Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Tribute to My Friend

My friend John passed away a few days ago after a brief stay in a New Jersey hospital ICU, where he had been admitted with an infection overtaking his body. Early Saturday morning I decided to call John, not knowing he had already passed. His cell phone rang for a long time before it transferred over to a message center. I left him some words of encouragement.

“Hi John, this is Pastor Bob. Hope you’re doing well. We’re praying for you and looking forward to seeing you return home soon. I love you as a brother in Christ, continue to trust in the Lord and He will take good care of you.”

A few hours later, we received a call from his wife Joyce who told us the sad news. He had passed at about four in the morning. So much went through my thoughts following our difficult telephone conversation. It was like our lives as friends flashed before me.
John had served in Vietnam, returned home and had to deal with wartime scars. He could not drive a car and eventually needed a kidney transplant after years of dialysis.

Our lives as friends intersected about twenty years ago. I was on church staff as an associate pastor and Joyce was the church secretary. One day as I left the office to visit someone in the hospital, Joyce asked a favor. Even though John was not attending the church could I possibly find time to visit John at home? Of course, I would!

Later when I went to his house I had to get past his two dogs who immediately went into their crates upon John’s command. We talked for over an hour. He was emotional. He tried to explain his hurts related to church life, and then he would fall quiet with a look of sadness across his face. We bonded that day and a door opened for an invitation to church.

I invited him to attend church through “side-door” events such as game nights, senior adult lunches and other fun events. He eventually attended a service, committed himself to Jesus Christ and became a church goer. I was honored to have played a small part in that moment of decision.

Sixteen years ago, while on a men’s church retreat, John received a call that doctors had found a well-matched kidney for transplant. The Lord was faithful through the difficult recovery. It was a reminder that we serve a just-in-time Lord.

He was a co-laborer with me in the senior adult ministry. He took over the kitchen and prepared the lunches. He was faithful, encouraging and hard-working. I can still hear the clang of pots and pans as he meticulously prepared the menu.

He was an actor in the church musical productions. He usually played a disciple. At the enactment of the Last Supper he was the only disciple sitting on a bench while the rest of the cast kneeled. Not sure it was exactly biblical, but it was the only way John could get up on his feet. John played in every production I directed. I wanted him to feel he was indeed a valued member of the cast. He symbolized my desire for every church attendee to feel like they are part of the family of God.

Finally, he was a member of the church worship band where he played the conga drums. When he played, it felt like he was preparing himself to one day stand before the Lord like the mythical little drummer boy. He offered the best he could and said to the Christ child, “Shall I play for you on my drum.”

I was blessed to know John. Your legacy will not be forgotten. And I am glad we could spend time together this past summer.

Robert Parlante

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