This last week I received one of those heart-breaking, sad, and thrilling joyful call that announces the inaugural homegoing of a remarkable missionary. Michael James Howard, pastor of the wonderful Frio Valley Baptist Church in the beautiful town of Leakey, Texas located in the Hill Country of Texas, Northwest of San Antonio. Mike had served there for several years after returning from Central Africa where he served with distinction as a missionary of the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Out walking early in the morning, as he loved to do, his wife of many years, Lindy, heard the ambulance while God whispered a promise of great comfort into her ear, and she knew then that Mike had changed locations a final time. When the patrolman approached her door a few minutes later she already knew why he was there. There was a little shock since Mike was in such vigorous health. But, after all, Mike had spoken repeatedly, in almost every sermon, of a journey on which he had prepared to embark and expected soon to begin. Apparently, the only aspect of this journey that concerned him at all was that he believed many of his listeners needed the preparation of a new birth in order to meet him again at his destination.
The call was sad for the Frio Valley Baptist Church because the congregation had lost its faithful shepherd. No longer would they be able to listen to the Gospel showed in the picturesque narratives and descriptions of the country-boy preacher and laugh with him at the rich humanity his stories presented. Temporary heartbreak for his godly wife and gracious family at the temporary loss of husband and father were real sorrows muted quickly by the vociferous shouts of angelic voices from heavens golden streetscapes. Friends from all over the world felt keenly the sense of loss but loved the news for Mike.
I first met Mike in one of his most beloved domains, coming out of the bush in Africa. He loved the variegated animals which presented themselves in droves those days. And he was one of the best hunters that I ever knew. He knew the history and the habits of every one of the more than three hundred creatures that crawled, swam, and plotted the African Savanah and loved them all.
But Mike was also a superb hunter of humans. Armed to the teeth with the Scriptures he traversed village after primitive village searching for any man whose heart God could teach with the message of a better life in Christ. No joy pricked his heart like that of seeing one of his beloved African tribesmen come to Christ.
You see, Mike believed every syllable of Scripture to be absolute truth from the heart of the Living God. Day by day, whether on the plains of Africa with the sun setting in the shadows of an Acacia tree or in the blue bonnets of a field in the heat of Texas, Mike lived in the sure promises of God’s Word. He presided over his family as a chosen prophet of God. He mounted the pulpit with the assurance of a cowboy in the arena and spoke of God with the familiarity of a man who had ridden for days through the trackless wilderness of life conversing with the Savior who rode with him.
O, my brother Mike. As you assemble for the symphony of heaven, please save some seats for your family. Save plenty for your church. And I know you will not forget all those African brethren. And while you are at it, would you save a seat for me, also. We are on the way, and we will see you soon!