There are times when a story must be told. This is one of those times. My comments are in the video that is linked below. And I am asking you to do what many people won’t do: watch a video that is longer than 5 minutes. YOU probably had a part in the events recounted in the video. And my intent in sharing is to honor a friend and encourage the rest of us.
Stan and Marv are dear friends and they often serve as mission volunteers. Their printed comments are just below the video Then you will find a link to a previous post concerning our friend Renee. And the final section is an edited transcript of my video comments. Thank you for listening, and please pray for Renee’s family and the church he served and loved.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Video – A Candle Burned Brightly
Adding To The Story – Stan
I know each of us have questioned God’s wisdom (whether we voiced it outloud or not) in taking Renee in the prime of his life with so much good ministry in front of him. But I ran across this quote from J. Gresham Machen that I think addresses this question.
The ultimate end of all things that come to pass, including the ultimate end of the great drama of redemption, is found in the glory of the eternal God.
In other words, Renee was taken to glory because it was to God’s glory. When I first heard of this I thought of the story of William Borden (1887-1913) who said:
No Reserves, No Retreats, No Regrets.
Therefore we (mostly me) should praise God for His salvation lived out in Renee. Whether or not he led many to salvation in his young life or achieved much of what this life defines as success, he was obviously successful from God’s point of view and that really is all that matters. – Stanley H. Bramlett
The Story Continues – Marv
After the shock that someone so young could die from a heart attack, I began to reflect on what I knew of Renee. I also read what people wrote on his Facebook page.
He was young but made an impact. His enthusiasm for Christ was infectious. His joy at becoming a pastor was touching.
We do not know the future. But we are confident of our standing in Christ. Whether on earth or not, we always place everyone in God’s Hands.
Who knows how his life will affect those who knew him. Who will pick up his ministry? And who will serve Christ with greater passion because they were inspired by Renee? We may not know the future but we put our trust in our God who does know the future. – Marvin Barney
This is a story about salt and light. And it has all the ingredients that make a story great. There’s risk, reward, history, mystery, agony and victory. Those things can make a great story. But it gets even better if the story is fact, not fiction. And if you’re an EquipUs subscriber, this story probably includes you, although you may not have known you had anything to do with it.
So let’s turn the clock back just a bit to 2015. I was in the Dominican Republic with a Helping Hands mission team. As usual, part of that mission was teaching in our Pastor Training School. And it didn’t take long to notice a new student in that week’s class. It seemed that if we paused to take a breath, this young man had his hand up wanting to ask a question. The first day I didn’t think too much about it. Afterall, questions let a teacher know their class is engaging the lesson. By the second day, I had taken notice of him because I was constantly answering his questions. And being brutally honest, by the third day I intentionally recognized others ahead of him in order to get broader participation from the class.
As I recall, it was about two hours into our Wednesday lessons when he threw his hand up. I finished my thought and called on him. I was expecting a question, but this time he wanted to share something with our faculty and his fellow class members. He began by pointing out two other pastors in the class who happened to be sitting near the front. After asking them to stand, he said they were the reason he was in this class. Well, I certainly didn’t know what that meant. But then he told his story.
He said that up until a few months ago, he didn’t know what sin was, and he didn’t know that he was a sinner. And then he said, these two pastors who were part of the pastor training school had been in previous courses and had been faithful to come back to his village and teach others. That was great news because our ministry is made available with a high accountability to II Timothy 2:2 –
Entrust the Gospel to faithful men who will in turn entrust it to others.
So these two pastors had taken our Scriptural charge to heart and it was being revealed in this story. They were faithfully sowing the seeds of the Gospel with people in their village. And as it turned out, this young man was just some of the fertile ground where that seed took root.
Now, back to the story. His next statement was:
Now I not only know what sin is, I know that I have confessed my sins to Jesus and He has forgiven me. Because of that, I am here to become a pastor.
Obviously, that kind of morning is one I will never forget. It was stunning. And as I have recounted those events over the years, and especially in the last few days, I’m always amazed at the number of people who are involved in that story. Some of them were present that day. I was present and there were other pastors who were teaching with me. But there were people just like you who had a part of that story and some of them probably wrestled with something that they thought was risky.
Steps Of Faith
Steps of faith often look risky. And our enemy likes for us to view them that way. It’s a step of faith to contribute and support a ministry like EquipUs, or to commit time and resources to be part of a Helping Hands mission team, or to take a leadership position in a ministry of your own church!
I will agree that those things can be challenging but they really aren’t risky. Why? Because every time our Father calls us to do something, whether it’s to a hands-on place of ministry that He has given us or being the conduit through which His provisions flow, He only calls us to that which is good for us. Answering in faith is never a risk because God is not a debtor to any man.
But our good, good Father, according to Luke’s Gospel, gives back to us in a way He describes as pressed down, shaken together and running over. And so that is one level of the reward that comes in a story like this.
There are many unseen hands in what transpired in class that day. People had contributed and volunteered for previous missions. They played a role in the lives of the two pastors who were being recognized. And those two pastors, whose names you don’t know, took seriously what they were taught and what they were charged to do, which is nothing more than what all Christians are charged to do. They shared the Gospel with others and this young man came to know Christ because of it.
A Parable Applies
Well, we finished out that week, and I was thoroughly blessed. And that too, is pretty normal. One of my great blessings is seeing God at work in the lives of so many people. Once again the work of God’s unseen hand had become visible. I marveled at the mystery of our Father at work. I knew in a larger sense that our pastors were being faithful to share the Gospel. We keep records on their ministries and the growth of their churches. But it was exciting on a new level to see and hear the result of their labors.
And that just underscores the truth of Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. I am drawn to the version recorded in Mark 4. In that chapter, Jesus commented about the mystery of the seed. The farmer doesn’t know how the seed grows, but he simply plants the seed and watches it grow. He can’t explain the growth, but he knows that it occurs. The rain falls and the sun shines on the ground and brings a visible result.
The seed is the Word of God, and it still works the way Jesus described. We don’t always see or know how that seed is developing or growing and we don’t always see who sowed it. But we know that the Word does its work. And that’s the beautiful part of it. Those two pastors shared the word, and it took root in the life of a young man who was extremely eager to learn. And this isn’t even close to the end of the story!
We came back several months later, and we did another week of class. Our very inquisitive, young student was in class. And he was just as inquisitive the second time as he had been the first time. And that remained true right up until June of 2021. That’s the last time we were in the Barahona area, and he was in class.
Now, between 2015 and 2021, He graduated from our pastor training school. And in keeping with what he shared the first time we met him, he was doing what God had called him to do. He had become the pastor of a small church in Batey 6. It was his first time to serve as pastor. He was happy and we celebrated that together. I posted the news on my blog and that post is linked in the description of this video.
As we were preparing to be in the Barahona area this past June, I was corresponding with several people. Our young pastor was one of them. We could never give him too much. If I mentioned a good resource in class, he would ask for a copy. We always did our best to come home and find a Spanish version of whatever he thought he needed. And we were able to do that because people acted in faith and contributed to the ministry.
What was provided privately was having a very public result. And that’s just an example of what Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount – pray or give in secret and God rewards openly.
In our emails, he invited me to preach in his church during our June mission. It was my joy to do that two times, once on Sunday morning and once on Tuesday evening. He was having what we might call a revival. And it’s hard to say who was the most excited. He and his congregation received us enthusiastically and I was only too glad to do my part in helping him. I was simply overjoyed to see him in his role asf pastor and in the setting of his flock.
My role is to teach. And being in front of a group is just one way that happens. We work hard to operate in what I’ll call a healthy manner. Simply put, we work with our ministry partners but we do not work for them. Everybody is working and contributing.
In keeping with that, I told my young host that I would be glad to come but he and his church would have to provide the transportation to get me there and also provide a translator. That took some doing on his part, but he got it done. And then you can guess that when the offering plate was passed, we put enough mission funds in the plate to cover those expenses. But he didn’t know ahead of time that would happen.
That is just another example of why I was encouraged by the enthusiasm with which he applied himself to his work. He called me his pastor. I could deal with that. But then he would say he was my Timothy – as if I could somehow be equated to the Apostle Paul. We know better than that!
We continued to correspond after our return to the States. He was sharing his vision for the church and what he needed to do. That included things we addressed several months ago, so I already knew his plans for a new church building. That would take some funding. And I’ve previously shared with our readers and listeners that we have several church building projects on our books. These are things I would love for us to be able to fund. His Church was one of those. I continued doing what I could through the month of July. And that included meeting with the people who are processing our grant applications for his church, the church in Batey 8, three churches in Belize and others. If you didn’t take it that way, please consider that list a prayer request!
And then, on July 31, I got a note from Pastor Ramon. You may recognize that name. He and his wife were dealing with Covid during June. Many of you contributed to help buy medicine for them. Ramon’s note was very short. He simply let me know that our young inquisitive, energetic pastor whose name is Renee had passed away that day.
Agony In The Story
Now, I am not ashamed to tell you that this is the agonizing part of the story. This one hurts. But no matter the circumstances, God is good. Does He, or can He, do anything that isn’t good? No, he doesn’t; He can’t. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t times and circumstances where we just don’t understand. It’s another opportunity to walk in faith, knowing that His ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts, and that He knows the end from the beginning.
Thankfully, all our stories will end in victory! Our agonizing moments are real, but fleeting. The ultimate victory for all who believe is when our faith becomes sight. That is now true for Renee.
All of us who taught him were encouraged as we watched him grow and sensed his hunger to know more so he could do more in and for the Kingdom. So it’s almost unfathomable that the very best thing was for God to take Renee home.
But as brightly as his light burned, He is now in the light of Jesus’ presence. And that is the great hope every believer has; our ultimate reality. Because right now, we see through a glass darkly, but one day we will see the Lord face to face and we will know as we are known. That’s the promise of Scripture. So I am happy beyond measure for Renee.
We experience the pain of parting for a while, but the anticipation of our coming victory grows ever greater. We will be reunited with those who have gone before us. And that makes the promise of heaven that much sweeter. Pastor Alberto was present that day when Renee recognized those two pastors and told his story. Now, Alberto and Renee are together. And just as we’ve tried to care for Alberto’s widow and their family, we will stay in touch with Renee’s family. Helping Hands will have opportunities to minister to those left behind.
Helping Hands Make A Difference
But let me add another layer to the wonderful, mysterious ways our Father works. Many people make this ministry go. And as awesome as it is to work together for the Kingdom, some dear Helping Hands have been called home. Names like Carol, Linda, Bill and Ken all come to mind. Like others, they volunteered and contributed, not knowing how God would use their efforts but trusting Him to do what is good.
My point is, their prayers and other efforts, like yours, led to churches being built, pastors being equipped, congregations being mobilized so enemies of God could become sons of God. Renee was one of those. And I can just imagine Jesus welcoming Renee home and saying:
Let me introduce you to some of the people I used to get you here!
Think about those little actions that God prompts us to do. It might be going, giving, promoting, providing or praying. God knows His purpose in the tasks. And even though you and I don’t know, being obedient is always the right thing to do. So, thank you once again for answering our Father’s call. My friend Renee is just one tangible example of why we take our steps of faith.
Let me wrap this up with encouragement and a challenge. One of the things that I have found so encouraging about those in our pastor training school is the eagerness with which they apply themselves to learning the Word of God. And they always seem to have a visible sense of gratitude for whatever we can teach. I’ll miss seeing that in Renee.
It stands in contrast to what we see too often in our churches here at home. What I see here very often is a search for knowledge. But the pursuit is about being able to say. Yes, I learned that. And the problem with that mindset can be seen all over our society. To be salt and light, we learn in order to do, which is more than learning in order to know. There’s a huge difference.
And the uncomfortable truth about believers in our culture is this:
Our knowledge exceeds our obedience.
It’s not enough to learn the Word unless it results in being doers of the Word. And that is the goal of those you enable us to engage and equip in our Pastor Training School.
If you have prayed for us, volunteered, or contributed to this ministry then you are part of Renee’s story lien. I may not know the part you played in the story of Renee’s light that seemed to burn so brightly. But God saw, He knows it, and as Scripture says, He is debtor to no man. He rewards His children and delights in doing it.
The challenge is this: for us to pray forward. Specifically, please pray about a congregation in need of a pastor. They have had about two weeks for reality to set in. I’ll be speaking with people on the ground who can give insight regarding the future direction of the church Renee left behind.
And there are those who would say we just need to take that church off the building project list. I would disagree. You see, progress in God’s Kingdom doesn’t depend on who the pastor is. God is marching on!
And just so you know, those two pastors that Renee recognized back in 2015; well, when I was there this past June they were part of his congregation. We will assess things, you please pray for wisdom, and don’t be surprised if you are presented with the opportunity to see Renee’s vision of a new church facility become reality.
God is good. And everything He does is for our good and His glory. May all our lights burn brightly for Him!
Thank you for letting me share. Together, we are Equipping For Life!