“I’ll Rest in Heaven”

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Yesterday I wrote about a mentor, Bob Hayes. Today, I want to finish the story.

On 12 August 1998, I arrived in Addis Ababa for the first of what would be several visits. I had been invited by Pastor Berhanu Yosef of the Bible Baptist Church to conduct a week of teaching on 1 John. I had never met Berhanu but Bob Hayes, who knew this brother, had recommended me to him for this ministry. Bob told both of us that he thought perhaps our churches could forge a relationship. (In fact, this happened, for a few years later our church would send Francois Koch and his family to work alongside Berhanu.)

When I arrived, Berhanu and another pastor met me at the airport and took me to my lodging. When we entered my room, they soberly asked me to sit down and said they had bad news. They handed me an email and I quickly noted it was from Jill. Her words were tender but they could not ease the pain as I read: “Dear Doug, my dad just phoned to tell me that Bob Hayes, his daughter Sarah and son John were killed this morning in a car accident in Ghana.” I couldn’t believe it. Bob had only recently preached at BBC, even though half his body had been paralysed by a stroke a year earlier. (I’ll never forget how powerfully he preached that evening, while I was terrified that he would fall off the platform. Truly God’s strength was manifested in Bob’s physical weakness.)

Bob had been visiting his 41-year-old daughter, Sarah, and his 39-year-old son, John, who were carrying on the ministry in the land where they had been raised. As Sarah and John drove Bob to Accra for a flight back to the States, a semi-truck hit them head-on, killing Bob and Sarah instantly. John would die about six hours later. A widowed mother would bury her entire family in a week’s time. It made no sense. It still doesn’t. But to God it does, and so we say, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Bob had often spoken to me about his dream of his son and I one day pastoring together. He thought that perhaps we both would return to the States and co-pastor a missions-hearted local church. I only knew John as an acquaintance, but having known Bob, I thought, “That might work.” But God had other plans. I would outlive John, so far by twenty-two years, and neither the desire nor the prospect of going back to the States would materialise. But I would end up pastoring a missions-hearted local church: Brackenhurst Baptist Church.

When those three bodies were buried, headstones were placed at each grave. The one for John read, “I’ll rest in heaven.” Apparently John was a tireless servant of the Lord who occasionally needed to be admonished to “come apart awhile.” The headstone recorded his usual refrain. I have little doubt that John took times of rest (see yesterday’s devotional). Nevertheless, he also understood that there was a ministry to fulfil and so he aimed to fulfil it.

John’s life was not cut short, as we often say. Rather, as Psalm 139 reminds us, he fulfilled the days appointed to him (v. 16). His death was on time and, thankfully, when he was alive, he didn’t waste his time.

This is the kind of life I want to live. I want to seek first what Jesus tells me to seek: his kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). I want to work now for the night is coming when I will not be able to work (John 9:4). I don’t want to waste time pursuing things and leisure and retirement and comfort. Well, actually, I often do want to pursue those things. But these times are helping me to re-focus, to re-prioritise, and, I trust, to re-shape my value system. More than ever I want to work on setting my mind “on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-3). As I do, I know I will get tired, and I will need to come apart for a while. And then, having being refuelled, I need to head back into the work with the mindset, “I’ll rest in heaven.”

Re-focusing with you,

Doug