While I'm sitting snug in my living room today, in another part of this county a man I know is living out the last hours of his life. For many years, I was in almost weekly contact with him of one sort or another. He was the middle school youth director when my youngest child was that age--and what stories she can tell of her time with him. Retreats, weekly (rambunctious) youth groups where he had the privilege and responsibility of tackling their hearts and hormones, managing their hyper-ness long enough for them to hear the Gospel. He managed it well enough that they lived to tell about it, lived to worship and adore the One of whom he spoke week in and week out (after they'd run off enough steam to sit and hear). The most startling (to them) retreat under his watch was an experience none of them will ever forget where he set them up in a field with very little food or shelter in order for them to get--really get--what being in the third world is actually like. . It was probably the most impressive act I've ever seen a youth director do to impact his kids. Some of them were changed, the others complained but none of them forgot.
During some of his tenure as the middle school youth director of that church, I was also the Youth elder, which meant our relationship extended beyond me simply being the parent of one of his kids. We met once a month to talk about his ministry, and it was then that his true heart was revealed to me. His true and noble heart. He is a man with a strong plumbline, if you understand that illusion. That is, he was always squaring himself to the gospel, always holding himself to the fire of Christ. Even with his quirky, dry sense of humor and (at least during those years) his uncertainty about what his future was meant to be, he knew one thing--he would serve Christ. And he would see to it that those with whom he was in relationship would also serve Christ.
So he held my feet to the fire at times as well. He did. I admit this. We didn't always agree about how the ministry should look. He's a strong person and so am I, but sometimes I got lazy about my responsibilities as elder--and he didn't like it. Not one bit. And though I felt uncomfortable when he called me on it (of course), it was the discomfort that comes because one hears the Spirit speaking through someone. That's what I'd hear through him during those times.
Twice during those years, I convinced him to go on our multi-generational mission trips to Uruapan, Mexico I was leading. By then he was stepping away from his time as youth director. But he answered the call willingly enough. He'd been to Mexico a dozen times before, I think. His Spanish was an asset. But more than his Spanish he was an asset. I knew he would be willing to do the most arduous relational work. Each year, he got stuck in a tent while most of us bunked inside a facility. He tented gladly--willing to do whatever would serve. He hung with the younger kids, or the squirrelly ones, pulled out his ministry hat and put it back on without missing a beat. I never had to worry about those kids I might otherwise have been pre-occupied with. That was his gift to us.
All this was years ago now. Though I'm still a 'Facebook friend' with him, I suppose it's been four years since we've had a real conversation. I'm sorry about that, especially because he's been in the fight of his life during the last four years. And now that fight is coming to an end.
One might say, in the world's parlance, that he's losing the fight he's been waging for so long now. But it doesn't really seem that way to me. Though the loss of him in this world will be inestimable to his family and friends (and I dare not mitigate it), for Phil, he is almost to the finish line. He has, as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 4: 7, "fought the great fight, finished the race, and kept the faith..." and now there is a crown of righteousness in store for him. I think of all the lives this man has touched, how he has extended the Kingdom by his words, his actions, his reaction to his illness. His very being has been about Jesus--through and through. So today, if this is his home-going, I know there's a welcome party with balloons and streamers and a giant cake, waiting for him to come walking into glory.