Tributes to Paul Kember: Honoring a Brother Beloved

A week before he rested from his labors, Paul Kember was ministering the Word of God for the last time. In retrospect, many of his statements were weighty, this among them: “If God has given you a work, do it now.”

God gave Paul a work and developed a vessel wonderfully suited to that work. Paul had a quiet personality and a mild manner that drew others to him. He manifested a respect for others and a convincing compassion. Prolonged contact with him only confirmed the first impression, that Paul was a man who could be trusted. Paul’s self-effacing manner and gentle humor were valuable assets. He handled rejection graciously and backed away. Not that Paul was a pushover. Like his Lord, he moved “into the next towns.” If he saw no response to the Spirit’s work, he left a person, but if there was the slightest interest, Paul pursued it doggedly. The greater the degree of interest he found, the sooner he returned to visit. He continued to go back until he felt he could accomplish nothing more.

Paul was excellent in following up leads, especially the relatives of those saved. He and Jack Nesbitt had met a woman while visiting door to door near Sarnia. Over many months, he had taken her to conferences and gospel series. He and Jack returned to the home often to present the gospel to her and her husband. One day they disappeared. Months passed before she called Paul from upper New York State. She had been saved since she last saw him and now wanted her family to hear the gospel. Paul and Phyllis visited her and her family. That was 1978. Paul called to ask if I would join him. I highly value the years we spent together around Greene County, N. Y. He followed up in the same way with his own converts or with those of others. Home Bible readings, personal discussions over Scripture, or taking young believers to meetings and conferences helped him to work through their problems and to “make disciples.”

Paul was practical. He kept his planning simple, focused. “Get the job done,” was his style and that often included menial and manual labor. He was patient in his study of the Scriptures, but was impatient with the “impractical.” He studied passages carefully to persuasively and simply respond to questions of believers and unbelievers. I had the impression that Paul prayed consistently and with a simple faith. He expected that the Lord would work with those for whom he was praying. Paul’s Christianity was practical; he lived with a God-fearing willingness to obey God’s word. That gave weight to his ministry especially in recent times, a point about which many commented when they heard of his fatal injury. The last time I heard Paul minister was at the Akron conference this year. Speaking about presenting the gospel to strangers, he used the example of the Lord with the Samaritan woman. At times I listened through tears. They came for two reasons: first, he spoke with such conviction about winning souls; second, he was so transparent. I knew, that what he was preaching, he lived with a quiet passion.

Including others in the work of the gospel was another of Paul’s trademarks. He encouraged a number of younger men by having them visit or share meetings with him. One of those younger men estimated that by the time of his home call, Paul had influenced 5 men to enter full-time service and had specifically molded 7 men who are now serving as overseers; the number will likely grow. He influenced by encouragement, by the principles he advocated, and, mostly, by the model that he was. Five of the six “devout men” who carried Paul’s body to the grave are full-time workers. Paul’s exercise and example influenced the call of each of them.

Paul’s tragic departure underlines the value of his humble, devoted and consistent life. God gave him a work, and Paul seized his opportunity, doing it “with all his heart.” Who would have thought he would never see his fifty-fifth birthday? His home call has been tragically costly. His family, the work and we, his many friends, will miss him greatly He was a brother beloved.

Paul did not overwhelm us with his presence, but now in his sudden absence we are overwhelmed by our unexpected review of his legacy. His life is the sizeable sum of so many small, ordinary things done selflessly and with extraordinary faithfulness. By assessing afresh the true worth of such a life, may we devote fresh energy to the work of the gospel and to living for the world to come.