A Gentle Man Who Changed The World

If you Google his name, you won’t find much. His generation didn’t leave a very significant digital footprint. But his fingerprints are all over my life, and the lives of scores of people like me. And as I fly to Chicago for his funeral, I want to tell you about him.

marrs_20150406 (1)John Marrs was my boss. More than that, he was my mentor. Most importantly, he was my friend. You don’t often find people who can wear all of those hats at once, but with John it seemed natural.

I became a missionary because of John. After serving in Brazil for 13 years, he took a position on the staff of Baptist General Conference World Missions. He was the one who picked up the phone when I impulsively called the office in 1985 to talk about a need in Cameroon. He met with me and Murf a few weeks later, and gently walked us through the mind-boggling application process. Months later, he reassuringly talked me off the ledge when I wondered whether I was cut out for that life.

I remained a missionary because of John. His was the voice that gave us hope for the future when we came close to burnout during our first term in Cameroon. It meant so much to know that he had our backs.

I thrived as a missionary because of John. He was quick to encourage, eager to laugh, and always ready to celebrate what God was doing in our lives. Our girls looked forward to his visits, knowing there would always be fun involved. His wife Joyce was known for years among the Gastons as the Spider Lady, because of a song that she taught our daughters about a woman who swallowed a spider. That song became the incessant sound track of many a road trip across France. I’ve almost forgiven her for that. John took delight in it, even when we spread plastic spiders around his office.

A car accident took him from us last week. I’m not sure why, but we don’t expect 83-year-old men to die like that. It was much more sudden than anyone would have expected.

Our lives are poorer as a result of that accident. But heaven is richer.

I’m far from alone in my love and appreciation for John. Tributes are pouring in from former colleagues and friends from around the world who were touched by him in the same way we were. His impact was felt in Japan, the Philippines, Argentina, the Ivory Coast, and in other places too numerous to mention. I will have the privilege of reading some of those tributes at his memorial service tomorrow.

His gentle love and persevering faithfulness changed the world. It’s no accident that the same phrase could be said of Christ. John loved Him, served Him, and represented Him well.  And on Easter weekend, appropriately, he heard Him say “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

With all of heaven to enjoy, including time with his wife and his Savior, he has better things to do than to hear from me. But if I could communicate with him today, I would say the same thing I said each time I took him to the airport in France at the close of yet another encouraging visit.

Au revoir, John. It was great to get some time with you. I’ll look forward to seeing you again.

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About Sabbath Thoughts

My name is Mike Gaston. I am a former missionary, a Shepherding Pastor at Heights Church in Prescott, AZ, a happy husband, a spoiled father of two daughters, a proud grandfather, and a recently-convinced pursuer of the benefits of intentional, regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. This blog will allow me to share thoughts about Sabbath, as well as thoughts about God and the Christian life that come out of my restful Sabbath moments.
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16 Responses to A Gentle Man Who Changed The World

  1. Lori Noel says:

    Pastor Mike,
    What a wonderful tribute to your mentor and friend. So sorry to hear of your loss…thankful you will eventually see him again.
    Love in Him,
    Lori Noel

  2. billm17 says:

    I think that somehow God will help him here your “Sabbath Thoughts.” You might want to make sure you have a clean hankie in your pocket. It’s hay fever time.

  3. Denise says:

    His life goes on in you. You have become that same mentor to many of us. Sorry for the unexpected repositioning of your loved one.

  4. carolyn says:

    I agree with Denise you have become that same mentor to many of us!! Thank you for your thoughts.

  5. Faith says:

    As if heaven alone wasn’t enough…and then God allows us reunions with those we love most. What a wonderful testimony about your friend…the encouragement he gave to you is what you have given to so many and will continue to give as you move on…comforting for you to know that the “Encourager” and his “Spider Lady” are rejoicing together this morning. So sorry for your loss.

  6. Holly Rogers says:

    What a legacy! When we all get to Heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! Sorry for your loss, but, as you say, Heaven is indeed richer.

  7. Mary Royer says:

    What an excellent tribute to a wonderful servant of the Lord. So sad to hear of the car accident!

    Love to you all,

    Ken for Mary too

    Sent from my iPad


  8. Lindakilker@aol.com says:

    What a dear sweet tribute to a man you obviously loved. So sorry for your loss. It occurs to me you have been that kind of influence in my life. Thanks, Mike. Happy Sabbath trails to you. Steve

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