Graeme's address at Jim's funeral service in St Mary Magdalene, Asthon on Mersey, Sale.
See you on the other side, son
Thank you so much for coming. Many of you have come from a long way and some from down the road. Many of you have known Jim for a long time and some through knowing someone in his family. It means so much to us that you are here and we know that there are others who would like to be here but cannot. We have known and felt so much love and support - thank you.
We will try and talk with as many as possible of you after the service but the family and close friends will be gong on to a quiet service in Altrincham crematorium soon after this service. Do stay and talk to each other over a cup of tea in the hall.
This is a sermon from Philippa and me together. We spent a week in Hong Kong after Jim's death and discovered so much about our son that makes us so very proud. We were hoping to see him for his birthday in January. We are so sorry that was not to be.
Before Jim was born his survival was precarious - a friend prayed for him long before he was born and gave us this prophetic word of encouragement. She said, "He will be a soldier and servant of the Lord and the joy of the Lord will be his strength and his song". We've always prayed this for Jim from the beginning of his life to its untimely end.
We were trying to think what image most spoke to us of Jim in his earlier years and the one that came strongly to mind is of a cheeky, fun-loving little boy who delighted to make us laugh any way he could, dancing and fooling around. He was a bright little fellow and we remember one of his teachers saying she couldn't keep up with him as he got through all his maths books so quickly. We've had several cards from his primary and secondary school teachers who remember Jim with fondness. Later teachers have commented on his caring nature and his dry wit.
At the age of 14 Jim heard about St. Stephen's Society in Hong Kong. It seems that God immediately spoke to him about this because he was riveted by it straightaway.
The leader of St Stephen's, Jackie Pullinger, was speaking at a large Christian conference. The family was there and Jim often slipped away and we wondered where he was at mealtimes. We were told "Jim is eating noodles with the young Chinese boys over from Hong Kong".
At the end of the service you will be given a sheet that explains this a bit more. (About our boy)
At the same time he was going through many normal teenage struggles- questioning his identity and his personal beliefs and values; a time of soul searching.
After much correspondence with Jackie, at 17, he eventually had an invitation to go to Hong Kong to see the work for himself. He found himself in a community of love, where worship and the power of prayer became very real to him. He experienced front-line Christian work which was very attractive to him. It seemed to appeal to that part of him that wanted to be a soldier.
The song that was playing as we came into church with Jim was about a fallen soldier. (Brothers in Arms, Dire Straits) Its one of the songs he loved - especially the guitar playing - he could play it. We will leave church today to another song he loved to play - about a son who died and now lives in heaven. (Tears in heaven, Eric Clapton). He returned home to finish his schooling and spent much of the year learning to play the guitar and earning money for his return trip to Hong Kong.
To us, it feels as if God had to take him to Hong Kong for him to fully become the person he was meant to be. It was hard to say goodbye at 18, but we felt it was the right thing for him so we had no choice.
It was our first bereavement.
His personal faith grew strong now as we can testify by having read through his notebooks and diaries and by talking to the people he was living with. If you look at the back of the service sheet you will see his comments on eternal life (he wrote);
In John 11v25 Jesus said, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even through they die like everyone else, will live again. Do you believe this?"
Jim replies to Jesus' question as if spoken directly to him, he wrote, "On earth I'm the same. I will die. But I will rise from the dead. I Believe this. Don't forget it"
I know that this is the sort of question Jim would ask people in Hong Kong and indeed here today.
For his last three years, mostly in Hong Kong, he flourished in many ways even though he chose to go to one of the toughest places he could. The nature of the work meant that he could have no personal space and very few personal possessions.
His ability in leading worship,
the ease with which he learnt Cantonese,
his compassion for the poor and broken,
his heart to reach out to others in need,
his love of children and his teaching skills
- all speak of a young man that God was using in many ways.
But of course it was a battle too. Jim was trying to follow Jesus as a devoted foot soldier. Like any soldier he had an enemy to fight, not one of flesh and blood but a spiritual enemy. His notebooks testify that he wanted to walk in the light but was afraid of going into the dark and falling over the edge.
We don't know exactly what happened or why Jim occasionally experienced a deep loneliness, despite the love that was all around him. These are unanswerable questions. In the reading that Tom read, St. Paul speaks about those who have fallen asleep. We often speak about soldiers 'falling in battle'.
Two days after Jim died we said to a friend that we really needed a sign that God was with us in all this tragedy. A couple of hours after that another dear friend phoned us up and shared a weighty message that seemed to be burning in him - and he repeated it several times. 'Jim is a soldier in the Lord's army and he has fallen in battle and he is with Jesus now'. We believe this with all our heart and only this can comfort us at this terrible time.
Jim was a young man on the brink of adulthood, whose life was blossoming. He had already given so much to so many and would obviously do so much in the years to come. Humanly speaking, there is no comfort to be found anywhere in this tragedy. However, St Paul tells us in the reading that our grief is not hopeless if we wholeheartedly believe in the resurrection from the dead as we put our faith in Jesus.
This is our comfort and we encourage each other with this hope. We believe Jim is with Jesus, and we will see him again. Paul tells us in Romans Chapter 8 that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are weeping now and we will keep weeping and a bit of us will always be weeping for the loss of our beloved son.
We had the immense privilege of meeting many people, young, old, Western and Chinese, male and female, who in one way or another, had been helped by Jim. The mother of another worker with St Stephen's, who met him a few months ago, wrote to us with these words:
'He probably gave more time to helping others than most of us - and in a way perhaps that's what life is about, and thus he achieved a lot in his short life'.
We are so proud of him, what he had become - and what he was becoming. He did become a soldier and servant of Christ and the joy of the Lord was his strength and his song. Our prayers over many years have been heard and answered.
After Jim died, I spoke quietly to him and said "We were coming to see you. See you on the other side, son."