“There was a man sent from God ….the same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light” (John 1:6-7) “…John did no miracle: but all things that John spake of this man were true” (John 10:41).
When news of Johns departure for glory came to me, these two references came to mind. Somehow they can be applied to John Abernethy, my friend since 1932. John was surely “a sent servant” and Christ-exalting teacher in ministry and Bible readings.
It is hard to believe that his life and service are now completed. Only the Bema of Christ will reveal the true quality and quantity of his labors for the Best Master. Surely, “Life at best is very brief, like the falling of a leaf.” John has left the Lords people with one less shepherd of which there are very few. He will be greatly missed by Evelyn and family as a dear husband and loving father. He will be much missed as a beloved, genuine, unpretentious laborer among the saints and assemblies. His ministry will remain with us, and has, and will, bear fruit.
Memories come flooding to my mind from boyhood days. Our boyish pranks betrayed the godly parents that we each had. We were “born of the flesh” (John 3:6) and “they that are in the flesh cannot please God” (Rom. 8:8). Sunday School days “sowed the seed of the Word” in our minds. In spite of this we got into escapades. John was a good sprinter and able to “get away” while I tried to “keep up.” We had godly teachers in Ballyhackamore Gospel Hall Sunday School. (One year at the Arlington Conference there were three of us commended workers which were taught in that Sunday School: John Abernethy, Bill Lavery, and myself.) However, we got “too big” for Sunday School. When John went in for the electrical trade in a shipbuilding company, I went in for marine engineering in Queens Island. The influence of our employment helped us to try and “get away” from God. In our 21st year, John went to Scotland and I almost “got away” to South Africa. Both of us tried to run away from God, but his love laid hold upon us. We both at the age of 21 ran into the arms of the Lord Jesus Christ. I believe John, as I, really appreciated Gods grace and longsuffering.
Years passed by and John was exercised about where the Lord wanted him to serve. One day at Strandtown Corner, Belfast, Mr. George Holmes, a godly shepherd in the Ballyhackamore assembly, was pleased to tell us of his appreciation for our lives. Mr. Holmes said, “John, you are exercised about your sphere of service; go with this man to Alaska.” John had much exercise in prayer regarding his service. We met again in Toronto, Canada, where John had moved, and there we spent all night in prayer together about this. In 1961 he joined our family and together we drove north from Vancouver, B.C. to the “great land” of Alaska on his first tour in full time service.
John served in Anchorage for several months where his help was appreciated in the assembly which was planted during my first years of service. John was more than a preacher. I sensed that he was a good teacher of the Word. His exercise led him to Ketchikan, and with his new bride, Evelyn, they served the Lord. Alaska is noted for salmon and the best are called “Kings.” In Ketchikan John caught at least two “Kings” – Sam Robinson, now residing in Lynden, WA, and Al Berry, a fellow worker of Sams at the pulp mill. “Kings” are not easily caught and John found this out about Sam who was an Orangemen, a Presbyterian elder, and a rough and tumble sinner. Johns persistent witness to Sam caused Sam to swear “much hurt” to John if he continued to preach to him. God melted Sams heart and he was saved and baptized in Ketchikan. John cut his feet on the sharp rocks when he baptized him. As a result of Sams witnessing, John led Al Berry to Christ.
An incident in Ketchikan is worth-while relating about an old hardened Russian man who did not believe in the hereafter. He believed people died like animals. John won this mans confidence and respect by caring for his needs such as getting his groceries and medications. This was typical of Johns compassion for the souls of men. I was sharing gospel meetings with John in the Odd Fellows Hall. During the day we covered the town with tracts and invitations. We came to the door of the old Russian who kindly asked us in. Questioning him to try and get a gospel word in edgewise, I found he owned a Russian Bible! Not knowing that language I prayed to the Lord to guide us to the right chapter and verse. I said, “Could you interpret Russian into English and see if your Bible says the same as ours? Turn to Psalm 9:17.” He translated it perfectly. “Thats marvellous” was our reply. Hebrews 9:26-28 was next. “Wonderful” we replied. John 3:16 was next. “You do real good, sir.” However the old man was sweating and his face got white with bitterness when it was pointed out that his Bible said there was a hereafter and a Hell too. “Take that man our of here, John. You can come back, but not him.”
Johns next place of service was in Terrace, B.C., from which he was able to branch out to other places along the West Coast. He was a great help in teaching the Word of God and this proved his forte for future ministry. Terrace is a difficult place to get into and out of by air and a move to Westbank, B.C. became his home until he was called “Home.”
Many times of happy service was spent with him in early days. His ministry grew richer and his sphere increased in the gospel, and especially in ministry of the Word and shepherd care of Gods dear people.
John finished his course faithfully. How wonderful when he opened his eyes in glory to see the one who on earth he had not seen but loved, and served well and faithfully. Heaven is the richer and we the poorer by Johns passing.
“What Lies Beyond”
It hath not been to mortal given to see within the gates of heaven –
The peerless glories that are there; The wonders far beyond compare;
The blessedness which neer shall end; The joys mind cannot comprehend;
And glad reunions, holy, blest; and everlasting peace and rest.
Some things we know will not be there – no night, no need, no shade of care;
No sin, no sorrow, sickness, pain, no loneliness will come again;
No hunger and no thirst be known; Nor one feel cheerless and alone
No tears, no sighs, all mysteries oer; All shadows past to come no more.
Twill be our home, our home at last – Our Fathers House – sublime and vast;
Within its courts, safe gathered there, celestial souls supremely fair;
And friend and loved ones cherished here, will meet within that hallowed sphere;
And in this thought we full confide, WE SHALL AT LAST BE SATISFIED.
Farewell, dear brother John. We will see you in the morning.
P. S. Im right behind you, John, just as in our boyhood days. You out-distanced me again, but Ill get there too.