Last night, I took a break from writing... or rather wishing I were writing... my new screenplay, and drove a couple hours to attend my brother's retirement party. It's a surprising sensation of being run over by life to realize that those old men who had attended my father's retirement party years before are now my age. I haven't aged any, but that gnarly guy looking back from the mirror is hardly recognizable. And my brother (much older brother) is now the honored retiree as he steps down from the pulpit of the church where he served the past 9 years. Those years were the capstone on decades of ministry which began with a teaching and administration gig as headmaster of the Rhusitu Bible Institute in Zimbabwe, and circled through the New York City Rescue Mission where he was on duty the day the trade towers fell. Several churches, Bible Colleges, and other odd jobs later, he landed at the little church in Siloam Springs whose crowded parking lot I turned into last night. I sat for a second after the motor stopped. This was where his oldest daughter attended church while in college. He had to leave her behind when he left for Africa. He spoke of going to church with her one Sunday and saying to himself, "I would love to be the pastor of a church just like this." His wife Judy dreamt of being a pastor's wife as Dave finished that last year at seminary. She could already image the ladies ministries, teas, prayer luncheons, and living room Bible studies. Instead, her husband responded to God's call to remote, rural, tribal Africa. So, she went to Africa. Quietly. Even joyfully. And was a tremendous asset to that fledgling ministry which is today training pastors nationwide and operating all by itself with African leadership and support. But tonight, she was to be thanked for those very teas, prayer luncheons, women's ministries, home Bible studies, and so much more by these Siloam Springs sisters. And Dave is retiring from the exact job he had dreamed about all those years before. "Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart."
The praise and accolades washed over my brother and his bride all night. It was a stunning thing to witness the love, admiration, and gratitude these wonderful folks felt toward my big brother. Of the things most appreciated, the most often repeated was his faithfulness to "preach the Word" as Paul's admonition to Timothy behind his desk had declared all these years. As I sat there full of pot luck roast beef and countless other delicasies, I thought back to my Dad's retirement party. I remembered hearing the same words: "honesty, humility, transparency, example, sincerity, faithful friend, godly, quick to admit mistakes - even if they were not his - and seek forgiveness," themes repeated by speaker after speaker. Then a lady not listed on the program stood in the back of the room and spoke through choking tears. She had come expecting a roast - a review of most embarrassing moments, misstatements, and bad choices - but had heard nothing of the sort. Furthermore, as she thought back over the years of her own experience with her pastor and his wife, she too remembered nothing negative. Amazing. Especially since that exact thing happened at my dad's retirement 52 years earlier at the Sun Oil Refinery in Toledo, Ohio.
What I witnessed last night was more than the eternal fruit grown from a life of putting God before self, but also the legacy of a godly man being passed down to his children. I drove away from that little church very full. I was full of lovingly prepared and delicious food, full of joyful gratitude for God's blessings in my brother's life, and full of a sense of responsibility to spend what tomorrows I have left following my brother's example, who followed my dad, who followed Christ. Thanks, Dave.