Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Requiem for a servant

Bill was born in West Texas during the Depression, third of eight kids in a poor family. After the tenth grade he was forced to leave school in order to provide for the family. By his early twenties, married with two children, he was also supporting his paraplegic mother and had his two youngest brothers living with him.

Bill was raised in the cultural religion of the Bible Belt, but in his early thirties he experienced the reality of the risen Christ, which changed the course of his life. By the time he and Lorain had their sixth and last child, they were serving as missionaries on a Native American reservation. Today the mission is led my a man whom they discipled as a young boy. A year after leaving the mission to accept a pastoral position, Bill was forced to make a choice between his pastoral duties and providing for his family. Scriptural mandate and personal habit on the same side, he chose family and resigned his position. He and Lorain then worked for many years in a food processing plant, providing their children with the start in life that had been denied to them. Retirement brought them a time of family gatherings, road trips, puttering in the garden and garage, and declining health.

Bill was an avid student of the Bible and, in his own way, a systematic theologian. He remained a preacher-at-large, evangelizing those he came in contact with and discussing the Bible with those who were interested. He defied stereotypes: in some ways arch-conservative yet embracing the ethos of the Jesus People. He lived modestly, as though the world to come is more of a reality than this one, even while placing great importance on the practical needs of others. He, like the rest of us, had his faults, but he continued to look with confidence to the cross of Christ. He had a twinkle in his eye that suggested there was always a punch line, and his roaring laughter was infectious.

As he lay dying, he wanted his family to be happy for him, confident that it was not "Goodbye" but "See you later."

See you later, Bill.

The greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. Matthew 23:11-12