es was an active leader in all the activities of the church. When our family moved into town, he and his wife, Irene, went out of their way to make us feel welcome and accepted. Our children loved them. We often felt the warmth of his fellowship and her gentle Christian kindness. He was well respected in the congregation and a member of the church board; but for me he became a friend. His term of endearment for me was “the bishop.”
One evening, prior to the start of a board meeting, he and I were speaking casually about a number of things. During the discussion he shared that the casual conversations he had initiated with his neighbors over the back fence had matured into Bible studies. I was just delighted, and in my exuberance I blurted out, “That’s a super thing that you’re doing!” With those words the talk ended abruptly, and we moved into the board meeting.
During the next couple of months our relationship cooled markedly. It was becoming increasingly obvious to me that something had soured the friendship. Our greetings became very formal, and at board meetings he was often openly contentious with me. I was totally mystified.
One day a brother came to me to share the obvious. “Wes is very upset with you and is thinking of transferring his membership to another congregation!”
“Why?” I queried.
His response shocked me. “First,” he said, “he doesn’t feel that you care about soul winning.” Moving quickly into a defensive posture, I responded by saying that we had just held meetings, that people had been baptized, and that I was involved in Bible studies. I quickly caught myself, however, and decided that it was better to listen than to defend myself.
I asked a second question: “What’s really troubling him? We were so close; what effected the change?”
His answer left me incredulous: “On the night of the board meeting a few months ago he shared his witnessing experience with his neighbors. He told me that you said that he was doing a ‘stupid’ thing. It discouraged him so badly that he couldn’t come to church for a couple weeks.”
With that I started to laugh, even though it was a serious moment. My response was simple. “I told him it was a ‘super’ thing he was doing!” We both broke into laughter and repeated what was true. Our brother wore a hearing aid, and perhaps that evening the batteries had run low.
Within moments of the conversation I got into my car and drove to the home of my dear alienated brother. I went to the door, and when he saw me he greeted me stiffly, but nonetheless invited me in. Within moments I offered him my heartfelt apology and told him what had happened. We laughed and cried and hugged. Through God’s goodness, the intervention of a mutual friend, and by taking a few moments to listen, a broken relationship was healed.
My last visit with Wes was in a hospital. He had suffered a massive heart attack, and I had driven long miles to see him. I was warned by the medical staff and his family that he probably wouldn’t recognize me. Undaunted, I went to find him and pray with him.
Our meeting that day is still one of my cherished “moving ministry moments.” As I walked down the hallway toward his room, Wes was sitting in his wheelchair watching me. When I got close enough for him to see me, he raised his right arm and said, “Ah! The bishop!”
Wes never spoke another word to me that day, but I know we will pick up the conversation and the friendship in heaven.
Daniel R. Jackson is president of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists. This article was published October 11, 2012.