My friend Ben went to be with Jesus at 3:30 a.m. It is the same time I “almost” went to be with the Lord on Black Friday, 2015, of a pulmonary embolism misdiagnosed as pneumonia. Those of us who have a vision that this life is about future hope, not the present hope of this world’s offer instead of the age to come, know that Ben no longer sees through a clouded translucent glass, as we do, but he sees His judge and Savior face to face, and he is out of pain and purified and glorified. I find myself at once deeply saddened and rejoicing, as Henri Nouwen puts it: where mourning and dancing are one. The hope of the Resurrection was strong with this one and still is with his bride, an ordained poet who writes beautifully. I’ll begin this reflection with the end in mind: Ben was God’s instrument who saved the life of my wife. This is a true story.
I met Ben and Mary Ferguson because of a Providential accident. The Rev. Todd Hare, a dear friend of mine, is an Orvis-certified fly-fishing guide, and a young boy had hooked into a massive trout on the South Holston River in the vicinity of Bristol, Tennessee. The young boy was going to break it off and leave, but Todd, nearby, said, “don’t do that,” and began coaching the boy on how to land a 20+ inch trout. Two guide boats pulled over to the side of the river to watch this battle between boy and Brown. One of the guides knew Todd was bivocational as a fly-fishing guide and an Anglican Mission church planter, and mentioned to one of the men in his boat that Todd was a priest in the Anglican Church. That man was Ben Ferguson’s father, then CEO of Eastman, of Eastman/Kodak notoriety, and, being based in East Tennessee, went over and spoke to Todd about it, saying that his son, Ben, had just graduated from Gordon-Conwell seminary, and had an interest in Anglican ordination.
Todd put Ben in touch with me, as I was the Mid-South Mission Network leader at the time, and after hosting Ben and Mary in Knoxville, I suggested that they relocate to us to help with Old North Abbey, our church plant from Apostles. Later, I gave Chris Sorensen a call to see if Ben and Mary could help him expand their multi-site chapel system for Mission Chattanooga, and Chris issued that call. Since then, for a decade, Ben and Mary have been serving in Chattanooga.
Ben has always had the delight of the joy of the Lord in his eyes, and it is hard for everyone who knew him, especially his dear loving wife and daughters, to have that light go out. The Spirit of Christ was so wonderfully wrapped in the swaddling clothes of Ben’s body and soul, and we will dearly miss him.
This is the final text I sent him. Not sure if he had occasion to read it or not:
“I’ve got so much love for you. Can’t believe all the Lord has done in you and through you. I heard a story this morning as my wife was driving me to my colonoscopy that YOU saved her life. The reason she pushed so hard against Tricare [our Army insurance] to get an ‘early’ colonoscopy when she was inexplicably anemic was because she had heard about your condition. She had a cancerous polyp, one of sixteen they cut out, and it was contained. You didn’t even know, but you saved her, bro. Your legacy of investing the Gospel in yourself and others will go on, and on, and on and echo into eternity. May the Lord bless you, and keep you, and make His face to shine upon you, may He be gracious to you, and lift up the light of His countenance upon you, drawing your family close as He gives them comfort from the reservoir of His grace.”
If you’d like to see Ben preach, here is a service from Mission Chattanooga. I commend the whole service to you, but I certainly commend, at least, the sermon:
It’s not often that those of us who feel helpless can do something tangible to help the family, but I commend to you Mary Romero Ferguson’s book, Loom, available here:
“These dramatic monologues and lyric observations offer a profound re-vision of the familiar epic journey, most notably giving voice to the women of our story. They also provide a compelling challenge to the disposition that would privilege the “far-eyed Odysseus,” choosing instead to honor all that dwells near-at-hand, the sacred matter immediately at-hand. These poems recover the specific savor of those persons, places, and things we touch, those beloved strands with which we weave our cosmos.”
—Scott Cairns, author of Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems and Anaphora
This particular Scott Cairns is not a relation, but I am a fan of his.
May the God of all hope and comfort be near to those who mourn, may He restore us and refresh us in the knowledge of our future hope, and may we cling to the knowledge that one day all of us who are in Christ will celebrate the defeat of evil and death in the Age to Come with Ben, and all the saints of God.