Some twenty years ago a group of us began a church plant, Up Town. One of the critical first comers was a dapper gentleman who would become key to the church taking root. Doug though living in the same poverty as others in the community was always ‘dressed to the nines’. This gentle man who suffered from a unique cocktail of mental illnesses would soon become our chief evangelist. He brought friend after friend to our little community and most remained for years and became core members themselves.
Doug passed away several years ago but his legacy lives on in those who found hope through his simple invitation. One of Doug’s early introductions was to Jillian. Jillian came to a deep and simple faith. It was a joy to listen to her earnest prayers. She was baptised in a borrowed tank one evening. She invited her mom and aunt to the service. Her testimony lived out before them brought them to faith. Soon her father joined her in living for Jesus. No one would see Jillian as influential in this world but in the Kingdom of God this often troubled soul was instrumental in salvation coming to her household. Jill was a fixture at our Sunday Café services. She was a regular at the Up Town Bible Study and at the Friday Night Drop In. She joined us for many of our holidays on Deer Island and our Roamin’ Holidays. She considered Linda and I as part of her family and though our café church ended and a few of us continued to meet in a house church setting, Jillian has always stayed in touch. Sometimes so often it would be exasperating, but that was a part of her illness and struggle.
This week while I was away at a conference in St. Andrews, I got word that Jillian had taken a bad turn and was in the ICU. A few days later I heard that she had passed into the arms of her Saviour. I will miss my sweet friend. I know she suffered terribly in this life. Mental illness crashed on her in her early years, but she was a kind, gentle and prayerful friend. She was my hero in many ways. I always hoped to be a bit like Jillian when I grow up.
I am reminded that our inner-city friends do not have the same life span as we seem to have. Doug, Donnie, and Jillian are just three of the many who have died younger than me. It is a tough life! I so admire those who do not lose hope or faith. It is heartening to know my friends no longer suffer. I am sad though that few of us got to know and be blessed by these folks of whom this world was not worthy.