John Robert Wilson (June 10, 1953 to February 4, 2011).
The words I spoke at the funeral of my friend, John Wilson.
2 Timothy 2:11 and 12 says, “If we die with Jesus, we will also live with Jesus. If we endure hardship, we will reign with Jesus.”
For the last couple of weeks, all of us have been coming to grips with living in a world without John Wilson. It is never easy to figure out when someone will leave this life; but it has been even more difficult with a man like John. In these last few weeks when most people thought he was approaching the end of his life, John was making plans for the future. He was planning trips, he had projects he wanted to complete, and he had new projects he wanted to start. We began to wonder if he might actually accomplish several of these things yet. He seemed so positive, so hopeful. But it was not to be.
Selfishly, I wonder what my world will be like without John. John is one of my closest friends. For about ten years while I lived in Calgary we met together with another friend, Warren Horricks, once a week to pray with and for each other. It was an anchor point for my spiritual disciplines. We prayed for others; we sometimes confessed our failings as husbands, parents, and church leaders to each other. And we kept each other on track so that there were fewer failings than there might have been. We prayed for healing in people’s lives and saw some miraculous answers to prayer. And then came the day when John told us that he had cancer and our prayer times became a real laboratory of prayer. We worked hard to figure out what we could ask of God and what prayers God would answer and we struggled when God said no. For about ten years we prayed that God would take away John’s cancer. And although God gave John strength through all of the procedures, and extended his life several times, God never completely healed him here on earth.
John was always suggesting books for me to read. I have often quoted John’s statement that “Leaders are readers!” He challenged me to take on tasks that were bigger than I could accomplish on my own. He was my biggest supporter when Maureen and I planted a church in Calgary and when we decided to move to Vancouver and do it again. We still connected by phone and continued to pray for each other. Every Wednesday at 1:00 pm an alarm goes off on my phone and I remember to pray for my friend John and a few other people. That alarm will mean something different now. Even two weeks ago, John was still challenging me and offering me support in some of the things I was tackling. He still had plans. He wanted to write a book, he wanted to contribute to a website we were starting, he planned to attend our daughter’s wedding in March. He had other trips he wanted to take.
I imagine that John did accomplish quite a few things in the last two weeks of his life. John had a rich prayer life. In the last couple of years we would often catch John talking to someone when no one appeared to be around. When he knew we had seen him talking to himself he would joke and say, “I’m on drugs.” But I think there was more to it. The spiritual realm was getting more real to John as his physical body failed and his prayer life grew. In the last two weeks, John slept a lot but I imagine he and God were doing quite a bit of talking in those times. As his body was getting weaker, his spirit was getting stronger and was getting more prepared for entering eternity. John and his Lord probably had some good conversations in those last days and hours. I suspect John prayed for his family, his church, and many of you here in this room today.
I am just one person who has been touched by the life of John Wilson. There are many more who were affected in a similar manner. Many of you were challenged and supported as you took on things bigger than you could accomplish on your own. John’s ministry at Alberta Bible College was about teaching and mentoring the next generation. For more than 30 years he had a particular passion for church planting. He planted a church himself, participated on Church planting teams, boards, and agencies including Partners in Atlantic Canada Evangelism; Alberta Church Planting Association; the Calgary Church Planting Network; and Genesis Canada. John generally encouraged church planting teams and church planters. Because of these efforts, a number of new congregations exist today.
I have had lots of heroes in my life and I have often been disappointed by heroes who have failed in their mission. But John was one who was faithful to his mission. He was faithful to the end. He worked hard to be a good husband, a good father, a good elder, a good leader, a good teacher. He taught others how to deal with adversity. He taught us to pray for more opportunities to serve God and he taught us to keep on going and planning for the future. John challenged us all to rely upon God and pray for His strength.
We will all have to carry on in this world without John Wilson. But I know that John would want us to take up the task for him. He would want us to be the next ones to plant churches, lead others, teach others, support others, challenge others, bring hope to others, and pray for others.
There are some words in 2 Timothy 2: 2 that speak to the kind of ministry that John had and that we can now have in his place. “You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others.”