Before we left for a trip to Oregon recently to visit family and watch some sporting events, we went to visit Ellis (Al) Stewart, an elder from Three Lakes Bible Church where I pastored. Al had just returned from the hospital and had some serious breathing problems. He was on oxygen and would be pretty much confined to his home with someone there to care for him. Al was one of the first members of Three Lakes. I had the privilege of uniting him and Ida in marriage on Dec. 31, 1976. What a courageous man Al was. He married a widow with seven children! But Al loved the Lord and that love poured over to his stepchildren–as well as to everyone else around him–and they soon accepted him as their own “papa.”
Al set such a godly example for his family, friends, neighbors and church family. He spent much time in God’s Word and prayer and had committed many verses to memory. I would give memory verses in our men’s Bible study that he faithfully attended and he would always be one of those who learned them. Al and Ida had a burden for children and young people and in 1978 donated some of their property to start a Bible Camp. Several of us at Three Lakes worked very hard on the property and in July 1979 had the first week of camp at Elohim Bible Camp. It is now “Elohim Bible Camp and Retreat Center” run by Rocky Mountain Bible Mission, has a full-time director, and holds several weeks of summer Bible camp along with many retreats throughout the year and is also host to a three-year Bible Training Center. Over the years thousands of children and youth have attended the camp with hundreds making decisions for Christ. Many have also graduated from the Bible Training Center and some of them are currently missionaries or are pastoring churches. All of that began with the burden and vision that Al and Ida had for young people.
Al was also a great encouragement to me as pastor. He served in leadership for most of the time I pastored and we worked together on not only building the camp, but building the church and its additions over the years. We hunted together. (Every opening Sunday of rifle season, we would go to Al and Ida’s for lunch and then Al and I would take our guns for a walk in the woods! We both loved being out in God’s creation and had great fellowship, so it didn’t really matter if we shot anything. I did, however, get my first elk while hunting with Al.) We also both enjoyed gardening so would share how our gardens were doing. Al also enjoyed watching sports and we would often watch some football together–even on his old fuzzy black and white television! He would always ask our son Grant about how his basketball team had done when Grant was coaching in Troy. Al was also faithful about attending his grandkids sporting events. But most of all, we shared a common love for the Lord and His Word. Al’s encouragement and example helped us through some difficult times at Three Lakes and was a big reason for my pastoring there for 37 years.
While in Oregon, we got word that Al had gone to be with Jesus. We were so glad we had made the trip over to see him before we drove to Oregon. We were able to share lots of memories, a big hug and tell Al how much we loved and appreciated him. Al had been our greeter at Church and one of our children’s favorite memories of Al was the big hugs they got when we got to church.
A week ago Saturday I had a graveside and then a celebration service at Three Lakes for Ellis (Al) Stewart. He had just had his 81st birthday when God called him to heaven. The gymnasium/activity building where we met was packed with family and friends. Al had 114 grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great-grandchildren! Not all of them could be there, but many were, along with neighbors, friends and church family. What a blessed service of celebrating his life! I counted 16 of his family, friends and neighbors who got up to share their special memories of Al, all of them sharing how he showed his love to them in so many ways. And, many of them had come to know Christ as Savior because of him. He was “not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Ro. 1:16). Al had a burning desire for the salvation of his family and would take special trips just to go and share the message of God’s love and forgiveness with family members.
When Al left this earth, he left behind all his property and possessions. He was pretty proud of the big bull moose head mounted in the living room of their “stone house.” He had lots of guns and fishing tackle and gardening equipment and paintings and crafts that Ida had made over the years. He had chainsaws and axes and a special cribbage board (he loved to play), but all of that got left behind. The Apostle Paul wrote: “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can take nothing out of it either” (I Tim. 6:17). But what Al did leave behind is the impact he had on all our lives–that godly legacy he left us. Each of us who knew him has been affected in some way by the life he lived. Our son Grant, and daughter Heidi each sent us emails of what Al meant to them and the godly influence he had on their lives. I knew I wouldn’t be able to read them at the service, so had someone do that for me. When I got up to share my devotional, I told the folks I didn’t really need to say much after what Grant and Heidi had written. They really said it all as they shared the role Al had played in their lives to help make them who they are today. Kathy and I too can honestly say that part of who we are is because of Al Stewart. We will all miss him greatly, but his influence will remain in each of our lives. He truly “fought a good fight, finished the course God set before Him and he kept the faith. As a result, there is a crown of righteousness awaiting him” (II Tim. 4:7,8).
What about you–what kind of legacy are you creating that you will leave behind? Who you are will be far more importanat than what you have.
Pastor Dave .