Guest blog by Peter R. Faulkner, the Director of North American Ministries for The Mailbox Club, Valdosta, GA. Peter is a long-time friend of Ray and Marlene and serves on the Board of Keep Believing Ministries.
My next door neighbor passed away on yesterday. He was 81 and was quite active and invigorating until about six weeks ago when he was diagnosed with pancreaitis. I'm not sure that was the cause of his death, but his time with us went quickly from the point of his diagnosis.
Bill loved working in his yard. Flowers and shrubs curtained his yard with beautiful splendor and color. He kept his grass about 2" tall and manicured tightly as the blades of grass stand at attention while the sidewalk meanders to different entrances (he did hire someone to keep it cut and pristene).
He was always puttering around in his yard after he returned from his office each day. He was in sales and had clients of the highest professional caliber. His company would not let him retire and I figured he would go the way of Bear Bryant if he ever quit. It seems he beat the grand ole' coach to the punch with his "early" passing.
Bill had a quick mind and a ready response to any comment you would make. His brain acted like it was 40 years of age. He had a ready smile. Yet, his arthritis turned his fingers, enlarged his knuckles and lumbered his step. He still puttered around the yard. It was interesting to see him get up from off of his knees at times.
When the mortuary came to pick up his body from his home on yesterday, it was a sobering sight. Some of us neighbors were sitting and standing on our porches engaging in light-hearted conversations, enjoying a breezy day of 75 degrees. Others were on the sidewalk talking with grand gestures. The street went silent. We realized that Bill had been really sick. Our spirit of optimism for his recovery was quickly dashed. We stood watching the men arrive in disbelief.
As we gathered our composure, quiet looks in each other's eyes took control. Then the questions started. What really took Bill from us? He had looked so good a few days ago, how and why so fast? And on they went.
As I saw the gurney exit the house, I saw his beautiful flowers in the foreground. Bill was leaving his second earthly love. His first was his wife.
I couldn't help but think of the grandeur of heaven that Bill had entered and the amazement he must be experiencing at it's awesome domain. What joy he must be experiencing.
As he was being taken to the vehicle, I made my way to the perennials in his front yard, plucked a stem with a beautiful blue bloom. I asked the men to wait as I approached Bill and laid the flower with him. My wife was on my heels with a small clipping of roses from a shrub in our back yard. It just seemed appropriate. Bill was a tender man. This was a tender moment.
My wife, Judy, and I had never done something like that before and don't expect to ever do it again. It was just the prompting of the moment that carried us. I have been a pastor for 25 years and things like that just don't seem appropriate. Yet, it was neat to be "human"; "off-duty"; responding naturally to the impulses in my heart. Some of the family members were quietly standing outside, along this path to the vehicle. There seemed to be an approval of this - with their silence.
We all talked for a few minutes and went our separate ways.
This morning, I looked out a window of our house which overlooks Bill's backyard. There were utensils, tools and equipment laying in various places in disarry - scattered around a concrete pad, waiting to be quickened from their rest to fulfill the purposes for which they were designed. Bill was in the middle of some projects and was taken away. They looked lonely out there and it seems strange that he won't be back to put them away. Who knows how long they will stay there? It doesn't matter to me. They remind me of him.
I visited Bill in the hospital on several occasions. He had a sense that his time was up, that he was not going to survive this illness. I've seen people communicate this way before through my ministry as a pastor. It is rare that I have seen a man speaks in these terms - it's usually the women, in my experience. And, when a woman says it, I assume they are right and act accordingly. None have been wrong yet.
With Bill, I passed it off. Men don't usually know what they're talking about anyway and I thought he was just overreacting to an unusual occurrence in his life. Was I ever wrong. Don't forget. He was 81 and by the time a man reaches that point in life he ought to know a little bit of something about himself. I regret having not respected his opinions more seriously.
In the hospital, I asked him questions. I wanted to learn about his relationship with Jesus Christ. He was confident in his faith, having accepted Christ as his Savior as a young man. He did not flintch with his comments and I didn't press further with my questions.
After he was discharged and resting in his room at home, I approached the subject again, anxious to hear the same answers I had heard days before and making sure that drugs had not influenced his thoughts before. Again, he was confident in his faith and was quite deliberate in his choice of words to explain his faith. I was gratified. It was a special time for both of us as he cried. He expressed thanks to me for asking.
Bill was active in his church. He was faithful to attend each week. He served in various leadership capacities to help it do its work. He showed upmost respect to his pastors - and to me, even though I had no spiritual authority over him. I appreciated his expressions of kindness through our 18 years of living beside each other.
As I think of Bill, I think of Keep Believing Ministries. This ministry is about the endeavor to encourage people like Bill to "keep believing". Bill's hope was in his God. He was settled in his heart about his relationship with Christ. The disblief I had in Bill's passing is consumed with the joy that Bill "believed". He is safe in the care of Jesus now and I are thankful.
KBM is about helping people to believe and to keep believing. Ray's books have become a phenomenal blessing to thousands, if not millions, of people around the world. Not only are they published in English, but in Chinese and soon in Spanish.
An Anchor for the Soul has had huge influence among those in critical need, following the disasters of 9-11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands of copies are being distributed in China as we write, being given as gifts to those who make purchases in various business establishments.
Ray's "e-sermons" have touched thousands of lives as people read and enlarge their understanding of the Scriptures, becoming ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them.
Ray is not in this for-profit. He has been giving all of this away. All of "this" actually means that he is giving "himself" away. As he does, Jesus Christ is glorified. The name of Jesus is being made bigger and better because of these efforts to communicate Christ around the world.
Continue to pray for Ray and Marlene. I am looking forward to God planting them in a substantial work of global proportions allowing them the opportunity to propel Christ's name even further. In the meantime, God will increase His blessing upon this meager effort to give all that we have to let the encouragement of Ray's faith to challenge us to do and be the same - and more - for those we know.
God bless you, Ray. May you know God's fulfillment in all that you do for Him. As we think about people like Bill, my next door neighbor, the sorrow and longings in our hearts are exchanged for joy and gladness as we know we will see them again one day in Glory!