John McKay (1943-2010) My South African Friend in the Ministry

“He praised the Lord-then went to Heaven!  PASTOR DIED IN A PULPIT!” This front page headline was printed in the Daily Sun, the largest daily newspaper in South Africa.
Pastor John McKay had entered the pulpit to preach on a January morning in 2010. He had introduced his topic as “The Sermon that Must be Preached”.. After the introduction, he entered into the presence of his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Two days later, I would hear the news about death of my friend, John McKay. He was sixty-six years old. Six weeks after John’s death, I would serve the Lord’s Supper and preach the Word of God at the Maraisburg Family Fellowship Church, which John McKay had started several years ago. I enjoyed the time with his family and church; yet John was greatly missed in my visit there.

I had met John McKay in 1983. Sharon and I had recently arrived to minister in a church in Hillbrow, Johannesburg.  I had a desire to start an Awana youth program in the church.   At the time, The Evangelical Bible Church of Bosmont had an Awana program. I decided to visit their Awana club. Their Awana Club was impressive, but I also met their pastor, John McKay. His love for the Lord and the Word of God was very clear to me. From this first meeting, our friendship grew rapidly.

God used John McKay in my life in many ways. One blessing was that he introduced me to several other pastors who were like-minded in the faith. We would gather each week for a Bible study and then a meal. I found these times of fellowship extremely helpful. Even to this day, I have never enjoyed being with a group of pastors as much as I did with these South African pastors.

John McKay also came to my rescue in a very difficult time in my ministry. In 1987, our family planned to return to the States to fulfill our furlough responsibility of visiting our supporting churches. A recent Bible College graduate had agreed to minister in the church for the year I was away. Two weeks before we left, he said he was unable to  minister in our church. John came to my rescue as he assured me that he would oversee the church.  I  scheduled many of our pastor friends to preach as well. John did a great job of caring for our people. The church was ready for its next growth spurt when I returned. His help was a very sacrificial gift because he had his own church as well.

John was also a blessing when he invited our church to have joint baptismal services with his church. Our people in Hillbrow always looked forward to these joint services. The singing at the Bosmont church was very uplifting for our people. John and I would baptize each person together. These services created an even closer bond in our friendship.

John McKay and I doing a joint baptismal service.

In 1990, we would leave South Africa to minister in Portugal. In 1996, we returned to the States to minister. During those years, John and I didn’t do much communication with one another.   In 1999, Sharon and I visited South Africa. We were glad to renew our friendship with John and his family. At this time, John and I participated in the ordination council for Grant Hoyland, whom God greatly used in the Hillbrow church until his death three years later.

This is at the Farewell Dinner for us in 1990

John made his first visit to see us in June of 2003. This was a difficult time in my life. My mother was in the hospital living out the last couple weeks of her life.  John went with me on the one hundred sixty kilometer trip to visit my mother. It was an encouragement to have my friend with me for several days during this very trying time. Our church in Charlotte also enjoyed hearing John preach.

The last time, I would see John was in 2005. He invited me to preach a series of messages at his church. John was excited because his church had been able to purchase their own church building. I remember his joy as he showed me each part of the church. Little did I know that this trip would be the last time I would see him.

In the Daily Sun article, John’s son, Marlin (who is presently the pastor of the Maraisburg Family Fellowship Church) said these words. “My father wanted me to become a pastor…but it gives me goosebumps to think that I could fill his shoes.  He was an incredible man–we will miss him.  It (John’s death) was not a mistake that God took him.”

Yes, John is with the Lord. He is not only missed by his family, and his church, but he is also missed by the many people he had greatly influenced. I am one of those lives. I thank the Lord for the privilege of having known John as my friend in the ministry.  “A man that hath friends must shew himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Note: This is number five in a series of posts on the people who have greatly influenced my life.

Reflecting upon an Unexpected Death-George Comrie (1958-2012)

George Comrie (1958-2012)

“Pastor Mark,  have you heard about the accident on I-69 (The freeway by our home)?”  This question came over my phone from a young lady in our church.  “Yes, I have heard about the accident.” I responded.   Everybody knew about this accident on August 6th in the evening because traffic was backed up for miles in each direction.

“My Aunt Trixie is in the hospital with injuries from the accident. ”  the young lady continued.  There was a pause and then she added: “My Uncle George didn’t make it.”  I was in my chair sitting and quite  stunned.  I had seen George yesterday in church and now I hear the news that he is dead.

The next day, The Lansing State Journal published the details of the accident.  A truck had run into George and Trixie’s car.  The traffic was already stopped on the freeway because of another accident.  George had no way to escape as the truck smashed into the line of cars without braking.

I don’t always understand the ways of God, but this whole event has helped me to focus on the Lord, death and my life.  A sudden death has a way of making one think about eternity and one’s relationship with God.

1. George’s death reminds me to be grateful for my salvation.
Several  months before, I had heard George share his testimony of how he had come to know Jesus Christ as Savior.  When I saw him the day before his death, he didn’t know that the Lord would call him home the next day.  One of the most difficult things to do as a pastor is to do a funeral of a person who dies without the knowledge of the Savior.  I am glad that when I do George’s funeral later this Friday, I can say: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”  George is in the presence of the Lord because of the saving grace of His Savior, Jesus Christ.

2. George’s death helps me to see the reality of God’s grace.
In recent days,  I have visited Trixie a few times in the hospital and now in rehab.  Thankfully, she is improving physically.  I am amazed by the peace of God that is radiating from her life.  She grieves for the temporary loss of her husband, but God’s grace and comfort is obvious in her life.   God has used Trixie to show me that He is real in times of great hardship and pain.  Trixie’s faith has encouraged me to know in a fresh way that God’s grace is real.  As the Lord said to Paul: “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

3. George’s death helps me to see that each day is a gift from God.  George had invested his life in helping others.  He had a gift of helps and service which he used in the lives of others.  I definitely have different gifts and talents than George, but am I using what God has given me for His glory each and every day?  Paul near the time of his death was able to say:  “I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7) Will I be able to say these same words?

In the coming weeks, I will have more thoughts concerning George’s entrance into the presence of the Lord   I am glad for the words of Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life.”  For the believer, death is the entrance unto eternal life.   This is only made possible by the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Some people may feel that George’s death is a waste, but from God’s perspective this is far from true.  George affected many people’s lives while he was alive, but he is now affecting many lives in his death, including myself.  I thank God for the privilege of having known George.

George and Trixie’s wedding six years ago.
George helped a lot of people with construction and landscaping needs.
George and his dog!