I hate saying goodbye to friends.
Our friends David and Judy Atkins are moving from Linton to Missouri. David is assuming the pastorate of a church in a town called Edina. I’m delighted for him; this is an answer to prayer. But I’m going to miss him. In fact, I miss him already.
It has been a source of amusement to me that in more than one place where I have pastored I have had better fellowship with the Assembly of God preachers than I have had with the Baptists. One independent Baptist pastor even tried to lead me to the Lord. (No, I’m not joking.) But the Assembly guys have always been encouraging.
David and Judy Atkins have been at the Linton Assembly of God for these past ten years. I met him as a result of our now-defunct ministerial association, and he and I hit it off pretty well right from the start. Somehow he and I were delegated to be the only signees on the ministerial association’s checking account. I was reminded of this fact when he brought me the battered briefcase containing the ministerial association’s bank statements for the past ten years or so. The account has five dollars in it. The only reason it has that much is that David Atkins himself put five dollars in it some years ago to keep the account active. I think, as the only other signee on the account, I’m going to withdraw it and send it to David and tell him to take his wife out for ice cream.
Dave and I often sat next to each other at the ministerial association meetings. (They probably considered separating us because we were having too much fun.) Or we would sit together at this or that banquet where ministers were the guests of honor. It was always time well spent to sit and talk with David and Judy.
David went to college in the same city I did, Springfield, Missouri. He went to CBC, Central Bible College, the Assembly of God school for pastors and missionaries. I went to BBC, Baptist Bible College, the independent Baptist school for pastors and missionaries. We never met while we were in school, but we were delighted to discover our common experience of going to college in the Ozarks.
After the ministerial association wobbled to a halt, David and I would occasionally just stop in on each other. I’ve told our secretary that my door is always open to another preacher, no matter how busy I am. Sometimes David would come by just to say “hi”. Sometimes it was to share a burden. I am grateful to God that David became one of those “safe” friends that I could share anything with, and I was that for him, too. We’d laugh, and cry, and vent. Then we’d take each other’s hand, kneel down and pray for each other. How many times God has refreshed my spirit with an hour spent with David Atkins.
A couple of years ago I had a cancer scare. As I investigated the symptoms I was experiencing, I discovered that they could indicate cancer. And since my mother had cancer, it scared me. David Atkins was one of the first people I told about this, and I asked him to pray for me. He listened compassionately, and then said, “Now I want to pray for you, but I don’t want to go all Pentecostal on you.” And I said, “Bring it on, man! Anoint me with oil, I’ll lay on the altar, whatever you want!” But he just smiled, laid his hand on my shoulder, and prayed a prayer for me that left my eyes filled with tears and my heart filled with gratitude to God for such a friend. David has a pastor’s heart, and it felt so good for him to pastor me a little. And I was so happy a few weeks later to tell him that my doctors were able to rule cancer out.
For the past few years on Sunday mornings as I would drive to church, I would pray for David and Judy and their church as I passed it. I call it “drive-by praying”. (I pray for a few other ministers, too. If good stuff happens to them, I’ll tell you who they are. If bad stuff happens, I’ll just keep their names to myself.) I’ve told David about this. He said, “You keep that up!”
One Sunday morning, on a whim, I swung into the Assembly parking lot and went inside with the intention of giving David a hug. They told me he hadn’t arrived yet. I almost said, “Well, somebody go wake him up!” But I didn’t. And since nobody else seemed to want a hug, I left.
One Wednesday night after our midweek service I stopped by the Assembly to have a word with David. He was hosting a National Day of Prayer event the next day, and I wanted him to know why I wasn’t going to be there. (I had a doctor’s appointment.) I slipped into their sanctuary and took a seat in the back. David was still teaching. (Apparently he’s more long-winded than I am.) He saw me and suppressed a smile. He kept glancing back at me, as if to say, “What are you doing here?” After their service concluded he came back to me and asked, “How’s your shoulder healing up from your rotator cuff surgery?” In response I just lifted my arm straight up in the air to show how I could move it. And he said, “Look at that! First time in the door and we make a Pentecostal out of him!” We both laughed.
For all the differences in our backgrounds, David and I had a lot more in common than we had differences. Where there were differences, I respected his and he respected mine. But we had a shared faith in our Lord Jesus, a shared calling to the pastoral ministry, and even a shared approach to ministry in many ways. With David I experienced the truth of Psalm 133:1 – “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!” Amen to that! I’ve had my fair share of people who threw away our friendship like they would a Dixie cup. When I find true, lasting friendship, even in sometimes surprising places, it is a delightful gift from God.
David and Judy Atkins are people about whom we can truly say the words of Philippians 1:3 – “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you…” And to David Atkins I would say this:
“I’m gonna miss you, pal. Go teach the Word and preach the Gospel, brother! And with your pastor’s heart and your love for the Lord Jesus, go and gently tell your new congregation: ‘I will always be ready to act as your servant, but you will never be my master.’ Such a balance is a challenge to maintain, but God will be your Helper!”
I hope we get to see David and Judy again from time to time. But if not, I’ll look forward to seeing David in Heaven.
Maybe they’ll even let us sit together.
Soli Deo Gloria!