embraced humility. He shunned arrogance. Humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking of yourself, less. When I called him on the phone from my home in Florida, dad didn’t spend much time talking about himself—unless I asked. Instead, he asked me about my family and my ministry. He always showed an interest in others. He walked in humility.
TF’s life was a message. It is a message that our world desperately needs. In these days when arrogance, greed, cowardice, inferior work, dishonesty, family neglect and anti-faith are predominant, I’m privileged and greatly blessed to have been raised by a man whose top priorities in life were his faith, family, integrity, excellence, courage, generosity and humility. And I pray, my children and grandchildren can say the same about me—that I didn’t just preach the message to others, my life was the message. And that I lived the message, just like my father did for me.