It was one of life’s special and treasured privileges yesterday to join John’s family at our nearby hospital and pray for him and anoint him with oil. He had been suddenly struck down just a couple of days ago with an intestinal blockage which resulted in a rupture in his stomach. His beloved wife Christine rushed him to hospital and his devoted boys Larry and Lloyd rallied around him. John’s other son, Lance, comes in today. But most sadly, he will be here too late, because it was only some 45 minutes after I left the hospital, and his family a few minutes later, that my beloved and most precious friend, John, went to be with the Lord.
When Larry messaged me with this news I felt deeply shocked, totally stricken and heart- rent. I found it incomprehensible, and still do less than a day later. By God’s merciful grace, not having wept for a good few years, God gave me the gift of tears last night and I was able to weep over the loss of this beloved man. That was good.
But the tears of his family must be many more than mine. So with everyone in African Enterprise worldwide, Carol and I extend to Christine, Lance, Larry, and Lloyd and the rest of the family and grandchildren our deepest possibly sympathy and condolences. They have lost a prince of a man as husband, father, grandfather, and uncle. May they know that poignant blessedness of “those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)
For myself I have lost one of life’s dearest, most precious and most loyal friends. John and his first wife Rona, who died a number of years ago, both came to the Lord during our first ever mission which took place in Pietermaritzburg in August 1962, which will be 60 years ago, this August. Hard to believe. As the first AE team returned from the USA to South Africa in late 1964, we quickly took up again with John and Rona, our friendship deepened, and to our everlasting gratitude John and Rona joined the team in 1967 just as we launched on Spearhead, our first full scale youth mission to the southern suburbs of Cape Town.
With his background in public relations and graphic art John produced some amazing publicity material for us and was crucial in the formation of the evangelistic youth homegroups which were so central to that mission. We all quickly recognized that we had a Champion in our midst. Later that year came our first of three missions to Wits University in Johannesburg. John’s role was again central, and he was quickly developing into a preacher, teacher, and trainer in his own right.
Then just two years later John had risen to the position of being able to set up our enormous one-year Mission 70 to Johannesburg and Soweto with no less than 300 churches participating. It was truly an achievement of note.
Dear John continued to excel in the ministry on all these different fronts until finally when the AE Christian Leadership Training Centre was established in 1980 he became its Director. This led into two decades of the Centre’s hey-day. During this time John became deeply interested in how churches grow and develop, and this led him to go to Fuller Seminary and take a Theological Degree in Church Growth. When he returned he was the expert on the subject for the whole of South Africa. Not surprisingly our training wing at AESA was named after John, “To honour, salute and remember the inspiring labors at the center of John Tooke, AE Team Member, 1967 – 1991.”
A time came in 1991 when John felt that he wanted to go into the Methodist ministry and really learn more deeply how to run and grow a local church. This he did successfully in the Cape for a number of years before returning here so we could share the home straight of our lives together while he initiated and set up The Michael Cassidy and Friends Legacy Project, now so ably led and run by Charlene Pauw, wife of AESA Team Leader, Theuns.
During these years John also did his PhD at the University of Pretoria and I was overwhelmed and humbled when he told me that he wanted to do it on this poor sinner, MC, and his ministry in the cities of Africa. Imagine my joy being present at John’s doctoral graduation ceremony when he was adorned with that spectacular red gown and cap. For me another wonderful John memory for the ages.
Over all these years, apart from being the most wonderful of friends, John was a deeply committed and involved family man. He adored his first wife Rona, his brilliantly talented sons, and his adoring grandchildren. And when Rona finally got full-on dementia and was institutionalized, and even unable to speak or communicate, John visited her daily for four years and demonstrated spectacularly what the wedding vows were all about in loving for better or worse, in sickness and in health “until death us do part”.
As John visited Rona every day for all those years, I was lost in admiration and gratitude for him. He was such an inspiration. By God’s glorious grace a number of years later He brought Christine Jarvis into John’s life, she, being the widow of Ralph, the long time Director of AE Communications. Oh, the joy of seeing this gift of each to the other. And how much we praise God for the four blissful years they had together. Our hearts go out so much to dear, stricken Christine at this time.
So here we are at the end of a journey of one of this era’s special men of God. And this will be registering with me very poignantly tomorrow afternoon (April 1, 2022) when John and I were to have one of our regularly planned meetings together for fellowship, reflection and prayer. If there were no Christ and no Gospel and we all went back to an accidental nothingness out of which we accidentally came, then all would be dust and ashes, despair and disillusionment. But NO, our Jesus “has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light.” (2 Timothy 1:10).
If death once thought he was the lethal fast bowler, he now knows that Jesus by his death and resurrection has hit him out of the ground for six! And John is now discovering what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has there entered the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love Him.” (1 Corinthians 2:9)
As we give deep thanks for John’s great life, we extend again our deepest sympathy to Christine and all the family and assure them of our ongoing prayers.
Aurevoir, dear friend. We will see you in the morning.