Death of A Missionary

EDITED – If you are interested in helping this family, a GoFundMe account has been set up. Click HERE.

When we departed for Liberia, West Africa in 2012, we had an understanding of the risks. Our family was moving to an area that was 3-hour drive from any other missionaries. We would be living in an old mission house that sat on a hill that was considered to the “Devil’s Hill” due to wicked practices that took place before the first missionaries arrived. Nobody else would live on the hill and many of the villagers would avoid it, especially at night.

To make matters worse, we lived in the heart of what had been rebel-held territory during a very brutal 14-year civil war. The war claimed the lives of approximately 10% of the population of Liberia. The ramifications of that war, which ended around 2004, are still being felt today. Violence and vulgarity were constant reminders of what surrounded us, and ex-rebel soldiers surrounded us on every trip into town.

Our plan involved spending 4-5 years in the jungle training pastors and starting churches. However, that was cut short when one of my 6 year old daughters and I became deathly ill. There were nights that we thought she would not make it until morning and times like that really make you consider your priorities. A few days later, I spent my first night in a mission clinic being tended to in highly unsanitary conditions. As my fever and delirium grew, I would learn later that another pastor had entered the clinic the same day with the same symptoms. Three days later his wife and family buried him.

Less than three months later, I was diagnosed a second time with a completely different strain of both typhoid and malaria. Much of the time is but a dark cloud over my mind, but I remember the times of pain. The chief physician at the Firestone Plantation hospital informed me that my immune system was shot and I needed to get out of the country. If I did not, my next time would probably be my last.

Heartbroken, we began to make the arrangements to return to the USA. I was leaving behind what I loved, but I still could not help but wonder why I had lived when others had died.

The following year, a severe epidemic of Ebola broke out in the area of villages where we lived and thousands died. During that epidemic, I lost some pastor friends and their wives to the disease.

Since then, I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of the missions world, and the news that I read yesterday brought some painful memories to my mind.

The day started with an email from one of the brothers I trained in Liberia. We had been praying for God’s will to be done in regards to the health of Pastor Harrison Margai. He was the pastor of a brand new church that had been planted in an unreached village. The email informed me that this man had closed his eyes in death and left a wife and children.

Later that day, I read the news of what took place with another missionary in Cameroon, West Africa.

Charles Wesco, a Baptist missionary from Indiana, had surrendered his life to serve the Lord. In particular, he and his wife believed they had been called to minister in the country of Cameroon. After raising funds, they departed just over 2 weeks ago and began the process of settling into their new home with their eight young children.

Yesterday, another missionary was taking this man into town for some supplies. A situation erupted between a separatist faction and Cameroonian soldiers. In the crossfire, a “stray” bullet crashed through a car window and entered the head of Charles Wesco.

In a matter of minutes, this man who loved the Lord went out into eternity. Immediately, the news erupted along with the comments. I read several that were hateful, but some extended sympathy. I finally had to stop as the comments began to infuriate me.

The bottom line is not that this man gave his life needlessly. The bottom line is that God is and always will be sovereign. For reasons that may never be understood, this brother in Christ never planted a church, nor saw a Bible Training institute started in Cameroon. This family is devastated as they face a new life. Soon, they will return back to the US and will try to pick up the pieces. Questions will be asked, and many will never be answered.

Today, many hearts are breaking and while I have connections with others who knew this family, I did not ever have the privilege of meeting them myself. However, I know that one day I will, but before that day comes, this brother has already gone to his reward. He was welcomed with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We could ask, why, why, why, but it would do no good. There is nothing wrong with seeking the face of God and asking Him for understanding. Where we tend to go wrong though is when we want to question His sovereign purposes. We cannot find fault with the Almighty, but we can learn to trust in His grace and mercy.

In a village close to where we lived in England, there is a cemetery. In the cemetery, a tombstone tells the brief story of a young pastor who lost his infant son and his wife. In the tragedy, this man had inscribed the following words on the tombstone.

“We cannot Lord, Thy purpose see,
But all is well, that’s done by Thee.”

Through what is a tragedy to human eyes, we pray for strength and extreme comfort to be provided to this dear sister, their eight young children, and extended family, friends, and church members.

For those who know the Lord, the Bible is clear that when we become absent from this body, we are forever present with the Lord. The apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and told them to not only find comfort in these thoughts, but to comfort others as well.

May His will be done and may all find peace through this time of turmoil. Our prayers also go out for the people of Cameroon that they will one day learn of the Prince of Peace, who alone brings salvation.

The Death of Mr. Hof

Dennis Hof is dead. Many people do not know the man, but his life of vulgarity and degradation have destroyed many homes for many years. You see, Dennis Hof ran several houses of prostitution in the state of Nevada. One of the many stunts that the man offered was for veterans returning from war to give him a call. He would extend the red carpet to anybody who wanted to come to one of his businesses and treat them royalty.

In this life, we never know whose life we will touch and almost seven years to the month, this man and I met in September 2011. I was a funeral director working in Carson City, Nevada. I also served as the chaplain for anybody who did not have a minister.

One day, we received a call to collect the remains of a man who had worked on the staff of one of Mr. Hof’s houses of prostitution. The wife came to the funeral home to make the arrangements. In the process, she asked if I knew somebody who could preach the man’s funeral and I told her that I would be willing to do so.

She asked what kind of message I would preach and how I conducted funerals. I told her that I pulled no punches. I said, “Ma’am, I am a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ first. Second, I will not allow anybody to dictate to me what I should or should not preach, even at a funeral. Third, I do not preach anybody into heaven or hell for I do not the condition of their heart. However, I will preach the truth and I always give a gospel message.”

We completed the arrangements and she stood to leave. I could tell something was bothering her and asked if there was anything else I could do.Before she left, she turned to me and said, “I am so glad I came here. There are not many who would be willing to preach my husband’s funeral, and if they would be willing, then they would not preach the truth.”

I thanked her for her time and she left the building. In just a minute though, she came back in.

“Mark, there is something else you need to know. I do not know all that my husband did at Mr. Hof’s business, but you need to know that he and several of his ladies will be at the funeral.”

At the time, I had no clue who Mr. Hof was and it did not matter to me whether he was connected to the prostitution business or not. I told this man’s wife that I would still teach the truth. She thanked me and then left. I would not see her before the funeral.

The owner of the funeral home received a few phone calls and a couple of individuals who came to inform the staff that “Mr. Dennis Hof will be attending the funeral.” The police even came to ensure us that they would be providing additional security.

The day of the funeral arrived and the funeral home chapel was packed. There were people lining every aisle and even into the side rooms listening in. The only exception to the seats being full were six or seven seats across one side at the very front and two very imposing men stood with very dark sunglasses keeping people from taking the seats.

A few minutes after the funeral was supposed to start, I had still not been given the ok to start and the front seats were still empty. A ripple of words began to filter through the assembled crowds and somebody whispered to the man’s wife. She stood and walked up to me. Leaning down she whispered, “Mr. Hof has arrived.”

I nodded that I understood and waited. In a couple of minutes, the main doors opened and 4 or 5 women dressed extremely provacatively pranced down the center of the chapel and found their seats. They were followed by a woman dressed all in black and a large man that I knew must be Mr. Hof. Coming down the center aisle, he stopped to greet several people, shook several hands, and finally took a seat right on the front row.

Looking over at me, he said, “Hey preacher-man, you can get started now.”

Several people chuckled and I knew that the service was not going to get any easier. A tradition in Nevada that is not found everywhere is allowing people to stand and offer their condolences or to share an anecdote of the person’s life. This was scheduled to take place at the very end of the service.

Praying for wisdom, I started the service. The family had selected some songs and one of the man’s daughters read a brief eulogy. When I stood to deliver the message, I knew that what I had to say needed to be said last, so I asked for friends and family to share any thoughts.

Several things that were shared are not printable and perfectly described the debauched life that the deceased must have lived. The brothel madam (Mr. Hof’s other half) stood and gave a raunchy anecdote about the man and then Mr. Hof stood to speak. He wasted no time trying to make everybody laugh and more than a few grew extremely embarrassed at what was shared.

He finally wound down and looked at me with a smirk. “I guess it is time to hear the preacher-man with the few minutes we have left.” Sitting down, he crossed his arms and stared at me.

Standing to my feet, I began.

“Thank you for your attendance today and despite the length of time that has been taken, the wife of the deceased asked me to preach a message. I will share this in its entirety.”

If looks could kill, the entire front row would have been in attendance at a second funeral.

“The Bible tells us clearly in Hebrews 9 that once a person passes away, there is a judgment which will follow.”

Over the next 30 minutes, I followed the pattern of the apostle Paul in preaching to Agrippa in the Book of Acts. God gave me the strength to preach sin, righteousness, and the coming judgment.

On the front row and possibly for the first and only time in his life, Mr. Hof and his ladies heard the truth. They heard that judgment was real and that everyone will face it at the moment of death. However, they also heard that God is merciful to those who call upon Him and repent and turn away from their sins. As I closed, I appealed to each person who was in attendance.

I looked each one of those women and Mr. Hof in the eyes as I scanned the room. In my concluding remarks, I told them that I stood ready to answer any questions they may have, but that they could not walk away and think they could make a mockery of God because ONLY the fool says in his or her heart that there is no God.

As I did in every funeral I preached (a total of 271 over 8 years), I said something like this.

“I do not know where the deceased stood before God. However, if they could return for just one more minute of life, they would implore you to make things right with God. They would tell you that heaven and hell are real. They would tell you to not put off the reality of eternity for all of us will face it the moment we cross from death into the life after.”

Mr. Hof was furious and I honestly wondered if he was going to say anything else or come to the front and accost me in some way.

I gave a final prayer and dismissed everybody. Most ignored me on the way out including most of the women from Mr. Hof’s ranch. However, one of the women stopped as if she was going to say something. Her face was a wreck from tears that ran freely down her face. She turned to walk away as Mr. Hof walked up behind her.

“Ma’am, is there anything I can do for you?”

She turned back and said with sobs, “I heard you speak the truth today, but I am not sure that I can change now. Please pray for me!”

I put out my hand and shook Mr. Hof’s hand. I told him that I would be praying that he would know the truth that I preached. He only glared at me and didn’t say another word to me. He turned on his heel and left just as the wife of the deceased walked up to me and gave me a hug.

“I know Mr. Hof is very angry right now, but I want to tell you that I am so glad you were the one preaching. Thank you for sharing the gospel. My husband was not a believer and things were not good for us the last few years after he took the job. However, I can say that all of these people needed to hear what you said.”

I told her again that I would be praying for them and with that everybody was gone. I have never forgotten the events of that day, nor have I forgotten each person that I personally interacted with that day. A man had gone into eternity and I had been granted the privilege of preaching as a dying man to dying men.

From all the news reports today, Mr. Hof died in the midst of enjoying his sin and his debauched life. Now, he faces the God of all creation and I could not help but wonder if he has ever remembered the words that I preached that day back in 2011.

Sin brings judgment and now he faces judgment alone without any of the women he sought to keep entrapped in a life of destruction. I do not rejoice in the death of this man, but pity those he left behind. I have sorrow for those he has destroyed.

Tomorrow, his family and friends will be making final arrangements for the earthly remains of Mr. Dennis Hof, but eternity has already started for his man.

Here now the Word of the Lord God –

“For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD; so turn, and live.” – Ezekiel 18:32

This is still the only message to be preached to unbelievers. TURN AND LIVE!

The Winter of Death

Yesterday, I was able to enjoy probably the last of the nice weather we will have in Wyoming until Spring 2019. Today, the temperature is 39F and the weather forecast is snow sometime over the weekend. That is part of the territory though when you live at an altitude of over 6,000 feet.

I spent about an hour riding through town on my bicycle getting some exercise. On my trip, I took a different route than normal. Stopping for a quick break, I waited for one of my sons to join me from a different area of town.

Without taking time to think about it, I had stopped directly outside a funeral home. While sitting on my bike, I contemplated my time as a funeral director and all that work entailed. I enjoyed my time serving families, but there were also difficult times.

A common thread for each family was the comment, “They died way too early.” Sadly, this did come from families mourning the loss of a baby or a child, but was heard equally from families who were burying a relative who had lived to see 80, 90, or even 100 years of age.

Leaving the funeral home, I swung through a neighborhood and rode right past the city cemetery. I was riding slow enough that I was able to read several of the tombstones. Each was inscribed with words of love and sorrow, and every single grave told its own story.

Both the funeral home and the massive cemetery were a stark reminder that death is coming. The Bible reminds us in Hebrews 9:27, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” Whether we choose to face the reality of death or we try to avoid every aspect of death, we can no more avoid death than you can avoid the coming of winter.

For the believer though, there should be no fear. Some fear death like they fear the coming of winter. They may fear the dreaded cold, or having to deal with snow, or a host of other concerns.

When our soul leaves our body, we will immediately be with the Lord. To be absent from the body is not a drudge, but is a promotion to heaven. Leaving these worn-out shells behind will be just one aspect of the glory that awaits, but more importantly, we will also leave behind pain, sin, tears, and the sting of death.

Jesus Christ reminds us in John 14:1, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” Then the apostle Paul concludes in Phil 1:21, “For to me to live is Christ, but to die is gain.”

Look up, dear friends, for our redemption draws nigh. We need not fear the winter of death for death and the grave has been swallowed up because of the victory found in Jesus Christ alone.

The Best and Worst of Times

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…”

The words of Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, were written in 1859. This well-known start to a fiction book was 160 years ahead of its time, and should be republished as a work of non-fiction.

Each generation can only imagine what life was like to previous generations or centuries of human life and culture. The statement “in the good ol’ days” is trite at best and disingenuous at worst.

I highly doubt that many would really desire to go back to the days of sharecropping, or child labor, or segregation, or lack of human rights. So, what is it that is actually meant when people speak of those days of yesteryear?

Too often, the “good ol’ days” are helped along with whimsical movies like Bing Crosby in “White Christmas”, Judy Garland in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” or Michael J Fox in “Back to the Future” or a host of other movies portraying a false reality of what life was like. Life was not easy and EVERY generation has faced difficult times.

For example, my British grandparents easily remembered what life was like during World War II and the years of food rationing. Years of being forced to plant your own garden, or raise rabbits for meat, or riding a bike to work because there was no gas/petrol for average civilians. I never heard either of them wish they could return to those days.

My parents were born in two different countries and raised on two different continents. Their lives were not easy and I rarely ever heard stories from their growing up years. They met during the days of the Vietnam War, married, and started a family. Segregation was still a reality, war demonstrations were an every week occurrence, governments were in a shambles, and troops were dying by the hundreds. I never heard either of them wish they could return to those days.

During my early years, I remember eating the same meal over and over because we did not have much. Going to a restaurant was a once-a-year treat on your birthday and gifts around the Christmas tree were normally slim pickings until the box arrived from a grandmother who always added a book, British chocolates, a hand-knitted sweater, and a few other items. Both parents had to work doing something in order to feed and clothe us, but they never complained.

Today, I have five children. Three are adults, while two are still at home. I also have a grandson. I do not want them to have to go through what my wife and I faced in our growing up years, or even in the early years of our marriage, but that does not mean that I fear what the future holds.

classic-quote

The news media hourly projects the stark naked truth of Dicken’s words. 2018 is the best of times, but it is also the worst of times. 2018 is the age of wisdom, but it is also the age of great foolishness. 2018 is the epoch of belief, but it is sadly also the epoch of incredulity.

How have we arrived at this juncture in human history? It is certain that we cannot go back to the “good ol’ days” and even if we could we would have a harsh lesson to learn. We are exactly where we are supposed to be. We must take the opportunity to face the times we are in with an equal measure of faith and understanding.

The Bible reminds us “faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” My faith gives me courage to face each new day. I cannot fear what I do not know will happen for there is no certainty of a new day. Tomorrow, my family could be planning my funeral and I will have given my day over to fears that did not come to fruition. My faith reminds me that there is only One Person who knows the future and how all things will transpire. This is where understanding comes into the picture.

My understanding of human history is predicated on the truth that all that mankind has accomplished is built on the back of all who have gone before. I recognize that there have been some very dismal times in human history where murder, mayhem, war, and disease were a daily part of one’s existence. I am thankful I do not live in one of those eras. I also understand that we can learn from our mistakes and we can teach our children to rise up and strive to do better than we did. We cannot make them do this, but the way history will play out for them can be changed for it has not yet arrived. The 21st century is not certain as to how politics, society, or culture will be represented in the history books of the future.

What we see today is a reflection of what Dickens saw as he continued, “It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us…”

My prayer is that we will not give up hope, for we know the God who holds the future. That hope gives me encouragement and does not leave me in the winter of despair. With that hope, I know that I yet have everything before me as compared to those who have nothing before them.

“Only one life. It will soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Missing in the Church

Leonard Ravenhill is the type of preacher that is needed today. Yet, many places no longer have times of prayer. Churches are kept afloat by sermonettes or entertainment, not because of the clear message of the Gospel. The Gospel is all about Jesus Christ, and not about what we bring to the equation.

May God daily, even hourly, bring His holiness to our attention so that we will humble ourselves before Him. If we are ever to see revival, which we desperately need in this day and hour, we must get back to the basics.

The Wonder of the Mirror

mirror

Things are not always as they appear. Sometimes, appearances can be very deceiving. That was true the day the knock came on the mirror and the horror that came with realizing that somebody would have to answer.

The preceding days held nothing ominous. If there had been an inkling of an idea that something was amiss, then I would have done everything in my power to prevent things from happening. But then again, in hindsight, I am not sure that I would. Changing the inevitable does not always bring a modicum of joy or happiness. Getting our way would actually be a miserable existence.

The actual morning dawned. As usual, it was beautiful. The sun rose around the world, but by nightfall things would be very different. The problem was that I knew about the mirror but I was too young and naïve to think that it could ever affect me.

Preparing for work, I began to feel some odd twinges, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Opening the door, I said goodbye to the family but was stopped when the phone rang. It was not unexpected and I was in no hurry, so I answered. In my mind, I think I knew before I responded, but the mirror glared back at me. I dropped my gaze first as I listened to the voice on the other end.

“Hello, I need you to meet me at the hospital. There is nothing to worry about, but I would be quick just in case.”

To this day, I cannot remember whether I responded in a courteous fashion or not. The caller informed me though that they would be there waiting for me. What I can recall is exceeding the speed limit on several major roads. A trip that should have taken about 15 minutes, I made in less than 10 with change to spare.

Only one ambulance was in the bay as I ran through the doors marked EMERGENCY. All decorum was absent as I blindly stumbled to the nurse’s station. As I approached the desk, one of my senses did not fail me. My hearing has always been excellent and today was no exception.

I introduced myself to the nurses and I noticed them looking oddly at each other when I gave my name. One of them stood to her feet and asked me to come and wait for the doctor to finish. As soon as he was free, he would come and let me know what was happening. Sitting down in the waiting room, nothing seemed out of the ordinary except for the mirrored glass that covered almost one entire wall.

After what seemed like an eternity, I grew impatient. Standing to my feet, I opened the door of the waiting room and went back to the nurses’ station.

“Hi, I am sure the doctor is busy, but I would really like some information. May I just go back to the examination room?”

“Sir, we just got word from the doctor and he said he should be up to speak with you in just a matter of minutes. Please wait for him in the room.”

Walking slowly back to the room, I opened the door and stepped in. Closing it back behind me, something back to nag at me as I stared at my dim reflection in the mirrored glass.

When time stands still, it is impossible to give an accurate description of a timeline. In my case, the next few minutes took another eternity while I pondered my location. As soon as my mind went through a myriad of possible computations, I came to a stark conclusion.

First, there was nobody in the room with me. There were always people in the Emergency Room. Not but a couple of weeks before, I had brought one of my children to the same hospital because they had fallen out of bed and split their head open requiring stitches.

Second, this waiting room had a door on it and while I had seen several people walk by who were not staff members, nobody had entered my waiting room.

Third, just as my brain realized that I was clearly in the wrong room, the doctor entered with another individual by his side. It was an older woman and she did not have a lab coat on. In fact, the only thing that I could focus on was the lapels of her jacket. Both lapels held a small, almost inconspicuous piece of jewelry that had been fashioned in the shape of a cross.

The doctor sat down at my left hand and the woman with the emblem on her lapels sat immediately to my right. Neither of them sat back in leisure, but were on the edge of their seats looking at me.

The room began to spin and I realized that my heart was not prepared for what the doctor began to say.

“Sir, I am sorry, but there was nothing we could do! We tried everything, but your brother is gone!”

That beautiful morning turned black. I knew that a knock from the other side of eternity had taken my brother from what C.S. Lewis called the Shadowlands of earth into the brightness of heaven where there is no night, no tears, and no death.

Each taking a hand, they walked me back to the exam room. My heart still aches as I remember looking down on the still face of my 22 year old brother, John. The pictures will always be in my mind of that day along with the torture of the funeral preparations. He was my best friend. No friends, no co-workers, and no family had yet joined me, and I felt more alone than I have done at just about any other point in my life.

Unbeknownst to us, he had developed a virus in his heart. Less than a year after getting out of the military with a clean bill of health, his heart had simply exploded. We later learned the EMTs were already in the building just about six or seven steps away. Ironically, they had taken over helping a lady who was having an angina attack.

The only first aid certified individual in her office had been my brother. Giving the care over to the EMT staff, he had turned and walked over to his desk, sat down, and fallen over dead.

Somehow, I managed to go back to my home. It was my responsibility to bear the brunt of the emotions as I called my parents who lived overseas. I called my brothers and sisters and informed them in different parts of the country, but nothing would change the fact that eternity had come calling for my brother, and he had answered.

I would have to say that I would not want him to have to come back to this world of misery and woe. The land where he lives is a land beyond compare and he did not have to grow old while dealing with sickness and pain. As I look from this side of the mirror, I realize that there are shadows on the other side. At my age, they are growing closer now than they were 23 years ago when my brother was called.

Sadly, we can only see glimpses every now and then of the joys that lie beyond this mortal pale. One day, we too will hear a clear, distinct knock. However, when the knock comes for us, it will actually open and the door will be a welcome intrusion. For those we leave behind, they will mourn, but one day, they will be able to join us on the other side. We will see clearly and realize that our journey was designed to take us from the shadows into the most incredible clarity that we cannot currently imagine.

The thought of seeing what is on the other side is not as scary as it was 10, 20, or 30 years ago. There are times the unknown reflects back to us in ways we cannot comprehend. We know there is something there, but all we see is our own reflection. For now I must go, but I am trying to prepare harder for the knock on the mirror. Whether I like it or not, it is coming. I will be ready.

1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…”(ESV)