This article is part of our Spring 2020 Breaking Barriers. This installment focuses on people living with visual impairments. This article was written by Calvin Bandstra who attends Peoria CRC in Pella, IA. If you'd like to read more stories from this issue, please subscribe to Breaking Barriers.
Kent Henne swept in unannounced from the busy western suburbs of Chicago to the farmland of rural Iowa, where he discovered his church home in a sleepy unincorporated village. As a Baptist by birth and confession, Kent arrived as a unique stranger to those of us steeped in Reformed tradition and comfortable in our local, multi-generational connections. But his departure made us all the more aware of the blessings we take for granted and the dependency we have in our Savior.
Kent became blind at age 13 when surgery to remove benign brain tumors severed the optic nerve. In 1997 his aging parents found Christian Opportunity Center in Pella, an organization caring for and finding work for people with disabilities. Kent relocated there, and nearby Peoria CRC became his new family as church members took him to doctor appointments, visited him, and provided transportation to other activities. Kent graciously accepted whatever help was offered, often providing a joke and a hearty laugh. One incident comes to mind when he was taken to the airport by a church volunteer to visit his mother. While in line with his distinctive cane, the security officer stated: “I’d like to see your boarding pass.” Much to the amusement of those behind him, Kent replied, “I’d like to see it too!”
Kent’s health ailments continued into adulthood, expanding into heart, weight, and breathing problems. As these progressed, he was forced to quit working, leave his independent apartment arrangement to live in a group home, and then finally move to a nursing home. Each of those tough adjustments without the benefit of sight was met bravely by Kent, and he never failed after a ride or visit to say, “Thanks so much.”
Kent’s trials and tribulations ended on June 1, 2019, when at age 57 he died unexpectedly. Church members provided a plot in a rural cemetery, where the memorial service was held amidst singing birds and soft breezes rustling the leaves in the trees. Through it all, God used Kent as an example of contentment and acceptance to remind us of our need to be wholly dependent upon our Savior’s love for us.
And when the voices in that isolated prairie cemetery were raised in the acapella singing of Amazing Grace, the phrase “was blind, but now I see” made all of us see how much we were truly blessed by Kent.