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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Lord's shining face

The founding pastor of the church in which I grew up, which is also the church to which our family holds our USA memberships, and our main supporting church, died Monday.  Larry Vail was 93, and a man of God that personified grace for me.

He had a shiny bald head, and glasses, and an ear to ear smile that made his eyes squeeze shut. He would stand under the lights and read the blessing over us "May the Lord bless you and keep you and make His face to shine upon you and give you peace."  And while he said that, his face WAS shining upon us.  Because of this, and my parent's love, I grew up with an image of God as good, as kind, as perhaps a bit stern on the rules but definitely smiling.

Pastor Vail was also a man of prayer.  Our church prays congregationally for us every week in the morning service, by name.  We had open prayer times every Sunday night.  When we left 24 years ago for Uganda he supported us financially out of his retirement pension with the OPC which had to have been a huge sacrifice, and committed to pray for us daily.  Which I am sure he did, to his dying day or at least until the last hours of palliative morphine made that impossible.  Those prayers, multiplied by the church's ongoing prayers after he left, have saved our lives over and over.

Lastly, he was a pastor of a small church on an edge where rural was transforming into suburban, but he had a heart for the world.  I grew up praying for missionaries in Japan and Eritrea and Kenya and beyond.  When he left our church, he worked for the denominational mission and outreach.  Even though in those days we had no social media or reality TV . . . we were led by Pastor Vail in having the world on our hearts.

These three things:  a smiling blessing, a disciplined prayer life, and a world-encompassing vision, have shaped my relationship with God for my whole life.  Today we thank God for his life and I am happy to think of my dad and Larry Vail meeting in Heaven, but I also feel the foundation shift for us as we lose one of the key supports of our life.

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