I first met Billy and his wife May in late 1995 when I began studying at Bible College which was in their home town. At the time the college had just moved to the area and we were using a local Church for the lectures while the leaders looked for suitable premises. As a result, for my first year in college from October 1995 until June 1996 I stayed in Billy and May's home, only returning to my own home at the weekends.
It is hard to speak of Billy without May as their characteristics are so similar but I will try to focus on Billy.
Right from the outset I found him to be a "gentle giant". A tall man in stature with a quiet personality, yet full of fun. Most of all, one of the most godly men I have ever met and one who has impacted me personally and indeed the work of FML more than I could ever have imagined.
He was a car mechanic by trade and as I got my first 13 year old car I had many occasions to avail of his services, as was the case with so many people. I remember the first bill he gave me for some relatively small job on the car....it amounted to over £500. I remember wondering how I would ever pay it and then I began to read the itemised list and discovered that he was charging me for the most ridiculous things; including washing powder for cleaning his overalls; yes....the whole thing was a joke!
Billy never had children of his own. But I think he is like Abraham who was told his children would be as many as the stars of the sky. Billy has been like a father to so many and has been so good to so many. Always there when needed. William commented to me that loosing Billy is like loosing your Grandad. I think if Billy were here he would be the first to laugh and say he isn't that old....but I think this describes exactly how we are feeling today.
Billy and his wife never forgot me when I moved away from the area and when Feed My Lambs was formed they were excited to hear of God's leading. They have proved over the years to be faithful in prayer for us in the work. They welcomed William into their home also. Each time we would have a trip to Africa, they would be the first to have a meeting in their home upon our return and would fill their little room to capacity with those who had a heart for the work among the children. We thank God that Billy had opportunity to hear all about our last trip and to see lots of photos....the first request he made to us after his diagnosis....he really wanted to see what all had taken place.
Billy and his wife have given invaluable help to us at the stall up until 11 months ago when he began to be unwell. Travelling around 30 mile every week to be with us, they remained faithful when others dropped out. When we went to Kenya, they kept things ticking over with the help of others and did an excellent job. Texting to tell us how things had gone and to ask how we were getting on and running to the bank to send out any funds which had come in that day. In fact, the market would probably never have happened without Billy and May. It was their idea to have a sale for a few days. They initially suggested a shop, but when we found that to be too expensive, I came up with the idea of the market....but the concept was something which the Lord laid on their heart and that was evident with their committment.
We have confided in them regarding the work of FML. We valued their prayers and advice so much and knew they kept everything in confidence. As a result they have known things that we haven't shared with anyone else....the ups and the downs....the joys and the discouragements....yet knowing all, they have stood with us....praying, supporting, listening, never judgemental but always there.
Heaven today is more precious knowing that Billy is there. Quiet, fun loving, wise, faithful, committed and most of all a godly man who on more than one occasion opened up his Bible before us and shared with us what God had said to him concerning situations we were going through in the ministry at the particular time. We were always encouraged when we left the home.
Our team in Kenya are familiar with the names of Billy and May and they have been praying much for them over these past months. They too are sorrowing today.
On behalf of my dad, William and all in FML in Kenya and Uganda, we extend our sincere sympathies to May and assure her of our prayers in the coming days.....we know that she will continue to pray and be as faithful to us in the days to come as in the past.
Billy went to be with the Lord late on Friday evening 2nd November. As a mark of respect we did not open the stall on Saturday.
We had been booked for many months to attend the Missionary weekend at the Iron Hall in Belfast. We decided that Billy would be the first to tell us to go and the first to ask us how it went....so we felt we would go ahead, though our thoughts were never far from Billy and May.
After visiting with May on Saturday and Sunday, we headed to Belfast. We set our stand up on Saturday evening and were able to give people information about the work before and after the meeting. Around 18 - 20 missionary organisations were represented and all had stands.
On Sunday we returned in the afternoon to speak with the children. I taught them a little from the Kenyan flag and had them singing in Swahili. William shared a powerpoint presentation entitled "Growing up in Kenya" which gave them an insight into Kenyan life. We finished with a quiz which resulted in some children receving Kenyan keyrings and then all were delighted with their FML pens which we were able to distribute to each child in attendance. They listened so well and we were encouraged. Last night, Monday, when we returned for the final night we were told the news that one child who had been at the Sunday School had yesterday trusted the Lord as her Saviour....praise the Lord.
Again we were encouraged by the interest shown at the stand on the final two evenings and we are glad that so many people have been able to learn of the work. We were made to feel so welcome and we believe that many more people will be praying as a result of the weekend.
Today is an exciting day for the team in Kenya also. Pastor Aringo, Moses, Pastor Meshack and Joyce will be travelling with others from their various parts of Kenya and Uganda, to Kisumu to attend a conference for Children's workers which is being run by the Free Pentecostal Fellowhip of Kenya churches (FPFK). We have a close relationship with some of the leaders of this denomination and we are praying for them and indeed all who attend, that they will blessed and encouraged in their ministry to children. We thank God for His provision that has allowed us to pay for transport for the team to travel and their registrations fees. They will arrive today, have the conference tomorrow and Thursday from first thing to 9pm each evening and then they will leave on Friday. Please remember them all in your prayers.
We are tired! It has been a whirlwind weekend with many mixed emotions of sadness and encouragement.....but as I read a quote this morning I felt that it had been true in our lives this weekend.... it said, "When we feel the stress of the storm we learn the strength of the anchor."
We have known the strength of the anchor this weekend without doubt. Billy was "grounded firm and safe in the Saviour's love" and is with Him today. But as we think of someone who is with their Saviour and then think of the challenge to missions that we also received over the weekend, we realise afresh the urgency of bringing the Gospel to those lost in sin. Perhaps you are one of those.....trust in Billy's Saviour and meet him again one day. Perhaps you are already saved, then the challenge to witness comes to you. Will you determine to work for the Lord and say with the words of one of the songs we enjoyed over the missionary weekend:
So I will go wherever He is calling me
I lose my life to find my life in Him
I give my all to gain the hope that never dies
I bow my heart, take up
my cross and follow Him