The worst part of being pastors in a small town for years on end, is that eventually you have to bury your closest friends. A month ago, to be exact, we lost one of our deacons, and I'm just now feeling up to writing anything about it.
He was a farmer. He loved land...and wheat...and cows, driving a tractor for hours alone under the burning sun and the unrelenting wind of Western Oklahoma, and it was a farming accident that finally took him, alone, beside a green field--seventy nine years old and still working as if the whole Western bread supply depended on his faithfulness.
He knew every thing about this part of the country, where to buy the best convenience store pizza, who to call when you needed an antiquated part for the combine or the drill. He spoke his mind and didn't really mind when other people spoke theirs. In fact, just about the time you thought he didn't hear your opinion, he would reach out his hand and invite you to discuss it over a snack.
He was the superintendent and teacher of the adult Sunday School class, served on the Mennonite Disaster Service board, sang bass in the choir, and held a position on the school board for years and years. Last summer he noticed broken tile in the corner of my classroom and a baseboard that came unglued from the outside wall every time it rained. That fall I had a newly tiled corner, and the board was properly attached for the year. He had installed it with his own hands. It mattered to him and it mattered to me. He was passionate about supporting missions, praying for peace in Israel, a land he was proud to have visited, and serving Christ like an honest disciple. More like Peter than Thomas, he was open, honest, and eager to charge right into the fray.
He was Turtle's special friend. Every pastor needs someone like this man, someone who will drop in for coffee, speak his mind, brainstorm solutions, give advice, and be a sounding board for crazy ideas and an ally for good ones. Whenever there was a conference, he insisted that the pastor be sent there, even accompanied him and sat through the inspirational meetings and the boring ones. He drove Turtle into the city for hospital calls sometimes, and traveled eight hours to be at Turtle's father's funeral in another state. Turtle, even yet, pulls into his shell in shock some days and says he misses the man.
He didn't trust the internet, especially facebook, and would never have wanted me to mention his name for all the world to admire, so I'm not. God's admiration was enough for him and woe to the well-meaning soul who tried to give him open praise for his gifts and labors. Many a student who attended school on his scholarship never knew. Many a church family was helped financially, even at a time when there was little or no money left in his own bank account. He lived simply--no extravagance, no flashy, new equipment; the old would serve just as well for him. So he was able to give. Magnanimously. With great love he gave.
To his children and grandchildren and church family he left a fine example: How to live. How to die. His heart was right with God above; There was nothing to confess, nothing to amend. He died alone out under the Oklahoma spring sky--but as with all God's true children--
he was never really alone.