Friday, December 6, 2019

Dave Hrach - the man who led me to Christ

“He went walking and leaping and praising God!”

Acts 3:1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.
And a certain man lame from his mother's womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;
Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.
And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.
And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.
Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.
And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.
And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

When I was a teen the Charismatic Renewal was affecting Pittsburgh. This first line was a song we sang at the time.  I was notified today that Dave Hrach, the man who led me to Christ, died last night.

Dave had had spina bifida as an infant and was not expected to live.  A doctor advised his mother to have an abortion when the disease was discovered in utero.  She refused.

Dave was not to have lived beyond ten years of age.  He lived past eighty.

Dave was a strong man.  He could crush your hand with a grip.  Years of getting around in a wheel chair meant his arms were extremely strong.

Dave had a life no one ever expected.  Rather than die he lived on and completed high school.  He was a Sunday School teacher and Luther League (Youth Group) sponsor at St. Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church in West View, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Pittsburgh.

St. Luke was a very ethnic church of mostly people of German descent. So, family names like: Hrach, Gottschalk, Seelhorst, Stuckrath, Hammerschmidt, et alia.  Though it was an ethnic church Linda and I as children and teens heard biblical sermons and had the blessing of growing up in a church where Bible readings (Psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, and Gospel) took more time than a sermon.

After Linda and I attended catechetical classes we began to have Dave as a Sunday School teacher.  We were fourteen.

Dave patiently listened to my harangues against the Vietnam War.  Whatever he thought of my rants he was never demeaning.  He also gave us very sound Christian teaching.

When I was about that age the Charismatic Renewal affected my mother and the church.  Later everyone in our family, except my younger brother, were affected by God’s grace as experienced through the Charismatic Renewal.

During this time, we, the Luther League, founded a group of singers, which we called the Youth Singers. (Really inspired name, right?)  The Youth Singers were considered radical.  We wore bell bottom trousers and bell cuffs on our shirts with ruffles.  We sand using... OH... guitars!  We sang contemporary Christian songs. Dave joined right in with us.  I’m sure he defended our innovation to those who thought organ music and standard hymns were the only music which should be allowed in the church.  However, it’s hard to watch the youth of your church singing joyfully and remain opposed.

Dave was also a member of the Gospelaires (spelling?). He had a lovely tenor / baritone voice.  We all remember how he sang the Gaither song, Because he lives, “Because he lives, I can face tomorrow!  Because he lives, all fear is gone.  Because I know, I know, who holds the future.  And life is worth the living just because he lives.”

Due to having had spina bifida Dave’s legs never grew correctly.  He was confined to a wheel chair, but he never complained about it.  He got around in it and he mastered all he set out to do.

One Sunday afternoon in July of 1976 Dave listened to me perorate about whether God existed or not.  I had been required to read Albert Camus’ novel, the Plague.  In the Plague the main character, a French doctor, rejects God since God was punishing Muslims for not believing in Christ (according to the French Roman Catholic priest in the town).  The French doctor decided to stay and fight the plague in a town in northern Algeria, despite the danger to himself.  It was a typical work of French Existentialist altruism.

I could not find a reason to try to make meaning in a world where there was no God.  I could not find a reason to fight for others at my own risk.  I could not find a reason to live without there being a God who guaranteed the future.

Dave listened and didn’t say much, though I recall he said, “I hope you decide God exists.”  After a Bible study that evening in the church sanctuary, I prayed and cried out to God, “I believe you exist, but I can’t live this Christian life you ask of me.  If you are the God who can heal the lame, the blind, the deaf and raise the dead, then take my life and make me what you want me to be.”  I heard God say to me, “I have heard you.  I have you.” I also felt a peace like I had never felt before.

Dave’s patience to listen to me allowed me to work through my questions and doubts.  His kindness was a sure basis for the discussion. He was a wise man.

Many times, during the Charismatic Renewal Dave was wheeled down to the front for prayers for healing.  After a half dozen such attempts, Dave said, “I think God has answered us and his answer is ‘No.’  God has given me a lot of gifts.  I can sing.  I can even use my disability to reach others.  I can go to the Veterans’ Administration Hospital and witness to paraplegics and quadriplegics and they say, ‘You know how I feel.’ I tell them, ‘No, I still have my arms.’ But I can witness to them.”

It seemed to me that Dave never let his handicap limit him.  He drove me up to Penn State when I first went up to State College for my freshman year.  He bought me an RSV Study Bible as a gift in the Christian bookstore there in State College.

After I was away at college, Dave started taking classes at LaRoche College in the North Hills of Pittsburgh.  He finished his Bachelor’s degree and went on to run an apartment complex for handicapped people.  Somewhere along the way he met and married Ellen, his wife.

Dave Hrach, who was supposed to be dead by ten, lived past eighty. He touched many, many lives.  We will know someday how many people can claim him as a spiritual father.  I’m guessing there will be many.

So, I imagine Dave now in heaven rejoicing in the presence of his Lord, “walking, and leaping, and praising God.”

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