We pulled into the parking lot of Colonial Presbyterian Church just a few minutes before the memorial service was scheduled to begin. I had been feeling a sense of destiny all week. Something told me that I needed to be at this memorial. As the line began to grow behind Julie and me, I was astonished by how many Chinese men and women were coming in the door. This memorial service was shaping up to contain at least thirty percent Chinese people.
I met Jake Combs almost twenty years ago. He was the teacher of a business men’s Monday morning bible study. He had been teaching this same group of men since the mid-eighties. The only time he ever missed his weekly appointment was when he was oversees in Malaysia, Taiwan and other Asian countries. I have been blessed to attend this men’s bible study off-and-on for the last seventeen years.
A couple of weeks ago Jake (85) fell suddenly ill. A drainage duct in his pancreas became blocked, and four days later he left his earthly life from the deadly complications of pancreatitis.
The reason there were so many Asians at his memorial is because Jake spent sixty years of his life in ministry to the Chinese community wherever he could find them. In 1952 Jake Joined The Navigators. Jake spent the next 25 years ministering to Asians in Singapore. In 1977 Jake moved his family back to the US and chose Kansas City. He quickly found the Asian communities in the city and continued his ministry in communion with The Navigators.
When I got the news of Jake’s passing, I knew I wanted to go to his memorial service. I wanted to experience, firsthand, a memorial service for a man who had spent his entire life in ministry. It was the most inspirational experience of my spiritual life. His daughter took the podium and shared some thoughts in English and in Chinese. His son took the podium and shared some of his own memories. A local Asian minister who had known Jake for 25 years took the podium and shared his love for Jake, and an Asian choir sang an original Asian hymn in Jake’s honor. A business owner from Malaysia flew in and shared the story of his own conversion because of Jake’s influence.
The impact of Jake’s life was all over that auditorium. There were at least five hundred people, and I would estimate at least two hundred of them we of Asian descent. There were several characteristics that were mentioned several times by more than one presenter, and I wrote them down.
And my favorite character trait: “He answered every question with a Bible verse.”
As I reflected on Jake’s life the other day, I said to Julie, “If all this Bible and Jesus stuff was just a waste of time wouldn’t someone like Jake have figured that out a long time ago?”
Jake spent sixty years teaching the Bible in two languages. He saw the impact of the scriptures on thousands of lives. At the end of his life, hundreds of people representing the largest culture in the world came to celebrate. His children spoke of him fondly through tearful eyes. Leaders from The Navigators and business men from half-way across the globe lifted up his life. Those are not the fruits of a wasted life or belief system. Those are fruits of a faithful and real God.
The last speaker for the afternoon was the lead pastor of the Quivira Road location of Colonial Presbyterian Church. At this point in the memorial I was a little overwhelmed. I entered the afternoon hopping to get a sense of how a life dedicated to God might be celebrated. What I got was a list of character traits that left me feeling woefully inadequate.
Pastor Bob Lehleitner must have known how I was feeling, so he left us with this parting thought: “Jake wasn’t like Jake when he started.” Pastor Lehleitner was trying to tell us that our spiritual journey is not a destination but a process.
At eighty-five years of age Jake was still serving in full-time ministry. He never retired because he never thought his usefulness in the Kingdom of God had come to an end.
Jake finished strong. I want to do the same.