NOTE: This is a special blog entry from Joel B. Groat, the Coordinator Spanish Language Ministries for the Institute for Religious Research.
One year ago today IRR’s Executive Director and my colleague and friend of 19 years died suddenly, unexpectedly of heart failure. The last time we saw each other he hugged me goodbye—I had just returned from a ministry trip in Mexico and was off to a much needed vacation with my family to visit our daughter in Florida. Before I was to return home, Luke would be off to a three-week ministry trip in Madagascar. We jokingly said, “See you in a month,” neither of us dreaming that Luke would be eternally home three days before he was to leave for Madagascar.
Ten days ago I returned from three weeks in Madagascar. I thought about Luke often while I was there—it was supposed to be his trip. Those in the country who had worked closely with Luke for over a year setting up the trip still remembered the shock of hearing he would not be coming, and one year later they had questions about what had happened. As I shared with them and learned about the spiritual needs of this island country, it was clear this trip was much needed. And as people repeatedly thanked me for IRR’s ministry and the help we were providing to the churches in Madagascar, several times I thought, “Luke would be pleased with what we are accomplishing.”
In many ways, IRR’s ongoing ministry in Madagascar will be a fitting tribute to Luke’s work and vision, to his passion for truth, his heart to equip fellow pastors. He saw what was happening there—that counterfeit religions were growing, that they were subtly establishing a foothold, undermining the truth of the Gospel. Now, as a result of the trip that he envisioned, dozens of pastors, lay leaders, and seminary students are equipped to recognize false religion, teach their churches, and reach out to those who have been led astray. We also have an open door to mentor these leaders further and to provide them with the resources they need.
It’s sad to remember our loss, but there is joy in the memory also because today is not just the anniversary of Luke’s death. It is also the one-year anniversary of Luke’s reunion with his wife Bertha, who had died of leukemia a year and a half earlier. Luke missed her deeply, so theirs had to have been a happy reunion in heaven. I can just imagine Luke waking up in heaven a year ago, finding Bertha, reaching for her hand and saying, “C’mon, Peach, take me to see Jesus.”
So today when I think about Luke I remember that both he and his wife are experiencing what we can only imagine—eternal perfection and paradise. They will never know another lonely night, never feel the pain of relational disappointment or the hurt of an angry word. Nor will they ache for kind words left unspoken, a desired hug not given. They are now both out of sin’s reach, free of its taint. Their short time of faithfulness is now rewarded by an eternity of ecstasy, fulfillment, joy, peace, contentment, and love in the presence of the One who died to make it possible for them.
I guess if there is one longing they might have that goes unfulfilled, it is longing for the rest of us to join them, desiring we remain faithful to Jesus till the day we do. So, while those of us who are left do a few more laps down here, the great cloud of witnesses cheers us on. As I think of Luke and Bertha in that crowd, I find the sadness in my heart tempered by encouragement and joyous anticipation of what is yet to come, and I’m grateful that we do not grieve as others do who have no hope (I Thess. 4:13).