Children's hymn still has power to comfort

Last Saturday, radio personality Paul Harvey died in Arizona at age 90. Many Americans noticed.

Last Friday, an 89-year-old friend, WillaBelle Christensen, died at Manatee Memorial Hospital.

Unlike Mr. Harvey, WillaBelle had no fame.

Still — perhaps you recall Harvey’s signature introduction to a series of stories he broadcasted since 1976: “Hello Americans, I’m Paul Harvey. You know what the news is. In a minute, you’re going to hear … the rest of the story.”

In WillaBelle’s case, that means the story of what she sang with me with confidence the night before she died.

It was late Thursday evening in the hospital. I was trying to distract WillaBelle from the severe pain she was experiencing, so I suggested we sing. As I tried to help her though, she helped me. WillaBelle gave me an unforgettable gift.

I asked WillaBelle what was her favorite hymn. She said “Amazing Grace.” We sang it together from memory.

Then I suggested, “Jesus Loves Me, This I Know.” WillaBelle’s face brightened again. Her eyes sparkled despite the pain. Together we sang:

“Jesus loves me, this I know For the Bible tells me so.

“Little ones to him belong They are weak, but he is strong.

“Yes, Jesus loves me. Yes, Jesus loves me.

“Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so.”

I didn’t know then that WillaBelle had taught those words to her dear great-granddaughters. Did WillaBelle know the song’s origin? I’m unsure. (Do you?)

In 1860, two unmarried adult sisters, Anna and Susan Warner, wrote a novel, “Say and Seal,” which briefly was the nation’s best-seller.

While few today have read it, you should know part of a scene from chapter eight. A child lies dying. Mr. Linden, the novel’s protagonist, tries to comfort the boy. In a low tone he sings:

“Jesus loves me, this I know For the Bible tells me so.

“Little ones to him belong They are weak, but he is strong.

“Jesus loves me — he who died Heaven’s gate to open wide;

“He will wash away my sin, Let his little child come in.

“Jesus loves me — loves me still, Though I’m very weak and ill;

“From his shining throne on high Comes to watch me where I lie.

“Jesus loves me — he will stay Close beside me all the way.

“Then his little child will take Up to heaven for his dear sake.”

I know for WillaBelle, Jesus did. And now you know (Harvey would say) the rest of the story.

Rev. Daniel A. Witte, pastor of Risen Savior Lutheran Church, can be reached at 747-5564.