Chapter 26: Epilogue


It is now more than twelve years since I completed the first edition of my book, recording the first 80 years of my life. I was glad I could end by praising God for his leading and blessing us as a family. Now I would like to continue the story, and in that same direction to praise God for His leading.

Kathryn's Last Year>

My wife, Kathryn, and I were living in Sacramento and our sons were living in Southern California. Their children were grown and four of the five grandchildren had completed their college education and were married. Kathryn was developing Alzheimer’s disease, as had her grandmother and her older sister. Because of this we thought it best to live closer to our family.

After much prayer and consideration, we did move to Thousand Oaks, California, in June of 1996. We moved into a condominium which we had purchased in 1980, for just such an eventuality. We were very glad to live so close to our sons, about five minutes from Paul and Annette, and about 20 minutes from Jim and Judy. This meant very much to Kathryn to be close to the family and to be able to share in more family celebrations and events.

As her ailment continued to get increasingly more difficult, I assumed the housework, providing meals and taking care of whatever was necessary. In her attitude of contentment she expressed appreciation for everything I did. She never forgot to say "thank you" for each meal I prepared. This made life much easier than it might otherwise have been. Together we attended Calvary Community Church, in Westlake Village, and a weekly Bible study there for seniors, as Kathryn’s health remained reasonably good.

In early January of 2000 Kathryn suffered a serious stroke and became helpless. She spent three weeks under the best possible care in the hospital where our son Paul is a highly respected member of the medical staff. He was able to approve each treatment and medication which she received. From there she went to an outstanding care home, which Paul had reserved in advance in case it would be needed.

After two weeks of very wonderful care my beloved wife of more than 63 years passed away on March 5, 2000. The mother of two sons, grandmother of five, and great-grandmother of five, she went to be with the Lord, whom she loved and fully trusted to provide her eternal salvation. I appreciated God’s leading of our family and that we could be together at this time, because we all lived so near each other. All the family, except for one grandson away at college, had been able to visit her the weekend of her passing.
I was so grateful for the opportunity which had been ours of serving the Lord together in harmony and love for many years in Pastoral and other services. We ministered the gospel in six communities as pastor and teacher. My last public service was as a teacher and program director for Simpson College, Sacramento, a branch of Simpson College in San Francisco. . Kathryn was my support in providing a welcoming home for our family and for guests, and was, above all, always faithfully supportive in prayer.

Holy Land Tour

In June of 2000, I had the blessing of joining a Holy Land tour group led by Pastor Larry DeWitt, senior pastor of Calvary Community Church, Westlake Village, CA. This was a good time to get acquainted with a good group of Christian people, some of whose friendship I still enjoy. I also appreciated the chance to invite my older son Jim to join me, and he was able to arrange to go along. This was my third time to go to the Holy Land but there is always more to see and learn, to experience and enjoy.

This time we spent considerable time in the area south of the Dead Sea, in Southern Palestine. It was fascinating to follow the wanderings of a group of Jewish people in their flight from the Romans for many years. We enjoyed entering the caves, wandering between huge rock formations and seeing how people could survive in such circumstances.

We were able to visit the Qumran area, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found. I remember when the news came that such a discovery was made, back in 1948. I heard the news on the radio while I was on the way to a college class. Later, on another tour, I had seen the Manuscript of the Isaiah scroll displayed in a museum, in Jerusalem. Now we not only saw the display, but we entered the very cave where this significant discovery was made. It has verified old dates and records which had been called into question by some biblical scholars of the time. It was interesting to explore the cave where a shepherd boy found the deposit. He had come across the mouth of the cave and threw a stone into it. He heard a sound like breaking pottery, upon which the manuscripts were discovered.

We traveled north to Jericho, where the "walls came tumbling down" during Joshua’s time. We then traveled further north to the area of Galilee, along the Lake of Tiberius. Jesus spent much of His time in ministry there, performing many miracles. The synagogue in Capernaum was of special importance. Jesus spent much time there in teaching and healing. Its building is one of the best preserved buildings of the area. We had the opportunity to engage a fishing boat and go out on the lake, launch a net, as though we were going out to fish. But, like the disciples at times, we did not catch anything. . We also had the chance to stay on a kibbutz, on the east side of the Jordan River, nearly at the north end of the lake. They have guest housing there, so we were able to enjoy the area and have an extended baptismal service, of which many of our travelers took advantage. I was glad to lend some assistance with the service.

We then traveled back to Jerusalem where we visited the Jewish prayer wall, walked on the remains of the old city wall and observed what was going on. East of the city, across the Kidron Valley, is an old garden with some ancient olive trees, which is believed to be a place where Jesus spent some time with the disciples, praying at various times. This is where He was arrested, was buried nearby and resurrected. We also visited the Upper Room, where Jesus served the Last Supper to His disciples and we entered the empty tomb. Visiting these places is very meaningful and we praise His name for this experience.

I want to say again that I felt very privileged to have my son Jim in the group. He was always close for any need I had and sharing these significant occasions with him meant so much to me. One morning, before most of us arose for the day, Jim was at the marketplace and bought an especially ornate walking cane for me, because I had a slight injury to one knee.

After the regular tour some of us took an extension of time to explore some Greek Islands and Ephesus with its extensive archeological work related to the New Testament. The Island of Patmos has a large church building in memory of the Apostle John, where he wrote the book of Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, while he was held in captivity. I was determined to visit this church even though it is high on a hill, reached only on foot. Some in the group thought I should not make such a strenuous climb, but I said I didn’t think I would be coming here again. I did not want to miss anything significant.

A New Phase of Life

Upon returning from this momentous trip I settled into daily life, adjusting to living on my own without Kathryn. I had many occasions to spend time with my sons and their families, and developed good friendships with people I met at church and in my neighborhood. One particular group that was significant was the Bible study class at Calvary Community Church for those over the age of 55. I had attended this with Kathryn and she always seemed to enjoy the group, even though her ability to interact with new friends was limited by her disease. Participating on my own gave me the occasion to learn to know people better by going to lunch or having more extended conversation. This was the source of many of my current friendships that are so meaningful and enriching to my life.

In the spring of 2002 a lovely new lady came to the meetings of the "55+ Group" at Calvary Community Church, where we were both attending. She was introduced as Betty Anderson from Visalia, California, a town about 25 miles from where I had grown up. She had come from a church which I had known about. She shared with the group that she had lost her husband some 10 years earlier to Alzheimer’s disease, which was the same way I lost my wife.

After a conversation at church, I asked her to go to lunch with me and she accepted. More lunches followed and we found that we shared much in common, especially our faith in Christ. While I had spent about 25 years pastoring churches in the Midwest and in California, she had worked in the banking business. Later she spent 20 years as a volunteer working in her church office. During this time she took leadership in planning and leading the Senior Citizens’ Group. .

We have each gone through a time of caring for our partners with Alzheimer’s disease. We each have two children and five grandchildren. Betty’s daughter Karen has 3 children and her son Gary has 2 children. Betty has no great-grandchildren, but I had 7 when we met, and now there are 10. The more time we spent together the more we enjoyed each other’s company. We introduced our respective families to each other and felt a deepening relationship developing between us.

After much prayer, we believed we should have a permanent arrangement. I asked her to marry me and she accepted willingly. We set the wedding date for February 15, 2003. (This is Betty’s birthday.). Our pastor Larry DeWitt officiated at the ceremony, assisted by our friend David Brantingham. Our families attended with music offered by my granddaughter Christine and Betty’s nephews Michael and Jeremiah. We enjoyed a lovely dinner reception afterward at Betty’s son’s home.

We joyfully praise the Lord for his leading and blessing of our lives together. . We have had the opportunity to travel to many wonderful places and spend many happy times with our families. We enjoy good health and wonderful times with friends and continue to find joy in serving the Lord through our church.

Return to Russia

In the months before I met Betty, our family had begun to plan seriously for a trip that we had been dreaming about for some time. We wanted to visit Russia together so I could show my sons and grandchildren my homeland, including the village where I lived as a boy. I invited the whole family and for any who wanted to go but felt the cost would be prohibitive, I offered financial assistance.

Eight people out of my family committed to make the trip. Both my sons said they would like to go, but their wives decided to stay at home. Both of my grandsons, Jim’s son Bryan and Paul’s son Dan, were excited to go. Bob and Shari Grapes, Jim’s daughter and son-in-law, and their daughter Megan also joined the group. Thus we had eight people from my family. We were glad to have two nephews and their wives, John and Evelyn Kroeker and Richard and Jackie Block, join the group. (Richard’s father was my younger brother Jacob.). Thus we had a group of twelve ambitious people to undertake the journey.

We left on June 10, 2002, from Los Angeles, arriving in New York on the same day. Transferring to our plane bound for Moscow provided a surprise. When the gate agent checked our tickets he noticed we were a family group. He inquired as to how many people we had with the same last name. When we came to occupy our seats, we found that the seven of us with the last name Block were all in first class seating. The rest of our group was right behind us. Later I found out that they had oversold the tourist class, and we benefited with first-class seating. We were treated very well and had a ball all the way to Moscow, a very long flight.

In Moscow we were booked into the Hotel Russiea, one of the largest hotels in the world. I had been there before and enjoyed it very much. It is just across from the Red Square and the Kremlin, the seat of the Russian government, which dates back to the early 13th century. From there we pursued a very busy schedule for two days, led by a professional guide. We saw all the important national places to visit, including Lenin’s tomb and museums housed in historic churches. . After two days we took a midnight train to St. Petersburg. After a day’s work or sight seeing in Moscow many people take this overnight train and arrive in St. Petersburg at 8:00 o’clock in the morning, ready to do a day of business or sight seeing. We were provided with comfortable sleeping cabins and a snack which included caviar. Another interesting thing about the train is that the engineers and the conductors are all women.

We stayed in a large western style hotel in St. Petersburg that included an Olympic size swimming pool and a full bowling alley. We enjoyed swimming and bowling with the Russian people, some of whom spoke enough English to communicate. Each morning we were served a full western style breakfast. We were able to experience the "white lights" as daylight/dusk extended until 11 pm. People were out walking on the streets and it was hard to imagine the actual time. Our stay was enhanced by a very knowledgeable English speaking guide who took us to various sightseeing places as well as to the Bible Seminary which Jim Overton, a missionary from Thousand Oaks, California, had helped establish. Construction was evident throughout the city as preparations were underway for the two hundred year celebration scheduled for the following year when many foreign visitors were expected. Most of the hotel rooms were already booked a year in advance.

We left St. Petersburg via a Russian airliner to Barnaul, in central Siberia. This was a 5 hour flight, leaving in the evening and arriving the following morning. We were met at the airport by Jacob Blokk, my great-grand-nephew. He is the great-grandson of my older brother Peter, who had stayed in Russia when we escaped and had been killed by a firing squad. Jacob had visited us in California and now was honored to be our host to his home. He had made all of the local arrangements, including an older Mercedes bus with a driver to pick us up from the airport and later to take us to the area where the villages were when I was a boy. Our first stop was at Jacob’s apartment for a brief rest and a delicious breakfast. The apartment was very clean, quite new, and with modern conveniences. It was apparent that Jacob was living very comfortably now. This was a great improvement compared to the arrangements during the 1991 visit. Jacob is a manager of a company that works with commercial refrigeration.

After feeling more refreshed and loading some provisions onto the bus, we set out on a 6 hour drive to the site of the old German villages where I had lived as a boy. On the way out of town we stopped to pick up Sasha (Alexandra), Jacob’s 19 year old daughter at the University, where she had just completed her last final exam for that year only an hour earlier. Our travel group now consisted of our 12 plus Jacob and his fiancée, Valentine, Jacob’s 17 yr. old son, and Sasha, Jacob’s daughter. Sasha had studied English in school, starting in the 5th grade, and could converse rather freely. Paul especially spent many hours sharing stories of their respective lives and experiences. In order to have some flexibility and added comfort, especially for me, Jacob drove his late model Toyota, with the others of our group following in the bus. En route we stopped at a small restaurant for delicious borsht. Jacob had made these arrangements and insisted on paying the bill as our host.

We stayed at a small German hotel in Halbstadt. We celebrated our arrival with a champagne toast in the hotel lobby. It was very interesting walking along the street and having the locals look at us. Several stopped and attempted to engage in limited conversation. Richard seemed to find a way to communicate, especially with one young man on a bicycle that he encountered repeatedly. The first evening while out walking and exploring the town, we joined in playing some basket ball with a group of teenagers. Richard is 6 ft. 8 inches and had played high school basketball. It was a fun and interesting experience finding common ground with people that we had grown up fearing during the Cold War years under Communism.

We were told in Moscow that we could not visit a hospital unless we had made arrangements and had received an invitation. Having Sasha as our interpreter, we simply walked into the local hospital and asked if we could take a tour. After explaining that Paul was a physician, Bryan was a physician assistant and both Richard and Jackie were registered nurses in the US, they agreed that the four medical people and Sasha could walk through the facility and provided one of their nurses as a guide. The facility was very clean but rather basic. The technology was mostly older, from about the 1970s, but generally adequate for a primary care facility. The operating rooms were clean and well lighted. The anesthesia equipment was similar to what was used in the States several decades earlier, but certainly adequate. Complex and serious cases were evacuated out to a larger regional facility. The doctor we met indicated availability of most needed medications.

We were privileged to be joined by Jacob’s cousin who lives in the area and was familiar with the specific location of the village sites. Although the villages have been removed, we found a marker commemorating the site of the Mennonite village and were able to take photos of our group there. We walked into the field to find the cemetery where my father and five siblings are buried. That was a very moving experience as I recalled the early years and memories of living there. This was the village that was founded in 1908. My parents were the 3rd family to arrive in Siberia that first year. I was born there in 1913. My father died there in 1919 of scarlet fever. . Sasha and Valentine had not previously visited the actual village sites, although they had been in the general area visiting relatives. We were also able to locate the second village where my family lived after my mother had married Mr. Isaac. Again we located the cemetery that was near a roadway. I pointed out the birch trees and noted about where the creamery had been located. Richard said, "Let’s go find it…I did not come all the way from California just to get almost there". . The younger ones walked into the field in the direction I had pointed out and soon found large clusters of concrete and steel that obviously represented the remains of a larger building. It was consistent with where the creamery had been and served as a strategic land mark as I recalled the details of the village. Being there created a special feeling that can not easily be described and made the entire trip worthwhile.

The next day we had the privilege of sharing a dinner at a local restaurant with some relatives who lived in the area of Halbstadt, arranged and hosted by Jacob. The group included about twenty people, mostly cousins from about three generations back. We shared about our lives in America and they related their living in Siberia. I recited a short poem which I had learned in Russian grade school and some of them assured me that they had learned the same poem, many years later. We enjoyed several hours together before it was time for us to get on the road to the airport. We drove about 6 hours to Novosibirsk. Jacob had arranged for all of us to use a special VIP lounge that included a large TV, large leather chairs, and internet-connected computers that allowed e-mail to be sent to family back home. We flew a Russian airliner to Moscow. We had arranged for a bus to take us from the domestic airport to the international airport on the other side of Moscow and from there flew Delta to New York. After clearing customs we flew on to Los Angeles, arriving in good health and rich in experience. In ten days of travel we had experienced varied cultures and brought back many memories and photos. God gave me an opportunity to create new memories with my family. I am thankful to God for His protection and allowing me the health and strength to take this trip at the age of 88.

Contacts with Russion Ralatives

As I have mentioned earlier, some of our Russian relatives have been able to visit us in the United States at various times.
Jacob Block is the grandson of my older brother Peter, who had remained in Russia when the others of our family had escaped. He was the one that had learned of having relatives in America and sought to make contact with us in 1990, when he was age 29. He had found a picture of me among some of his father’s papers, presumably from my 1978 visit. He researched my location and made contact with me. I then met him, along with his family members, on my trip to Siberia in 1991. .

Jacob was the one that investigated the government records about his grandfather that had become available after the Russian society had opened records related to glasnost and peristroika. He learned that rather than dying in prison of pneumonia, as they had been told, my brother Peter had been arrested in 1938 and shot by firing squad a short time later. The "crime" listed was "anti-Soviet activities", of which he was later exonerated.

Following the fall of communism and our visit, Jacob continued to write letters to me wanting to maintain contact. He indicated that he would very much like to visit California. He had worked in commercial refrigeration under the communists and then become one of three owners and managers of a refrigeration business that had become financially successful. I helped with a formal invitation letter that allowed him to get a visa to come to America for a visit. During the winter of 1996, he paid his own way to California and allowed me the privilege of hosting his stay with us. It was very exciting to have Jacob in our home and share with each of my 2 sons and their families. We communicated in the low German dialect and some Russian, as he did not speak English. We got along remarkably well. Jacob enjoyed swimming in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Malibu even though it was January. He had brought money to pay cash for a quality CD player indicating it was much cheaper here than in Russia. We were honored to provide this for him once he had made his careful selection.

Several years later we were glad to host my niece, Lena, the daughter of my brother Peter. She came with her daughter and husband, Liza and Alexander Friesen. We enjoyed having them in our home and traveling to the Reedley, CA, area to visit with other relatives, including my younger brother Jacob Block and his family. We were able to visit the Big Tree national park in the Sierra Mountains and Yosemite National Park together. It was a wonderful time to share our "world" that was in many ways very different from the world they had grown up in. It was only by the grace of God, that I have been privileged to live in California rather than under communism in Russia. Lena, and the Friesens, as well as others of my relatives from Siberia, have subsequently moved to Germany where they now live. The German government has extended an invitation to the Russian people of German descent, to return to Germany if they wished. With my present wife, Betty, I enjoyed visiting these family members and other relatives during the fall of 2005 in Germany.

I have also been privileged to host Jacob’s son, Valentin, in our home in California in the summer of 2004. My son Paul received an unexpected call from someone speaking limited, heavily-accented English, calling from Atlanta, Georgia, trying to make contact with John Block. He was able to decipher that this was Valentin, whom he had met in Siberia during the 2002 visit. Valentin had managed to get to Atlanta on an exchange program for university students, working in construction. During the 6 weeks, he had managed to learn some English. The next month, after traveling to Florida, Valentin called again indicating he could now visit us in California, if we could arrange travel. Approximately 24 hours later, Paul and I were able to pick him up from Los Angeles International Airport and bring him home. We had a remarkable time hosting him for the next 2 weeks. . I was impressed how well he was able to converse in English, such that we could discuss multiple subjects. He had a good understanding of current events and even politics.

Betty and I drove Valentin to Reedley and Fresno to visit other relatives. My brother’s son, Richard Block and his wife Jackie, who had been on our 2002 trip to Siberia, hosted us in Fresno. Valentin enjoyed riding Richard’s motorcycle. Back in southern California, he enjoyed visiting auto dealerships and seeing expensive German and Italian sports cars. He enjoyed riding Paul’s mountain bike and going to the beach. It was September, 2004, and Valentin was anxious to return to Siberia so that he could continue at the university. He indicated that in Russia, one must have a university degree, if one wished to do well in life. He graduated from the university in Novosibirsk in the spring of 2006. We have kept in contact via e-mail. Hopefully, enough of a connection has been established with the "next" generation, so that the younger relatives in Siberia will keep in contact with those in America and even Germany. The world seems to be much smaller now than when I was a boy. These kinds of visits between family members could not even have been imagined.

Celebrating 90 Years

On November 6, 2003, I celebrated my 90th birthday. My children planned a large gathering, inviting relatives and friends from many places that I had lived. About 100 people came together to enjoy good food, music and memories. My sons created a photo and video presentation of many events, people and places that were significant in my life. It was a real blessing to see so many individuals that God had placed in my life and given me the privilege of knowing and sharing life with them. This was also a time when Betty was able to meet so many of my friends and extended family, since we had had only a small wedding 10 months earlier.

A Reunion after 75 Years

As recounted earlier in my book, many Russian people lived in Harbin, China, while waiting to immigrate to other countries. A group of about 200 people were given permission to enter the United States in 1929. This group came on various ships from September, 1929, through June, 1930, about 16 at a time. This group has held reunions over the years and in June, 2005, the 75th anniversary of this immigration was celebrated in Reedley, CA. Fourteen of the immigrants were present, of which I was the second oldest. (I had been 16 when coming to the United States.). Many family members were there to hear memories shared and to rejoice in the way God has blessed these people in their new land. The majority of the descendants have entered professions which help others, such as medicine and teaching. Many others have remained in the agricultural pursuits which brought them to Central California.

Family Update

God has blessed me with a wonderful family and I would like to give a short update on them. My son Jim and his wife Judy live in Calabasas, CA. Jim has worked for more than 30 years as an executive in the petroleum industry and is now at retirement age. He and his wife are avid golfers. His daughter Shari and her husband Bob Grapes have 2 children, Megan, a college student, and Doug, age 16. Shari is an insurance supervisor and Bob teaches special needs students. Jim’s son Bryan is a Physician’s Assistant in an orthopedic surgery practice. His wife Belinda, does physical therapy for people in their homes, and is a busy mom to their 3 young daughters, Nicole, age 11, Taylor, age 8, and Hayley, age 3.

My son Paul and his wife Annette live in Thousand Oaks, CA, just 10 minutes from Betty and me. Paul is a physician who practiced pulmonary and critical care medicine for 28 years. He now is focusing on providing highly personalized primary care and preventive medicine for a limited number of patients. His oldest daughter Christine is married to Brian Anderson, who teaches math at a community college. They have 3 children, Kaylin is 7, Joel is 5 and Elizabeth is 2 ½. His daughter Karin and her husband Tom Middleton have 2 little girls, Janae, age 4 and Anika, a year and a half. They plan to move to London, England, in 2007, as they work with Church Resource Ministries, developing leadership for churches in Europe. His son Dan lives in Sacramento, CA, where he is a civil engineer, doing transportation planning for a private firm.

Except as mentioned, all the families live near us in Southern California. Betty’s family also lives in this area, so we are often busy with our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. We enjoyed a cruise to Hawaii to celebrate our 4th wedding anniversary in February, 2007. We live each day grateful to God for giving us that day and the opportunities that it holds. He has blessed us in so many ways and kept us in His providential care.

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