Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Death of My Friend and a Motorcycle in Haiti

Good night my friend.
I'll see you in the morning.
This afternoon, my friend and fellow church member Jerry Strickland went home to be with the Lord Jesus.  I take great comfort in that thought.  But there is another thought that is quite compelling.  This thought gripped my heart tonight as I preached in the PM service from Mark 3:13-19 on "12 Men that Changed the World."

I had just come from a bereavement call to Jerry's house to visit his precious family.  Flying into the parking lot on two wheels, I made it into the service with a few minutes to spare.  So Jerry's death was fresh on my mind as I preached a sermon on the characteristics of people God uses to change the world.

My body was in Blackshear at Emmanuel Baptist Church.  But for a flash, my mind was in Gonaives, Haiti on a 2010 mission trip with my dearly-departed friend.  Jerry and I were traveling in a little truck with a Haitian pastor named John and a missionary.  Pastor John was asking the missionary if he could possibly borrow his vehicle.

As we listened to this conversation it became obvious to Jerry and to me that Pastor John was trying to shepherd 2 Haitian congregations many, many miles apart.  He was spending a great deal of his life walking between his 2 churches.  For Pastor John, the cost of a motorcycle (the best means of travel there) was prohibitive.

"How much does a good used motorcycle cost here in Haiti...and can you even get one," I asked.

"Oh yes, we can get one in Port au Prince," the missionary replied.  "But a good reliable used one would be about $1200 US dollars."

From the back seat, Jerry and I commented on how surprised we were...and convicted at the relatively low cost.  $1200 for us was a good sum of money but not prohibitive.  What for us would be a family vacation could literally change Pastor John's life as he sought to change Haiti for Christ.

Back at the missionary's house, Jerry came to me privately and said, "I want us to buy Pastor John that motorcycle."  Jerry really wanted us to go ahead and buy that motorcycle.  I said, "Jerry I can't make that kind of commitment for our church although I agree we ought to do it."

Jerry appreciated my desire to not make a $1200 commitment on my own.  But he was not to be dissuaded.  "I will go ahead and commit to buy the whole thing myself if we can't get some others to chip in."  With that commitment I gave the go-ahead to the missionary to buy Pastor John a motorcycle with the understanding that we would wire the money when we returned to Georgia.

Landing in Jacksonville, Jerry rode with me and 2 others back to Blackshear.  We dropped the others off at their house and I took Jerry home.  At his house, Jerry went to a special place and retrieved 3 crisp $100 bills.  "Here's my part," he said.  "And if nobody else wants to get in on it, come back and I'll give you the rest."

I protested.  In nearly 20 years of vocational ministry I had never taken cash from a church member for any reason.  I saw no reason to change my policy.  It's just not smart.  "Just put it in the offering plate Sunday in a designated envelope, Jerry.  I do not handle cash!"

But again Jerry Strickland would not be dissuaded.

Shoving the generous offering into my hands he said, "If I can trust you to preach the Bible to me every Sunday I can trust you with $300!"  Seeing the tears in his eyes and hearing the crack in his voice I immediately discerned this occasion would be an exception to my rule.

"Brother Jerry, I will take this if you make me a promise.  Be sure to check your contribution record for a $300 love offering.  And if you don't see it you tell the church office and we will make it right."  He waved me off with a non-verbal gesture that clearly said, "I'll do no such thing!"

We did have some other funds contributed to help buy pastor John's motorcycle.  But Jerry's commitment to buy the whole thing if necessary is what made the transaction possible.  A few weeks later when our missions report included a picture of Pastor John grinning from ear-to-ear on his motorcycle, I looked back at Jerry.  He looked at the floor in a Divine mix of humility and gratitude to God.

So tonight as I grieve the death of my friend and consider the characteristics of people who "change the world," I am overjoyed with this reality.  Somewhere tonight in Haiti, a local pastor is going to bed a little more rested than he used to be on the Lord's Day.  And it's because a man like Jerry was willing to be used by God to change the world.

Jerry ministering in Jubilee Village
on the island of Haiti (Spring 2010)
Tonight as Wanda and her sweet family mourn the passing of a fine man, the gospel of Jesus is spreading across Haiti...carried in part on a $1200 motorcycle.

And the life of Jerry Strickland lives on.