“There is incredible sadness in seeing a life that is spent. But enormous joy and gratitude for being just one of the people who had received so much from a life well spent—for Jesus and the gospel.”
I sat beside the bed, holding his hand. Tears streaming down my face. Words catching in my throat.
The feverish figure under the cover with tight shiny skin and open mouth was mumbling words, but the meaning escaped me. He was a pale suggestion of the vibrant, energetic, bright-eyed man I had known for so many years—now walking through the valley of the shadow. His life spent.
Death is disgusting.
No heroic or poignant last words. No gentle slipping away into peacefulness. No soaring music filled with pathos. But rasping breath, contorted faces, incoherent words.
The man in the bed was Geoffrey. He ran a Christian Bookstore in my hometown, and ran a flourishing youth group at a local church. It was he who captured my imagination as he explained the gospel week by week. It was his fatherly interest that willingly filled a gaping void in my teenage years. It was his giving me opportunities to serve and speak and be involved that trained me as a disciple and a fledgling Christian worker. It was his encouragement that helped me take my first steps as a preacher.
But above all it was his example of commitment to the gospel cause that remains with me. He embodied a vision of how great an influence, how significant a ministry you could have while not being a full-time pastor, that has stayed with me. It’s an influence and an example that was multiplied to thousands of young people who knew him over the years. In the youth group. In the Bookstore. At the boys camp he was a leader at for more than 30 years. At the countless school meetings he spoke at. At church events throughout the north-west of England. With the housing charity for vulnerable people he gave his energies to when he retired from the Bookstore. In the small churches he dedicated himself to preaching at week after week in his later years. To countless evangelistic opportunities grasped.
Talking with old friends from my youth group days, the view has been the same. One said: “He was always just ‘the youth leader’ and we just assumed he would be there week after week. I came from a non-Christian home, and Geoff brought me discipline, discipleship and guidance, which my dad wasn’t able to do. It was only when I started doing youth work myself that I saw how much he’d given up for us.”