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Ralph passed away Sunday, November 20, 2016, as a result of complications from his juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and from side effects of medications. He was just 53.

I’m thankful for the years of devoted service he gave to Christian Reformed churches through his volunteer work with Disability Concerns (DC). Here are a few items from the Disability Concerns part of his C.V.:

  • served ably and with humor as chair of the DC Advisory Committee
  • gave wings to many new disability advocates by teaching workshops year after year on disability advocacy
  • introduced many congregations in Ontario to disability issues through his preaching and teaching
  • helped plan a major conference on disability and ministry in 1996 called “At the King’s Table” and assisted in planning many subsequent conferences
  • worked with disability advocates in Ontario by serving on the DC Canada Committee and by serving as a Regional Disability Advocate

Some years he devoted over 600 hours of volunteer time to this work — an average of nearly 12 hours per week!

For paid work, Ralph served in various roles at a plastics milling company, including drafting, computer support, marketing, and accounting. In addition, he operated his own supply business.

Ralph showed ingenious creativity in learning to live with the limitations of his disability. For example, he found a way not only to get physical assistance with day to day chores, but also to buy a home and mentor young people, all through the creative way in which he set up his landlord/tenant relationship with people who lived with him.

When Ralph was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis July 2015, he was told that he might live only a few more days. Hearing this news, our mutual friend Terry DeYoung and I made a quick trip from west Michigan to see Ralph at Etobicoke General Hospital in Ontario. Ralph told Terry and me that he had made peace with death long ago, but he had such a zest for life that he defied all odds and live nearly another year and a half. One of his motivations was attending the wedding of a nephew, which he was able to do.

Ralph impressed me that not only did he make peace with death, but also he made peace with life, a life that included a great deal of pain, surgeries, therapy, and limitations that came as a result of his JRA. His peace with death came through the hope he had in the promise of everlasting life through his savior Jesus Christ. His peace with life came also through God’s strength, through Ralph’s dogged determination to live life to the very fullest, and through the amazing support of many family and friends.

Ralph had an especially high pain tolerance. In fact, a number of years ago the medical personnel had some challenge diagnosing that Ralph had a ruptured appendix because Ralph told them that he assumed that he had the stomach flu. Until the last few years when his pain level grew especially intense, Ralph always signed his email messages, “With a smile, Ralph.”

Ralph loved the Canadian candy, Smarties, which are similar to M&Ms in the U.S. I love Smarties too, and because I cannot eat M&Ms (because even the plain ones contain peanuts), Ralph always made sure that I left my trips to Canada with some Smarties in hand — even my final visit to attend his funeral last week. Before he died, Ralph asked that everyone who attended his funeral get a pack of Smarties — with a smile. Thanks, Ralph, for everything!

Thank you, God, for the privilege of knowing Ralph — a gifted, funny, loving, hard-working child of yours. Thank you that Ralph’s full life now is even more full through your son, Jesus Christ. In his name, Amen.

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