I can still recall the excitement we shared as a family when we got our new stereo in the late 50s or early 60s. We had only a few LPs then, and one of our favorites was a Tennessee Ernie Ford album. Even now I can almost hear his melodious voice ring out from the old Magnavox singing: “Time is filled with swift transition…Hold to God’s unchanging hand…”
“Hold to God’s unchanging hand”….little did I know or understand then that our ancestors, without ever having heard this song, did just that as they faced changes, challenges and devastating losses in their lifetimes. It never occurred to me that one day I would thank God for His unchanging hand, and this wonderful heritage. Reading about our great-grandpa Janos Pavkov, and Grandpa Lazar, and even thinking about our own parents, I’m convinced that the only way they could handle the changing circumstances in their lives was by clutching tightly to the hand of the One who never changes.
The first major change in Janos’ life may have been when he was the first in his family to convert to Christ in 1876 as a teen in Yugoslavia. We know that his new-found faith was a priority to him, because suddenly another change was thrust upon him: he was imprisoned for 5 years because of his faith. As he sat in his cell for days and nights upon end without his parents, without his friends, and without church services or the support of brothers and sisters in Christ, what kept him strong if not God’s unchanging hand?…the same hand that he held on to as he and his wife later experienced poverty raising their six children, and the same hand that gave them strength to keep on going when they suffered ridicule and persecution from their neighbors because of their beliefs and their faithful church attendance. All of these situations cause us to believe that as a child, Grandpa Lazar saw that his parents were serious about their walk with the Lord, and he may have understood at a young age that they had an incredible grip on His hand.
As a ten year-old, Grandpa was sent to live in the home of a shoemaker to learn the trade. He was still a child! He experienced an extreme change! He couldn’t depend on mom, dad, or any of his five siblings. He was alone in a strange home! This may have been the beginning of major changes in his life; he may have had to look to God and hold on to His hand. God’s hand was, also, undoubtedly what he clung to as his circumstances changed by his own choice in 1905: Lazar left his homeland of Yugoslavia and immigrated to America at the age of 20. As the ship neared Ellis Island he faced change again; he found himself alone amidst the countless immigrants. No doubt he tightened his grip on the “unchanging hand” as he faced the uncertainty of the unknown: new people, new places, new employment, and a new language. As a young man under these circumstances, he walked 8 miles round trip every day to work in the rubber factory in Akron, Ohio, and saved enough money to bring his whole family to the US. We can certainly admire the fact that he had such noble goals and strong determination at such a young age; and we can be sure that he was still holding on to God’s hand when he also sent for his future wife, Katarina, whom he married in 1908. Grandpa Lazar was 23 at the time.
We can imagine the challenges they faced as a young couple raising their small children, and we can discover some of the events that happened then in the Pavkov history book (Thanks to the great job cousin Dottie did!!) but let’s “fast-forward” a few years, to the day before Grandpa and Grandma were to celebrate their 12th anniversary. I weep with Grandpa, and can almost see the grief etched on his face, thinking how desperately he must have been clinging to God’s unchanging hand as he stood helplessly at the bedside of his dear soul mate and whispered his earthly farewell to her. The comfort of God’s unchanging hand may have carried him through many a lonely night and difficult day as he was faced with the reality of raising four small children without their mother. (My Dad was the youngest; he was 5 years old at the time of his mother’s passing) At that time, the country was in a post-war recession and Grandpa’s farm income decreased considerably. I’m sure he was holding fast to God’s providing hand as he instructed his four little ones to choose only the best potatoes from their crop to pay Mr. Clark, the undertaker, for their mom’s burial. How else could he have done it?
Change…nothing new to Grandpa. Yet every night he could be seen reading his Bible by the table after supper, and every Sunday would find him faithfully taking his youngsters to church by horse and wagon, rain or shine. All of this strengthened his grip on God’s hand, and set the example that each of his four children would later follow as they, too, each chose to hold the same unchanging hand that their parents and grandparents found to be so faithful.
We think about the lives of Janos, Lazar, and even our own parents, (whose lives weren’t free from unexpected changes, losses, or disappointments) and we are amazed at how they held up under the worst of circumstances; yet we know that it wasn’t on their strength alone that they stood firm. If we were to ask any one of our ancestors right now how they were able to do it, no doubt they would each look back over their life and testify to having relied on the strength of our unchanging God; and if they could give us one bit of advice, having experienced everything they did, that valuable advice just might be: “Hold to God’s unchanging hand”!
“Your years are throughout al generations.
Of old You laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the work of Your hands.
They will perish, but You will endure;
Yes, they will all grow old like a garment;
Like a cloak you will change them, and they will be changed.
BUT YOU ARE THE SAME,
And Your years have no end.
The children of Your servants will continue,
And their descendants will be established before You.”
Psalm 102: 24 – 28