Have you ever come across something, or been given something, whether a photo or recording or something written, that has taken you back in time, and stirred up something in you that was either forgotten or dormant, just waiting to be remembered? That happened to me recently when my long-time friend Alan Hlavka, who was one of my fellow pastors in the early years of Good Shepherd Community Church in Boring (yes, that’s the real name of the town), Oregon, came across this while rereading a journal entry he’d written nearly 34 years ago:
Wednesday, January 13, 1988 Journal Entry
This last Monday night, Randy, [my wife] Theda, and I visited Garland Gabbert [one of the original elders of our church] at Kaiser Sunnyside Hospital. For several days Garland had been having a rough time, and he was scheduled to begin kidney dialysis the next morning. As it turned out, Garland began feeling better the next day, so they felt he didn’t need to begin dialysis yet.
It was obvious when we were there that Garland had weakened a great deal. Some thinning had taken place, a cough that seemed to sap his strength, and a general weakness with periodic disorientation.
However, the visit was a clear and obvious encouragement to Garland and a deep and powerful time for us. His view of life is so different from ours. He seems to have a different “set of lenses” than the rest of us. He’s looking at the same things we are, but he’s seeing it in a completely different way than I am.
He commented, “I can’t get out of my mind the morning the children stood on the platform during the Christmas season. Hundreds of kids, and each one has a soul, and Jesus Christ died for each of them. They are our responsibility, and we can’t let any of them slip away. In years past we’ve let some of them slip through our fingers, but we can’t let them slip away.”
As we left, I commented to Randy and Theda, “So much for ‘maintenance ministries.’” I.e. properly viewed, there is no such thing as a “maintenance ministry” if souls are considered, valued, nurtured.
Garland also said, “Randy, I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately. I’ve been praying about your upcoming trip. The trip is going to be so valuable for your children.”
Garland has a silent moment of eye contact with Theda. There was a twinkle in both their eyes, and a strong smile of “I love you” sent both ways.
Randy read Psalm 139, and Psalm 34. We prayed and sang “Great Is Thy Faithfulness.”
What memories Alan’s words bring back! That visit was just two months before our family missionary trip, hence Garland’s reference to our children. His words were prophetic, I have always believed that those two months visiting our missionaries in five countries were life-changing for our girls and us. Garland’s heart for children was so strong. May we as Christ followers have that heart here and now.
I searched for what I’d written about Garland in my books. In one of them I said this:
The light of Christ, shining through others, can bring us great joy and gladness.
Jesus said that John the Baptist was “a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light” (John 5:35). The New Century Version says, “You were happy to enjoy his light for a while.”
My high school friend Greg Coffey, who came to Christ at seventeen, shone with a great light and then died two years later. The five young missionary martyrs who were murdered in Ecuador in 1956 were bright lights for Christ, along with their wives, who survived them. God used these Christ-followers to draw thousands of young people into missions.
I also think of Garland Gabbert, Cal Hess, Jim Spinks, and Tom Lyman—older men in our church who drew me and many others closer to Christ through their light. Rather than having hearts that shriveled as they grew older, they became more loving and ministry minded. May we all draw our light and joy from Jesus so that it’s never extinguished, any more than he can be.
And then, dear Leona Bryant, another shining light in our church. I will never forget my final time with her before speaking at her memorial service. Her joy in anticipating being with Christ was so palpable and so real. It wasn’t because she thought that was what she should believe. It was a supernatural certainty about the blood-bought promises of Jesus. She knew where she was going, and despite having to leave her family, including her young son Joe, she couldn’t wait to get there.
Here’s what I wrote that same year, 1988, in my book Money, Possessions and Eternity:
When my friend Leona Bryant discovered she had only a short time to live, she told me of radical changes in her perspective. “The most striking thing that’s happened,” she said, “is that I find myself totally uninterested in all the conversations about material things. Things used to matter to me, but now I find my thoughts are never on possessions, but always on Christ and people. I consider it a privilege that I can live each day, knowing I will die soon. What a difference it makes!”
Recently another dying friend told me with a smile, “I don’t buy jumbo shampoo like I used to. I don’t even buy green bananas.” She knew where she was going. And she knew she wouldn’t be here much longer. Neither will we.
David prayed, “Show me, O Lord, my life’s end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Each man’s life is but a breath. Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:4-7)