In Memoriam: Believers who were promoted to glory this year

Eternity doesn’t publish a lot of obituaries. But when we do, there’s a good reason for it.

Likewise, we don’t publish ‘end of year’ stories that collate obituaries – it just doesn’t seem like what people want to read as they approach the year’s end. But again, when we do, there’s a good reason for it.

This year, several men and women of faith finished their years on earth and were promoted to glory. While their loss is deeply sad, writing and reading about their lives is nothing short of inspirational. They provide an opportunity to, in the Bible’s words, “take heart”.

So this year, we invite you to make time to read about these brothers and sisters in Christ as 2021 draws to a close.

We suggest bringing a prayerful heart and giving thanks for their lives as you do. Perhaps God will draw your attention to certain qualities and convictions they possessed and encourage you to pursue the same virtues? Maybe they will remind you of the vast, magnificent work God has done, is doing and will continue to do through the lives of those who choose to follow him.

Either way, we pray they will nourish your soul, as they did for us.

On February 3 in Malawi, on the grounds of the Kondanani Children’s Village, an Australian woman was buried. Cherie Martin had volunteered at the orphanage since 2002 when she decided to leave Australia with her baby daughter to help vulnerable children.

Last week, Martin died from COVID-19, aged 51. A memorial service for Martin was held at her family home at Lemontree Passage, north of Newcastle, NSW and streamed to Kondanani and Martin’s daughter, Tandazi.

Many tributes were made about the woman who “managed the school, a farm and a children’s hospital … She started up a piggery and a dairy farm, she built income for the village, creating cheese and butter by hand.”

Read more about Cherie Martin in this tribute, ‘She faced opposition going to Africa with a small child, but she was called’.

In 1979, the international scientific press announced the shocking news that a Cambridge University professor of mathematical physics was resigning to become a priest!

They were referring, of course, to John Polkinghorne, who died on March 9 at age 90.

Polkinghorne was both a renowned physicist and an Anglican priest who did much to reconcile science and religion. For him, there was no serious conflict between his commitments as a world-class scientist and his deep Christian faith.

“John Polkinghorne gave heart to those of us who were Christians and scientists in academia and, particularly through his many books, gave us new tools for talks, conversations and for engaging with others about science and Christian faith,” wrote John Pilbrow.

“I count it a great privilege to have known him, and I have benefitted enormously from his contributions and insights. He articulated ideas many of us may have reached independently, but he made them more accessible.

“We shall miss a true, gracious and generous Christian and we are all the better for his example. His many books and insights will continue to help us explore the interaction between Christian faith and modern science.”

Read more about John Polkinghorne in John Pilbrow’s tribute, A giant who reconciled science and religion

After a three-year battle with stage IV lung cancer, evangelist Luis Palau died on March 11 at his home in Portland, Oregon. He was 86 years old.

For more than 65 years, Palau played an influential role in Christian missions and worldwide evangelism as a powerful speaker, teacher, and author. Beginning as a street preacher, his life’s work took him to more than 80 nations, and his campaigns allowed him to present a clear case for Christianity to an audience of more than 1 billion people through television, radio, print, and live events.

He became known as South America’s Billy Graham.

Read more about Luis Palau in his official obituary, Luis Palau, South America’s Billy Graham, called home.

Verenagi Ravu, a church leader in Papua New Guinea’s United Church and Secretary-General of the PNG Bible Society, died from COVID on March 26.

“Vere was a humble and gentle man of God who will be very much missed,” says Belinda Faulks from the Bible Society Australia mission team.

“I’ve had the honour of knowing and working with Vere since the beginning of 2019, when he took on the challenging role of General Secretary of the Bible Society of Papua New Guinea,” says André Minnaar, from the United Bible Societies Global Mission Team.

“He did so at a very difficult time in its history and when most would have simply said ‘this is too difficult – someone else can do it’. The Bible Society needed a person who loved the Lord and honoured his Word, who was respected in the community, a person of great integrity and also someone with the skills, determination and passion needed for this role.

“Vere met all of these requirements and more.”

Read more about Ravu in John Sandeman’s article, The face of COVID in PNG: Christian leader Verenagi Ravu promoted to glory.

The great Ecuadoran missiologist and theologian C. René Padilla passed away suddenly on April 7 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. René Padilla inspired a generation of disciples and leaders to follow Jesus in integral mission and the service of the poor.

“His life and words changed our lives, and knowing him transformed our theology, faith, and practice. He was a pastoral and theological prophet who founded or guided many organisations,” wrote Graham Hill.

“René was a champion of grassroots churches meeting together for worship, to celebrate the Eucharist, and to engage in acts of justice, mercy, and consciousness raising among the poor and oppressed. He rejoiced in the missional, liberating, educative, and fellowshipping dimensions of these grassroots communities.”

Read more about Padilla in Graham Hill’s tribute, The man who brought the gospel and social justice together.

In 2019, Ben Shaw had a toothache. It turned out to be aggressive cancer. A month after his diagnosis, Shaw underwent extensive surgery to remove cancer growing in his jaw. He and his wife Karen were told the difficult surgery would cure him.

But the cancer came back. In June 2020, after extensive treatment, Shaw was told he might only have 12 months to live.

12 months later, Ben said he was “looking eternity square in the face”…, and he launched a book that had been many years in the making – “well before I had cancer”, explained Shaw.

On June 17, Shaw lost his battle with cancer, announced by his friend John Dickson. “Our beautiful, courageous Ben went to be with the Lord at 1am today. He has been surrounded by friends at our home, with hymns, prayers and readings each night for this last week. It was a good entry to glory.”

Read more about Shaw in Kaley Payne’s article Staring death in the face, Ben Shaw launches book to make you reconsider. The report includes links to two podcast episodes where Shaw talks to John Dickson about his battle.

Max Champion, a leader of the conservative confessing movement within the Uniting Church in Australia (UCA), died this year in June.

Champion was a leader of the orthodox Christians who stayed in the Uniting Church when it was founded 44 years ago but became critical of its direction. He was a leader of the Reforming Alliance (RA) and the founding chair of its successor body, the Assembly of Confessing Congregations (ACC).

Holding a doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, Champion was a theologically credible leader. His thesis studied Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the knowledge of God – examining how knowledge of God means we are “liberated from broken self-knowledge for self-knowledge grounded in forgiveness.”

Read more about Max in John Sandman’s tribute, Max Champion, a champion of the UCA confessing movement promoted to glory

Rev Dr Joel Edwards passed away on June 30 after a battle with cancer at age 70.

Edwards was General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance from 1997 until 2009 – the first black Pentecostal to hold the post – and became International Director of Micah Challenge. A senior figure in the UK church, Joel was awarded the Langton Award for Community Service in 2016 “for his unique contribution in uniting evangelical Christians across the UK in challenging global injustice”.

His family confirmed his death with a farewell letter posted to social media written by Edwards himself.

“Dear friends, This is to say a final goodbye. First, my incredible thanks for your prayers, love and holding on with me to that fingernail miracle. Words cannot express the depth, breadth and height of my gratitude, but I have gone home. My earnest prayer is that your faith and tenacity on my behalf will not be considered a pointless religious exercise but that it will have strengthened your faith in a God who is marvellous, mysterious and majestic in all that He does: The Faithful One. I commend my family to you. I know you will watch over them in the months and years ahead. And I commend you to God and to the word of His grace that is able to build us up and give us an inheritance among those that are being saved. I wait to welcome you….”

Read more about Joel Edwards in Kylie Beach’s tribute, Vale Rev. Dr Joel Edwards – fellow traveller, brother in Christ.

The Rev John Edmondstone OAM had a vision for the potential of radio to spread the Christian gospel. And he was committed to it, with a radio career spanning 42 years – at the same time as ministering as a Baptist pastor.

Edmondstone passed away in July, and Eternity was pleased to publish his official obituary.

Read more about Edmonstone in Bruce Thornton’s obituary, Farewelling a Christian radio pioneer.

Jonah Lwanga

In September, Uganda’s late Orthodox Archbishop, Jonah Lwanga, was honoured with tributes from religious leaders, politicians, human rights advocates, and an official state funeral.

Lwanga was the Archbishop of Kampala and Exarch of All Uganda in the Uganda Orthodox Church, making him the spiritual leader of more than 600,000 Orthodox Christian Ugandans. He died on September 5 after an unspecified long illness at 76.

The late Archbishop was highly was respected as both a capable denominational leader and human rights advocate. Under his leadership, the Orthodox faith in Uganda expanded to around 80 priests and 105 Orthodox communities.

Read more about Lwanga in Kylie Beach’s article, ‘He tirelessly worked for peace and justice’ – Ugandans pay tribute to late Orthodox Archbishop.

Rev. Cho Yong-gi – or David Yong-gi Chothe South Korean founder of one of the world’s largest churches, died on September 14 at 85 years. Known as David Yonggi Cho in English-speaking countries, the Pentecostal pastor reportedly succumbed to complications of a cerebral hemorrhage suffered in July 2020.

“He conveyed the gospel of hope to the Korean people who fell into despair after the Korean War,” the church said in a statement. “He was instrumental in growing the Korean church, particularly developing Yoido Full Gospel Church as the world’s largest church.”

Mired in controversy after his retirement, Yong-gi Cho’s later years were nonetheless characterised by a message of grace.

“I can only offer my deepest gratitude when I think about God’s grace, Jesus’ love, and the Holy Spirit’s guidance which cannot be adequately expressed in words,” Cho had written on the church’s website.

Read more about David Yong-gi Cho in Kylie Beach’s article, South Korean pastor David Yong-gi Cho dies at 85.

In October, historian Professor Don Lewis, a former teacher of mine at Regent College in Vancouver, had died suddenly and unexpectedly. He was 71 years old and had just notched up 40 years at the College.

“When studying at Regent a few of us Australians used to refer to him simply as “The Don”. It was a mark of respect—that name in our country being reserved only for the greatest of course. He didn’t immediately stand out or draw the adulation of star-struck students in the way some professors did. But the quality of his work was undoubted and anyone who had anything to do with him would speak of his deep interest in his students, his support and encouragement and kindness that very often extended well beyond their time at the College. He had time for people. He seemed to know what was important. He was committed to elevating other people, rather than himself,” reflected Simon Smart.

Read more about Lewis in Simon Smart’s tribute, Vale Don Lewis: Regent College’s passionate professor is promoted to glory.

Marilyn Laszlo was a missionary legend who brought the word of God to an unreached people group in Hauna Village in the jungles of Papua New Guinea and brought education, knowledge, government, and natural resources to their community.

She was a brilliant connector and an engaging storyteller who was driven by a relentless and passionate desire to see the gospel move forward, according to Wycliffe USA’s executive director of partnerships, Andy Keener – one of many thousands of people who were inspired to become missionaries by her example.

“Marilyn was a model for missionaries in the nature in which she blazed the path into a place. There’s been a lot of Wycliffe missionaries who have blazed a path into places where no one had gone before thanks to her,” said Keener, speaking to Eternity in the wake of the American missionary’s death in September at the age of 88.

Read more about Lazlo in Anne Lim’s tribute, A trailblazer who inspired thousands to go on mission.

Melvin Tinker, a 66-year-old, ex Anglican vicar from Hull in England, died in November.

“I suspect that most of the readers of Eternity will not have heard of this preacher from a far-off land,” wrote David Robertson. “He was not a celebrity, did not have a TV station or travel the world with his entourage. He came from a coal mining background – and though he hadn’t read a book until his mid-teens – he ended up writing over 15 of them!  He was an intelligent, compassionate and biblical pastor – leading his people through some deeply troubled  waters.”

Read more about Tinker in David Robertson’s tribute, Why evangelicals will miss Melvin Tinker, not a celebrity but a prophetic teacher.

In December, friends and family were devastated by the sudden and untimely death of linguist Dr Cathy Bow. She coached missionaries for language work and then worked closely with Aboriginal language owners in the Northern Territory.

Cathy trained a whole generation of men and women for language learning at St Andrew’s Hall, the training college for the Church Missionary Society (CMS) in Melbourne, according to its director, David Williams, appearing via videolink at Cathy’s funeral service on November 8 in Darwin.

“She’s really trained a whole generation of gospel workers, not just for CMS, but for the wider missions community,” he said.

Read more about Bow in Anne Lim’s article, Linguist’s legacy reached 72 countries.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, spiritual leader, and racial equality campaigner died in Cape Town, South Africa, aged 90. Tutu was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the late 1990s, and in recent years, he was hospitalised several times for infections resulting from his treatment.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his sadness at Tutu’s passing on December 26 2021.

“Desmond Tutu was a patriot without equal; a leader of principle and pragmatism who gave meaning to the biblical insight that faith without works is dead,” he said.

“Tutu was a key figure in ending apartheid – the country’s white minority rule – in the 1990s. He was also the first black African to hold the posts of Bishop of Johannesburg and Archbishop of Cape Town.

On hearing of his death, the current Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, praised Tutu, noting the role of prayer, scripture and ministry in his life.

“Desmond Tutu’s legacy is moral strength, moral courage and clarity. He felt with the people. In public and alone, he cried because he felt people’s pain. And he laughed — no, not just laughed, he cackled with delight when he shared their joy,” Makgoba said.

Read more about Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Kylie Beach’s article, Archbishop Desmond Tutu dies at 90.