Carolyn Cronk holds a framed piece of a Hebrew scroll. (Vanessa Kahin Photo)
Carolyn Cronk keeps a valuable piece of Jewish history, and the story of how she came to have it has as many twists and turns as her life.
Originally from Texas, Cronk grew up and went to school in Fullerton, Calif. She admits she’s “lived in a lot of places,” with a modest yet playful smile. She has lived around the world and been immersed in a life of church and missionary work, in part, because of her late husband.
Cronk married the love of her life, Richard, just two days after graduating high school in 1956. In 1960, Richard graduated from college, and in 1965, Richard’s work transferred him to Albuquerque.
Cronk recalled living on Eubank Boulevard, which was, at the time, the westernmost point of the city.
The Cronks moved to Moriarty, bought a farm and enjoyed a quiet country life for 11 years. Cronk joked that the family grew “hay, cows and kids.” The Cronks had six children.
With nostalgia Cronk recalled her time in Moriarty, describing days of milking cows and churning butter.
“I really liked Moriarty,” she said. “Because we lived there the longest, and because we raised a family there, we called New Mexico home.”
Cronk also enjoyed Hawaii, where she lived when Richard’s job sent him on an all-expenses paid trip for six months. They returned to Moriarty, but eventually went back to Hawaii, and stayed for four years.
“While we were there, my husband felt (the) calling to be a pastor,” Cronk said. Richard attended the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. His first church was located in the Mojave Desert near Parker Dam, where the Colorado River separates California and Arizona.
When the mission church closed for good, the Cronks were left almost destitute. Cronk thought of the Mojave Desert resorts, and the “snowbirds” who traveled there from up north when the winter months hit their homes the hardest.
“That’s when our congregation was the biggest, in the winter,” Cronk said. She then decided to send resumes to some of these “snowbirds.” Soon, Richard was called to a church in Michigan.
The Cronks then pursued a desire to become missionaries, a dream that was almost interrupted when Richard was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Still, they were approved for a missionary trip to Okinawa, Japan, where they were affiliated with an “English-speaking, multi-ethnic church.” Cronk taught English as a Second Language. She said the Japanese women taught her something just as valuable: how to cook Japanese food, which she enjoyed.
After 13 months, the Cronks returned to the U.S. — this time, Texas. During her stay, Cronk came into contact with the Christian Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit that helps support churches in Johnson County in Cleburne, Texas.
Walter Mize, who established the CHF, attended a service dedicated to ancient Hebrew scrolls. Mize expressed an interest in the scrolls and asked if they could be stored at the CHF. Mize then wanted to have a permanent set of scrolls — which he felt were relevant to his Christian congregation, as many believe Christianity is an extension of Judaism.
Cronk explained that “the whole Old Testament is a foretelling of the coming of Christ. … As Christians, we believe in Christ as being the Messiah.”
Mize passed away in 2008, but others in his stead collected scrolls from around the world. The CHF now houses an almost complete set of the Tenach — the entire 39 books of the Old Testament.
Cronk described the process that Jewish scribes use when making the scrolls, such as bowing three times before writing, using a quill to write and destroying the scroll and starting over should the Hebrew name for God be miswritten.
“It’s such a reverence for the name of God,” Cronk said. “We so misuse the name.”
The ink used to write on the scrolls starts out as honey. Bees plant honey inside gall nuts, which grow as fungus in the Holy Land. When these ferment, they are boiled and combined with ash to make the ink.
The parchment used to make the scrolls is also organic — made from sheep, goat, deer or cow skins. The skin is thinly cut and dried, and looks almost like paper.
Cronk’s life became more trying when her husband — who was already suffering from Parkinson’s — developed dementia along with his mother.
“I took care of both of them,” Cronk said. She moved to Roswell December 2009. The decision brought her closer to family — a sister and two nieces. Her husband died in 2010.
“We had an exciting life,” Cronk said of her 54-year marriage. “We did a lot of things.”
Cronk plays piano at Mountain View Baptist Church and hosts a ladies’ night Bible study at her home. A few months ago she visited CHF again, and was given a 150-year-old fragment of a Hebrew scroll. Originally from Europe, it is written on genuine parchment and depicts Leviticus 20:27 through 22:3. Cronk was given the fragment in the heavy wooden frame in which she displays it.
“I don’t know why I was selected, but they gave it to me, all framed and everything,” she said.
Cronk said seeing the scrolls makes the history of Christianity come alive for her.
“It’s kind of like going to Washington D.C. as an American,” she said. “We get to see the Constitution, … the Gettysburg Address. We can really see the history.” She said the scrolls are no different.
“Christians and Jews can see the history,” Cronk said. “It just makes it more real to us.”