Christian Life and Christian Death: A Pastor’s Transparent Transition
By Adrian Powell
From the time I was a teenager, I was all too familiar with death. My mother died during my freshman year of high school, two days after Christmas, by her own hand, as she thought that death was preferable to the life she had at that time as a single mother with an abusive male companion. My sister, nine years older than I, tried to console me, doing all she could under the circumstances.
Since that time, my life has been punctuated by periods where I was often called upon to assist with a family member’s funeral arrangements because I was a minister and pastor. And because I married a PK (preacher’s kid), I had a helpmate who was intimately familiar with the needs and desires in laying out a well-planned funeral service.
I have seen all sorts of people—Christian and non-believer—deal with the last months, weeks, and days of their lives. During all these occasions, the one thing that became clear was that those who truly had a strong relationship with Jesus Christ were best able to deal with their approaching transition.
And without exaggeration, I’ve observed that no one has dealt with their approaching death as well as the former pastor of several Church of God congregations, Kim Clark. I knew him in the 1980s when he pastored the Victorian Village Church of God in Columbus, Ohio, and he desired to reach the OSU campus with the gospel message. He had a history of health issues, but they were of little consequence to his outreach efforts and desire to proclaim the message of the cross.
We reconnected on Facebook and, after a time, I found his health issues had become more and more serious. It was apparent to the point that he became clear in his posts that he was not likely to have as long a life as he might have wished with his family, but he knew what was most important. I will let my friend’s words speak for themselves (edited for clarity):
“My days are numbered. That’s okay. So are yours. That’s life. But not all of it. I may not be here that much longer. No, I am not giving up. I just realize that each time I am about to meet a threshold, this thing gets worse than better. My spirit is immortal and has a home prepared by none other than Jesus himself, but this body, well, it seems to have more limits than I ever imagined. However, that which is impossible to man, God has no limits. Healing and living to Mom’s and Dad’s age is still completely possible.”
What was the content of Kim Clark’s prayers during his latter days on earth? He numbered them:
“1. That my family stays in the grace of Jesus. There is no greater desire than they know his mercy and love forever.
“2. That my extended family might also taste of the riches of heaven in these days, overcoming the stumbling blocks that hold them back from knowing the joy and glory of knowing him.
“3. That my friends find a way forward in this politicized world and awaken to the truth that is Jesus alone. He isn’t Republican or Democrat, nor even American. I love America but I don’t love the poor bed-fellows that politics make with being a follower of Jesus. Jesus overcame the world through his sacrifice of love and clearly took the sword out of our hands, a lesson that he drove home the last night he was with his disciples before the temple guard came to arrest him.
“I sailed to America from India in ‘my own ship’ when I was five-and-a-half. And then I sailed to Martha’s Vineyard every summer for ten years, and on my honeymoon, and a few more times with my sons.
“And I have been loved by my sweet wife, my best friend and partner in ministry for over forty-seven years…. And I have a home, prepared for me, in my Father’s house, by Jesus.”
Kim offered the following reflections as his body slowed, but his heart remained tender to Christ:
“The body is weak. The mind is challenged to fight off pain and sleep. The weakness of mind has made it difficult to eat or feed myself. Eating food is no longer appealing, so I have essentially stopped. My mouth just rejects food. Swallowing pills for pain is difficult. The weakness leaves me lazy when using the food tube. I must use the feeding tube and cannot explain how vital it is…. Please pray for the easement of pain. It has been much better, but it persists.
He offered another post that revealed his tender heart:
“Hello, everybody. This will be a short one. But I nearly left Monday night. It was bad enough that (I was) exactly told that I could call the family or be with other family because I could have been done anytime this coming day. It was so sad on my life. I am still here. It was bad enough that I have Mom and Dad talking to Jesus. I talk to you, yes, and they come to Father. I have been with great pain. God never left me. Love you, love him. Love Deb! God is so good.”
As he dealt with more and more discomfort and was dealing with greater and greater amounts of medications to deal with that pain and discomfort, it became more difficult for his thoughts to be laid out.
“Dear Father, I need you! I am down to groans and utterances. Please touch and strengthen. Out of the mouth of the grave, into this day’s strength. This is the day of your rest. This is the day to start! This is the day! With you, Jesus! Today, I choose to live! This step! In Jesus, today.”
Additional posts demonstrate Christ-centered life—and Christ-centered transition to the next:
“Waiting on death is fool’s game. But I realize, after another restless night…. It is a chance to say something again and hope to high heaven that it is enough. Follow Jesus closely. Man, he loves you! Love overcomes hate. Even in the hatred of sin. God loves ..there is nothing more important than that. Jesus knows that he offers love and peace and healing. I am the most fortunate person in the whole world. If God allows me to live longer, I will promote his love more. I love my most amazing wife. Pray for Debbi and strength. Pray for Eric and Logan. God loves you…I may not remind you again until a later moment, God bless.”
His wife, Debbi, wrote the following which is a portion of his obituary: “Kim Clark went home to his heavenly Father Friday, Dec. 2, at the age of 66, after a courageous battle with head and neck cancer.
“Even though medical issues took him from the pulpit, he shared God’s message every chance he had. He tried to always live a life that was Christlike. He would tell you himself that he didn’t always succeed. He was sure of God’s grace when he asked for forgiveness and knew it was given. He loved sharing his witness of God’s mercy, strength, forgiveness, and love to anyone who would listen. He saw the fields white unto harvest all around him and he never stopped trying to harvest those souls. He loved his fellow man and carried such a burden for them. The hate, mistrust, prejudice, and violence in the world broke his heart. God told us to love one another—not just some. He wanted us to know the person on the inside before judging them from the outside. Hate begets hate. He loved to help (others). Kim couldn’t donate his organs because of the cancer, but he still wanted to help others that suffered illness. He donated his body to ScienceCare. He will continue to make a difference beyond his life with us.”
It is important to know that while Kim wasn’t an exceptionally well-known person, he was very well-known to his Savior. I close with this quote from another preacher who was taken relatively early due to disease, Charles Spurgeon: “The best moment of a Christian’s life is his last one, because it is the one that is nearest heaven.”
Adrian Powell is a writer with Church of God Ministries and serves as senior pastor of Faith Community Church of God in Grove City, Ohio. He has been published in numerous periodicals, newspapers, and blogs, and has authored two books—The Jubilee Harvest and Resident Aliens: A Living Faith in a Hostile World, available at Amazon.com.