Gone So Suddenly: Art Ward (2)

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Gone, But Leaving a Work for Others

When I received the phone call telling me of Art’s sudden home-call, I refused to believe it. We had shared so much joy and sorrow over the past thirty years. It was inconceivable that I wouldn’t see him again gathered with the saints at Mt. Sterling.

Art and I first met in 1975 when our family moved to Wisconsin from Massachusetts. He had been saved a year, but you could tell that this was a young man who wanted his life to count for God. He was a careful student of the Bible and it was clear that his interest was in the people of God and in the local assembly.

He married Marlene Aspenson in 1976 and, although he was deeply in love with her then, twenty-nine years later that love was even stronger. It was common, when he was home, to see them walking hand in hand down a street in Mt. Sterling, thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. Art would finish a series of gospel meetings, and at 9:00 p.m., after the last meeting, he would start for home even if it was 24 hours away. To be away from Marlene and their five children was a big sacrifice for him, but one he was willing to make for his Lord.

I had four short gospel series with him over the years. He went with me to my hometown in Nebraska for two series. We visited each house in Hebron and Deshler, Nebraska, with tracts and invitations. He was one of the best at door-to-door visitation. His ready smile and genuine interest in people gave him opportunities to speak to them about the Lord Jesus. He could be very tenacious when he detected interest, paying many return visits if necessary.

I’ll never forget an eighty-eight year old woman we visited in Nebraska. Art carefully took her through her enormous family Bible to show her different gospel verses. He asked her if she was a sinner, to which she assented. He then asked her if she was an ungodly sinner. That was going a little too far. As we were leaving, he asked her to read again the verses we had marked for her. Two days later we visited her again. This time, when asked if she was an ungodly sinner, she readily agreed. He then had her read Isaiah 53:6 and asked her where her sins were. She said, “On me.” He then said, “Read the last part of the verse again.” When she read “the Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all,” she looked up and said in amazement, “They are on HIM!” Art was willing to travel over 1000 miles to visit one eighty-eight year old lady to see her saved. Before he left for those final gospel meetings in London, Ontario, we talked of another trip to Nebraska.

Few men are willing to go to places where there isn’t a ready-made audience. Hurley, Red Granite, Winter, Ojibwa, Stone Lake, and Hayward are some of the villages in Northern Wisconsin where a few saints will sorely miss him. He preached in their towns, saw some saved, and kept going back to preach to their families and friends. His desire was to see assemblies planted in these distant places.

We will miss Art in our assembly meetings. He was one of few men who could pray for 10 minutes in our prayer meeting and others would wish he had continued. Sometimes when he prayed for a believer sitting in the meeting, all could tell he was “touched with the feeling of others’ infirmities.” He believed in the power of prayer and brought the saints with him into the presence of God.

One of his greatest concerns was the decline in reverence and godliness that he was seeing in assemblies. We had been through a lot together at Mt. Sterling to preserve the character of the assembly. His aim was “to strengthen the things that remain that are ready to die.” The local assemblies he visited were precious to him. It was obvious that he was precious to them. There were 600 people at his wake and over 600 attended his funeral.

Art has finished his course. He has entered into His rest and is enjoying the presence of his Lord and Savior. The question now is “Who will fill the void?” Who will go forth heralding the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ?