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.
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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