Brian was a professional soldier. As a child and teenager he had excelled at sport, and athletics in particular. Then he joined the British Army where he spent over twenty years serving his country in the UK, Germany, Cyprus and Aden. Even after leaving the army he still went to annual gatherings and kept in touch with his military friends. The army had been his life, but retirement comes to us all and eventually his services were no longer required.
So what should he do now? After living all over the UK, in Germany and in Malta, Brian and his wife Betty decided to return to the town of South Elmsall in their native Yorkshire. They had friends and family there, so it made sense. Brian found a job in the security business which made use of some of his military training, and Betty took a job in a supermarket. They worked for a few more years and then retired properly in their sixties. Now it was time to enjoy some peace and quiet in their little cottage near the railway line. There would be plenty of time to have the grandchildren and to visit their children spread around the country. But God had other plans!
Neither Brian nor Betty would have called themselves religious. They didn’t go to church, but then they were not against church or ‘religion’ as they saw it either. They just weren’t particularly interested.
A new church called ‘Oasis’ had opened up in town. People had been meeting at the community centre for a few years under the name ‘Oasis Christian Fellowship’ and Betty knew her cousin had been along. They had done some musical things out on the streets and had made themselves more a part of the community than your average church, but it was only when they bought their own building in the town centre and opened a cafe that she really took much notice of them. Both Betty and Brian started going in to the cafe regularly. It had a nice atmosphere and was clean with a non-smoking policy which suited them. They quickly made friends with Vin the cafe manager, with the cafe staff, and with the pastor. But they didn’t intend to get too involved. Brian especially wasn’t interested in ‘that sort of thing’.
However, Betty couldn’t resist when she was invited to go along to a healing meeting with a guest speaker. She found that she liked it and, much to the amazement of Brian, she started to go to church regularly. But is was a bit too much when she announced to him that she had become a ‘born again Christian’ and was going to get baptised in the local swimming pool!
Brian was a friendly guy, and he loved to a joke around. He was impressed that both Vin and the pastor shared his sense of humour and would tell him bad jokes in return. The pastor would often say as they parted, “See you on Sunday then Brian”, but he replied every time, “No you won’t, Im too busy.” The pastor usually asked, “Really? How busy can you be – you’re retired!” But Brian just said again with a little wry smile, “I’m too busy.”
This went on for some months. The pastor would wait for Brian to drop Betty off at church on a Sunday morning, and walk to the car for a chat. Others tried to encourage him to come to the church as well. Brian was aware the pastor was trying to coax him in, and would sometimes drop Betty off early, or a little way down the road so that he could drive off quickly. It became a bit of a game, so much so that on one occasion the pastor hid in a shop doorway, and then pounced upon Brian when he arrived in the car. They both laughed about it, but Brian was still adamant that he would not go to church. He even refused to go to the Christmas Carol Service. But despite his protestations that he was ‘too busy’, something inside Brian was changing.
But then one New Year, he surprised everybody. When faced with the usual, “Will we see you at church on Sunday then Brian?” – he actually replied, “Yes, see you Sunday.” Nobody in the cafe really believed him. Surely brian was up to his old tricks again?
But on the next Sunday, Brian came into church with Betty. And he came the next week too. And with in a few weeks, Brian became a bona fide Christian. And he kept going to that church for next nine years until he finally died, full of life until the last minute. His funeral was packed to the doors, and a special guard of honour was provided by his old military mates. Tributes at Brian’s farewell came from many friends and family members who recounted his amazing sense of humour and countless jokes. The family fell about laughing when they heard of how Brian kept resisting invitations to church until the pastor finally had to jump out of a shop doorway to catch his attention.
They say that old soldiers never die, they only fade away. But Brian didn’t fade away. He lived life to the full and left this planet in a moment to be with Jesus. His friends and family all felt the same – God couldn’t resist having this fun-loving ‘grumpy old man’ any longer, and so he took him.
And I know this is all true, because I was that pastor!
Story by Ralph Burden