The Bible says, knock and it shall be opened unto you. What that verse could have added is : But some people do not need to knock to enter God’s presence.
My dear and beloved friend Dr. Mark Blum would be one of the people not to knock. I still think Mark didn’t need to knock when he left us in February last year. The angels opened the gates of heaven slowly as Mark’s physical body became weak. So at the time he took his last breadth, the angels just looked at each other, smiled and said, “a man of God has come home.”
Shortly after they moved to Idaho, Mark and Janet read a column I had written for the Idaho Statesman about the challenges of poor children in Kenya. Janet called me to learn more, but there was a problem. I had just undergone a knee replacement and was under the influence of pain medicine. Yet I still recall Janet saying to somebody, “I can’t understand him. He has accent and he is murmuring something.”
I clarified that I had an accent from Wyoming. As both Janet and the somebody laughed, the somebody said, “Let’s plan to meet him for lunch.” Ours was not a meeting but a reunion of siblings who had been separated by fate. Our hearts and spirits connected so strongly that Mark’s passing has taken a part of my life away from me. I never called to make an appointment to meet them again, I would just show up at their house (as people in Kenya did in my youth), mostly just before a meal — or so it seemed that way.
And although I witnessed Mark fight a good fight in his last three years and expected his spirit to leave his body with time, it has been a hard year, adjusting to life without Mark’s physical presence. Mark and Janet have provided me with another level of understanding of what valuing people really means. Their home was the last place I visited before leaving for Africa and the first to visit after each trip.
Mark and Janet had been to Kenya several times. He had also visited the continent as a young boy and read widely about it. We never lacked something to talk about. He asked me about African customs, wildlife, regions and cultural practices than all other people combined in my 32 years of living in America.
At times, Janet would leave Mark and me in their home to go shopping. It was in one of those times when we were just the two of us that Mark told me what happened when they planned to move to Idaho. “I was starting to get sick and wanted Janet to pick a place and a house that she liked and could live in when I pass on.” Mark never saw the house he would spend the last years of his life in until the day they moved in.
His love for Janet, his wife for more than a quarter of a century was second to none. We would be talking about something and Mark would abruptly get up and come back to the room with a quilt made by Janet or a Christmas letter she wrote or photographs Janet took on one of their many trips. He would tell of how Janet had passed an exam she had not studied for or how she was given a secretarial job without being able to type. He was immensely fascinated by Janet’s creativity and ability to relate with people from all walks of life.
As we prayed together two days before his passing, I realized how Mark and Janet had been part of the mission work we have in Kenya of saving and transforming the lives of vulnerable children. I told him how I realized that there is nothing I could do to reward them for their kindness, friendship and love for Africa.
Attempting to write about Mark is injustice to human language. One has to force words to describe a man whose life was open like a Bible, an amazing man who never met a stranger, from his days in the battlefields of Vietnam to anywhere he lived or traveled to. Mark, to me, was a walking sermon. I was blessed to witness that sermon walking since Mark and Janet moved to Idaho.
Vincent Muli Kituku is an author and speaker for business organizations, schools and Christian groups. He is the founder of Caring Hearts and Hands of Hope and Caring Hearts High School, a vulnerable girls’ boarding school in Kenya. Contact him at (208) 376-8724 or firstname.lastname@example.org
The Idaho Statesman’s weekly faith column features a rotation of writers from many different faiths and perspectives.