Our only ordained native Alaskan pastor died on July 4. Here is part of what I shared at her memorial service at Turnagain UMC.
There are many words that form in our minds we would use to describe Della. The one that comes to me is “bridge.” Della was a bridge of love, understanding, and grace between people who came from different backgrounds. One morning in the bathroom while listening to the radio I smiled as the reporter interviewed this native Alaskan woman who was teaching native dance to children and youth in White Mountain. She was using their love of basketball to encourage them to dance. It was, of course, our Della.
When Pastor Dale told me Della was in the hospital and not doing well I walked into her room. She was unresponsive and surrounded by family. As I looked on this diminutive woman who could no longer talk or sing or caress a loved one I was struck by her power. This was a spiritual giant in a very short package! I touched her forehead as we prayed. Even in this state she was sending forth the love and grace of God. We could feel it.
Rev. Jim Campbell, longtime Alaska missionary pastor and friend of Della, wrote this poem in her honor. Those of us who experienced Della's stories while she created a doll from her cuspuk will certainly smile when we read.
The Cuspuk Doll
Her hands cast wonder
folding, transforming her cuspuk.
A yard of string
twisting, binding the cloth
until from her garment,
this identity that wrapped her body,
there emerged the likeness of a doll
faces transfixed by the weave of her hands
now melting to a Christmas morning smile.
Over and over it happened.
All across the land it happened.
each stop on the agenda of places to be by five o’clock,
each plead for her people that were starving in Chukotka,
each feast attended for those who had no bread,
there came the hope moment,
that transforming moment,
that gospel moment of all things made new,
that moment of the parable of the doll.
Della made other dolls,
hands of an artist given to beading, sewing, carving…..
dolls of the Anchorage museum,
life like dolls of her people,
dolls of worth and beauty and display.
Della bore the standard of craftsman.
She distilled the beautiful,
the colors and foods of the changing seasons,
the rhythm of the beat of the drum,
the telling of stories,
especially stories to the children,
who gathered with her on the floor,
as she made her cuspuk doll
and told of times when that was all she had.
Hands, stilled….. folded,
her blessings complete.
So many lives yet sway in the wake of her Sunday prayers,
heart prayers in this sanctuary,
to the Creator,
to whom, in this moment
We lift up our dear friend…….
daring to notice in the hand of God,
a yard of string,
waiting to make,
one more new creation.
Grace and peace,