A friend passed away this weekend. A friend who had the gift of encouragement.
Merlin Dummer – Awana team member extraordinaire.
Sometimes you have friends and you don’t remember the moment or the place where you met them – but I clearly remember when and where I met Merlin and Bev Dummer.
Back in 2001, I was headed to a Tennessee conference for the first time – going to an area where I knew no one.
That conference was in Knoxville, Tennessee and that’s where I met the Dummers. My plane home wasn’t leaving until Sunday afternoon, so I stayed over Saturday night and went to church with the ministry team members who were driving me to the airport. The Dummers (up from Alabama) did the same. So on Saturday during the conference, the next morning at breakfast and then as we attended a church very different from the ones we usually attended, we got to know each other.
I saw them again when I went down to Tennessee to present the new T&T program.
And again at Summit.
As T&T progressed, Merlin would call me. (He would always begin by saying, “Linda, this is Merlin Dummer” and that would make me smile because I would instantly recognize his voice and it wasn’t as if I had a plethora of friends named Merlin. He’d ask me questions about the program and tell me how much he liked the books and tell me he was praying for me.
And then he told me he was working on doing something special for Ken and me – when we came down to the Huntsville conference. He asked that we drive down a day early – which we did. He and Bev took us out to breakfast at a “indigenous” Huntsville restaurant (anyone who knows me, knows I like indigenous restaurants) and introduced us to a a rocket scientist.
As in – real rocket scientist: Luther Powell, a man who literally helped engineer the first moon rocket.
“With the first T&T book about space, I thought you might like a tour through the U.S. Space and Rocket Center by someone who truly knows about space and rockets.” Merlin told us.
What a privilege that was! Mr. Powell got us into the center on his pass and gave us a detailed, personalized tour of the center. I spent a lot of time in the gift shop getting books on space (to help with T&T) and Mr. Powell also took us over to the education center where we got even more literature. Later I wrote about him in KidsPrint.
Merlin continued to call or to occasionally stop by Headquarters (while visiting his son who lived nearby), always chatting about how much he appreciated what we were doing with T&T. And I continued to see Merlin and Bev at conferences (as I made a habit of going to Tennessee/Alabama area). Always encouraging, he would stop by my workshop room and make sure I had everything I needed.
I admired and respected their passion for reaching kids for Christ and their enthusiasm and creativity in doing the job with joy and love. You knew they cared about the kids whether they were the well-behaved kids from good families or the squirrely kids with no home encouragement. They took their jobs as Awana leaders seriously.
The last time I went to a Huntsville conference was in 2009 – Arlene (from work) went with me. Of course, the Dummers were there. Arlene said she had never been to the Space Center, so that evening, a beautiful August evening, Merlin and Bev drove us over. The buildings were closed, but we wandered around the grounds, taking pictures of the rockets in the evening light as the sun set.
I saw Merlin one more time.
A couple months ago I heard Merlin had cancer. I’ve unfortunately learned enough about cancer in the last several years to know when to be concerned and to know when to be hopeful.
I was concerned.
I got the Dummer’s address and was thinking about what to write, when I received a voicemail one morning – Merlin had called and wanted me to call him back.
I did. He didn’t actually say it was a “good-bye” call, but I knew that it was. I am so thankful for that 30 minutes or so we were able to say thanks to each other for friendship … and to be assured that we would see each other again in heaven.
This post is about my friendship with the Dummers, but I know I am just one of many. I know countless people were recipients of Merlin’s encouragement. I know he will be missed by Bev, his family, his church and the wide network of Awana missionaries and leaders who were influenced by his enthusiasm and willingness to serve.
As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica: We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.