By Kathy Bergquist

On May 18, 1972, a 10 – year – old girl’s life suddenly changed when she attempted to cross Hwy 7 in Hopkins. No one will ever know why little Becky went across while her friends hesitated on the shoulder. But the impact of the motorcycle left an indelible mark on Becky, the Larson family, and nearly all who crossed her path over the next 44 years. On April 2 nd last year, Becky passed away after a 2 – year battle with metastatic cancer.

From her early days, Becky was vibrant and energetic; she loved people -especially babies. When I was born, 3 year old Becky was jealous, but it didn’t last long. Becky quickly became an adoring second mother who, much to our mother’s chagrin, wouldn’t leave her baby sister alone.

Three years later Becky transferred that (s)mothering to baby brother David and it was my turn to be jealous. We were typical siblings – best friends and worst enemies. I was the adoring (and an- noying) little sister who followed Becky around, and Becky alternately loved and hated having little sister Kathy as a constant tag – a – long.

Our family moved often with Dad’s job -from Minneapolis to Iowa, to Michigan, to Hopkins, and then to the Netherlands in 1970. Becky collected friends and ac- tivities wherever we lived. She was active in Good News Club, Girl Scouts, and church. This picture of Becky in a tree at the Kuekenhof is a good depiction of her spirited, fun – loving, independent personality.

We returned from Europe and settled back in Hopkins in January of 1972. On a beautiful afternoon in May, Becky and some friends went shopping to get a gift for their 5 th grade teacher. We were waiting for her to come home when Becky’s best friend arrived at our door and told us Becky had been hit by a motorcycle. Mom sent David and me to stay with a neighbor while she ran to be with Becky. I don’t remember much after that, but in that instant all of our lives were changed. I didn’t know it at the time, but Becky would never walk or talk again. Becky was in the hospital for 9 months before coming home to live with nursing care for more than a year. Our youngest brother Charles was born 2 years after the accident and Becky could not mother him as she would have liked.

Those early years were difficult for all, but especially difficult for Becky. I believe there were many things she want- ed to do and say, but she couldn’t. At times her frustration understandably came out as anger when she couldn’t do or say the things she wanted to. Over the years she became much more content and accepting. Little Becky grew into a strong and determined woman.

Becky and KathyBecky loved deeply from a wheelchair and without words. One way she communicated her love was through hugs. She also communicated her love silently through smiles and joyful expressions. Becky could light up a room. At times she would vocalize her emotions – joy, laughter, frustration, even anger – and while she couldn’t express those emotions in words, anyone nearby had a good idea what she was feeling. A difficult memory is of Becky clearly expressing her dissatisfaction with a grunt and a swing of her arm when Mom said she wished she had breast cancer rather than Becky. Becky had a good life, surrounded by people she loved and who loved her.

Some would say Becky’s life was wasted. We’ll never know why she crossed the highway ahead of her friends, but we believe her life was not wasted. Her life has had greater purpose than it might have had if our prayers for healing had been answered the way we wanted. I can’t tell you why God allowed Becky’s accident to happen or why He allowed her to have cancer, but I can share with you the beauty that God brought from the ashes of that day in May 1972. It is best told by our mother in this letter written in February of this year, from Becky’s perspective to Becky’s classmates.

Hello Everybody,

Yes, this is Becky Larson from your grade school back in the 70’s. Remember I was injured and suffered severe brain damage, my left leg was broken in two places and I was comatose for ever so long.  My mother is writing this for me because I cannot verbally speak or communicate with anyone.   I have things I would like you to know about me. So here goes…..!

Like many of you I am 54 years young, some might say I am stuck at age 10 which is when I was hurt.  Yes, some of my interests might be behind yours as I have not had your life experiences.  I love Disney Characters, Disney Cruises, live musicals; I also enjoy romance stories like most women do. I like to look at magazines, to be read to, go for walks and movies, especially I love my family and to be with them.

I live in a group home where they take very good care of me providing me with all the love and care anyone could ever want or need.  I need to be tube feed now because I have trouble swallowing.  I am wheelchair bound but before the doctors discovered that the cancer had spread to my bones, I enjoyed walking for short distances with one person on each side of me.

What I would like you to know about me is that I am a very strong woman.  Oh, I have had my times of anger but that is pretty much in the past.  I know my life has had purpose. It may be hard for some to see or accept, but I am okay with it.  God has used my life to help many people with disabilities and their families. Because of my injuries my parents helped start Homeward Bound, Inc.  a home for people with developmental disabilities.  I lived there for 23 years and now I live at a Mount Olivet Group Home for people with similar disabilities as mine. My dad not only helped start HBI, but he was the director for 7 years starting shortly after the program opened.  After he left Homeward Bound he went to work for Lutheran Social Services and expanded their program to include many services for the disabled, elderly, and developmentally disabled people.  After that he was the director at Rolling Acres and helped many people move into community group homes; he also created a crisis support service.  All of these good things began because of my accident.  My mother says that on her way up to me at the scene of the accident God impressed a bible verse on her “All things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to his purpose”.  Sure it was all difficult and at times almost unbearable, but God has been with us through all of it.

Please don’t feel sorry for me because my parents, siblings and I have lived the life we were called to live.  I know at least a few of you have suffered because of me and my decision to cross the road, but please don’t grieve for me. Cherish my memory and the times we had together because I, in my own way, do cherish your memory and the fun we had.

My mom and I want to tell you this now because I have terminal cancer and am in hospice.  I have only a short time left on earth; soon, I will be with my Father in Heaven and I will be whole again.

Your friend,

Becky – written by my Mom

Early in 2016, Becky Larson entered hospice, went on a family vacation, then declined quickly. She went home to be with Jesus on April 2,
2016, with sister, Kathy and the rest of her family at her side.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those that love God and are called according to His purpose.”
Romans 8:28

Jerry and JeffIn 1971, while attending a Lutheran church in St. Louis Park, Tom and Pat Hallstrom decided to invest time through Kinsman ministry in two little boys living in desperate conditions in NE Minneapolis.  They were assigned brothers, Jerry and Jeff, ages 6 and 4.  Mixed – race, desperately poor, a deaf and mute mother and no father on the scene, these brothers were on a trajectory for troubled lives.   Just meeting them for the first time in the NE Minneapolis ghetto was unnerving.  Their mother was deaf, mute, and bruised.  Learning to communicate in sign language was the easier part for Tom and Pat.  Dealing with the bruised spirit was more challenging.  Pat still tears up when she remembers Sophie having Jerry ask his teacher what a Valentine was.  And since you can’t give away what you don’t have, Jerry and Jeff were bruised.

Pat remembers Jerry this way:  “He was a mischievous kid, but delightful and bright and clever.  I could tell that Jerry’s tremendous amount of energy, if channeled rightly, would benefit many.”  He looked up to Tom even though Tom had to keep a tight rein on him.  Nearly every Saturday for three years, Tom and Pat brought these brothers into their home and hearts for a weekly deposit of presence and stability.  Thanks to reports required by Kinsman, and the curled edged carbon paper copies Tom saved (it was the 70’s after all), Tom and Pat do not need to rely on memory of these unforgettable boys.

Tom and Pat loved Jerry and Jeff like their own, even when their own, Chris, was born in 1968.  They did more than “be there”.  They bought them bikes and taught them to ride.  At his 6 th birthday party, they gave Jerry his first birthday cake.  Then Tom and Pat got Jerry and Jeff into Immanuel Lutheran School.  At age 6, Jerry didn’t even know his alphabet.  When absenteeism became a problem, they helped the family find better housing within walking distance.  When skipping the school down the street continued to be a problem, Tom hunted the boys down and stepped in with tough love.  Evidence of Tom’s role as an early innovator in family equipping comes screaming off these carbon copy letters. In one letter, Tom scolds Sophie for caving to let Jerry stay home from school.  At least once, when Tom heard from the school, at noon he left his office, found Jerry playing in the park, gave him a swat across the seat of his pants, and returned him to school.  One has to wonder if the teacher was actually happy about this.  After all, she couldn’t leave this lovable but unbridled little boy unattended or he would pick fights with 8 th graders or disassemble the room.    In another letter, Tom gives Jerry’s mom a loving lecture about homework, bedtimes, and her role as a cheerleader for helping Jerry do better at school.

Tom and KidsWith a little rudder applied to Jerry’s wind – filled sails, Jerry’s progress was remarkable.  In less than a year, Jerry had learned the alphabet and caught up with the rest of his class.  Tom and Pat did their part in educating these lads…and their mother.  W hen Tom told Sophie he would like to take the boys to  the Art and Science Museum in St. Paul, Sophie asked what a museum was and was whisked off with the boys for the answer.   They also cared for Jerry’s soul.  Jerry was baptized at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in St. Paul on April 13, 1969, with Tom and Pat as sponsors.

In June, 1969, Prudential recognized Tom for an esteemed community service award for his investment in the boys’ lives.  In 1 973 , now employed by EDS, Tom was moved to California, ending the hands – on involvement in these boys’ lives.  Still tender about it today, no Prudential community service award in 1969 could assuage the guilt of moving away from this highly needy, now precious family.  As time went on, occasional tidbits of good news seeped through, lessening the guilt just a bit, though deep inside Tom and Pat feared the next bit of news being one of these boys dying in inner – city violence.

But the Prudential Principle was working — invest and let it grow.  Forty – five years later, Tom and Pat were about to see just h ow much that faithful, regular, modest investment had grown.  In mid – July last summer, Tom’s phone rang.   It was Jerry’s sister. Over the years, she had heard about Tom and Pat Hallstrom, so she tracked them to Rochester, then called through the “Hallstroms” until she came to Tom.  After introducing herself she said, “Jerry passed away from cancer.  His funeral is in Chicago on Wednesday (J uly 27).  Jerry would want you to know.”

Neither Chicago traffic nor tolls would keep them away.  From the funeral, Tom texted a friend, “God has exceeded our expectations again!” He later added,  “God just dropped every detail and everybody in our laps that we needed to hear or meet.”   In an apostolic black church in North Chicago, Tom and Pat were hard to miss, as was the overwhelming flow of love from Jerry’s family and friends. Throughout the day, the blanks to the past 44 missing years of Jerry’s life story were slowly filled in – Master’s degree, hard – working, happily married, devoted father, rabid Vikings fan, man of God.  “I think my greatest thrill was hearing at the funeral what a devoted friend, father, and husband Jerry was,”  Pat states.

Tom and Pat’s view changed from an initial phone call that a life precious to them had been cut short at 53, to a post – funeral confidence that Terry’s 53 years had been well – lived.  Life is not evaluated in duration, but donation.  Sounds like something a guy who spent his career working for an investment company might say.

Don’t think your regular deposits in the lives of others will pay dividends?  Maybe you should seek out Tom and Pat in Coffee Connection some Sunday morning and hear for yourself the return they saw for their three years of Saturdays with little Jerry.

Tom and Pat

Children's Heart Projet KidsWhen their American Airlines flight lifted off at 6:32 a.m., Tuesday, April 18, it carried three little passengers with literally a new lease on life. Calvary said goodbye to the 23rd, 24th, and 25th Children’s Heart Project kids hosted by our church family since joining as a strategic partner a decade ago. Dianne Orth, who helped Calvary launch this program in 2007, summarized what would have been the result had Otgonzaya, Nandinerdene, and Ernar not undergone heart surgery at Mayo Clinic: “Their bodies would have grown, but not their hearts. They would have died before becoming full grown.”

#23, Otgonzaya

Children’s Heart Project finds children with birth defects in their hearts, and partnering with hospitals around the world, fixes them. In the past 10 years of partnership, Calvary has hosted 25 children, their mothers, and CHP chosen translators from Ecuador, Bolivia, and Mongolia. Mayo Clinic has adopted CHP kids as their only remaining international charity and covers the complete cost of appointments, surgery, and hospitalization. Between the medical team at Mayo and the Cal-vary hosts, these children’s lives are in our hands.

CHP kids are chosen based on need and one-operation-fixability. By need we mean they could not get this life giving heart surgery in their home countries. By one-operation-fixability, we mean that it needed to be a life giving repair that could be done in one surgery since Mongolia is quite literally on the exact opposite side of the planet.

#24, Nandinerdene

Dianne smiles as she reflects over a decade, “What amazes me is how weak and sick these kids are when they arrive, and how energetic they are when they leave. CHP does a one-year checkup on the kids we have hosted. Sometimes they tell us the children are literally twice as large.” CHP also invites CHP kids to Heart Camp as teens. The result of seeing these young men and women run and jump and play will bring you to tears. (Don’t believe it? Type this link into your browser and watch Sheena dance! At Heart Camp, CHP kids are also challenged to get their spiritual hearts healed.

#25, Ernar

Speaking of spiritual hearts, over the ten years of hosting CHP kids, God has healed the hearts of a number of the moms. They come wondering why Samaritan’s Purse would open their purse, and American host families would open their homes. Before they leave, that question is answered -the love of Jesus. It is the goal of CHP to send interpreters who love Christ and place these moms in host homes where that same love is modeled. That strategy is bearing fruit. A number of moms have trusted Christ as their Savior during their stay in Calvary host homes, and some have even been baptized! This year, Otgonzaya’s mom, Tonga, sat in our living room listening to Pastor Antonio Figuera share his testimony (Pastor Antonio was our guest over a weekend when we were hosting the CHP group in our home.). Her heart was softened. The next day at Calvary, she gave trusted Christ. She Facetime-called her husband in Mongolia and shared she had trusted Jesus. He told her he would start going to church with her. Five days later, on Good Friday, Tonga wrote her name on the painting in the gym representing sins Jesus had paid for, then had her first communion with us and Gaala in the Fellowship Hall.

If this year is any indication of the previous nine years, it appears heart procedures extend to the hosts. The Orvis family hosted Nandinerdene, Otgonzaya, their moms, and interpreter Gaala for the first three weeks of their visit. Here is how Abbie Orvis (age 16) describes the impact the CHP families had on her: “When asked to be-come a host family, we were able to open our home and our hearts to these precious children and their families as they lived at our home for a month while the children were operated on and recovered.As I reflect on the experience, I feel that my heart was changed just as the hearts of the children were.Our guests were strangers to us, not even speaking our language, yet this did not stop life-long relationships from being built between our families.Many would see this experience as arduous, time consuming, and not worth the effort. However, I would not trade this experience for the world.Despite having to make sacrifices such as giving up my room and spending countless hours in the hospital, I was able to serve these people who needed help and in turn, I was blessed by them through this experience.” Annie (age 13 -see photo with Otgonzaya) chimes in, “It’s a wonderful experience opening up our house to babies who need heart surgery.It is so incredible to watch these girls grow stronger and healthier in such a short period of time.I love having the opportunity to share God’s word and the love of Jesus right in our home.We have grown to love them dearly.”

Annie and Otgonzaya
Annie and Otgonzaya

Opening up one’s home to 3 to 5 people for 14 to 18 days can seem daunting. But thankfully, that didn’t stop Dan and Meredith Orvis from making this life-changing experience possible for CHP kids and their own girls. They share, “When first considering the decision to have five people from another country stay with us, we took a while to pray and consider if we were up for it.It does take a lot of effort and puts your household in a crazy, unpredictable state for a long period of time, but it is pretty neat that God has allowed us to be missionaries in the

comforts of our own home.We were able to witness to these moms in a time when they were truly open to hearing the Gospel.It is so amazing to know that we played a small role in their new understanding of who Jesus is and what His love looks like in a practical way.I cannot even imagine what it will be like in heaven to be reunited with the moms we have seen come to know Christ during their visits to America and Children’s Heart Project.On the outside it looks like we are taking the time to bless others, but it has always come back to be such an amazing blessing to us.”

Ernar, Eka, Gani, Ed and Linda
Ernar, Eka, Gani, Ed and Linda

Ed and Linda Laskowski were hosts to Ernar, his mother, Eka and interpreter, Gani. They, too, were touched. “It is awesome to see Jesus, The Great Physician, heal physical hearts. He loves us so much.It is also a privilege to see how His church shows His character and His love to reach spiritual hearts. And it was a blessing for us to get to know these precious people.”

Nandinerdene and Josiah
Nandinerdene and Josiah

Hosting and getting to know these precious people was made possible by a team of Calvary and Rochester believers who played a role in providing hospital visits, prayer, meals, rides, and respite time for hosts to tend to many of their own necessities. Dianne Orth’s eyes glitter with gratitude as she notes, “This year, Calvary people rose up above and beyond even what was done in the past. This couldn’t happen without a team effort.”

Ten years of caring. Twenty-five children given new leases on life. Moms and families back home impacted by the vivid display of the love of Jesus through their CHP experience. And a number of Rochester hosts who opened their homes, along with the helpers who made that possible, discovered in the process that their own hearts have been transformed.