I, like so many others, wanted a miracle. I wanted to hear from Cheryl that Rod had opened his eyes and confounded the doctors.
It had only been two weeks ago that Rod was with us on Sunday morning, helping prepare our team who would be travelling to Mexico in late July.
Rod and his wife Cheryl are heroes in our church. Rod had been a librarian for a few decades. Cheryl had been part of YWAM, and for her the idea of travel and engaging cross-culturally was normal.
It took a while for Rod to understand his wife’s heart. He shared with me the profound impact of his first trip to Mexico and what happened when he shared his story of faith with people. The experience changed his life, Cheryl’s life and our church.
Rod and Cheryl didn’t fit the normal mould of missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (our denomination). They didn’t want to spend four years studying, they knew God was calling them now… so they went. They found a small mission organization called YUGO based in northern Mexico. They sold their house. They packed up their little family, and they moved. This was not normal behaviour in our middle class, suburban church.
It was my job as the Pastor of Community Engagement and Mission, to help the people of our church find their place in what Jesus was calling them to. It didn’t take long for me to realise that Rod and Cheryl had been doing that in our church for more than a decade.
For the past 13 years Rod and Cheryl have trekked back to Canada once or twice a year to see friends, share news and invite people to join them on the adventure of mission. Their faithful and quiet persistence began to have a big impact. By the time I turned up at St. Albert Alliance church, a number of people had already travelled to Mexico to see for themselves why a librarian would leave the comfort of St. Albert for the very different life of a missionary in Mexico.
In 2014 I led a trip to Rosarito, which was where Rod and Cheryl served with YUGO. There were 60 of us, and I really wasn’t prepared for just how significant that trip would be for so many people.
There was one moment in particular that stays with me.
After the emotional experience of handing over the keys of newly built, simple, homes to three different families, we gathered back at the campsite for a final evening with Rod and Cheryl.
We all talked about how significant the week had been, and then we who had come to be on mission in Mexico had the tables turned on us.
Rod and Cheryl prayed and commissioned us for the mission God was calling each one of us to back in St. Albert. When Rod spoke, we listened because he and Cheryl had demonstrated with their lives that the words he spoke meant something very, very real.
That final service was a highlight for me and many others as the weight of God’s call was crystal clear.
Tomorrow I will be officiating at a service to commemorate and celebrate Rod’s life.
The miracle I, and others, wanted didn’t happen in the way we wanted it to.
Rod succumbed to the stroke on Tuesday.
Cheryl is, rightly, heartbroken at the loss of her partner on the adventure. They have been quite a remarkable team and it will take quite a while for Cheryl to adjust to life without her best friend.
It has been touching to see the outpouring of love and grief, at Rod’s sudden loss. In giving up middle class, suburban comfort in St. Albert, Rod and Cheryl have affected the lives of thousands of people, including me.
In tomorrow’s service I will be sharing from John 12:23-26
Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.
Rod demonstrated the truth of this passage through the power of a life given up for the sake of Jesus. It was his humble willingness to put aside his own needs for the sake of others and Christ that meant so many people are sad today, yet grateful to have known such a special man.
There is a kind of death that produces life, and there is a kind of life that produces death. Rod lived the former.
It is fitting that in his death, Rod was still giving. 4 and maybe 5 people will have a chance at life thanks to Rod being an organ donor.
This morning Cheryl posted Acts 20:24 on her Facebook page:
But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus-the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.
It was a moment of telling the Good news that changed the trajectory of Rod and Cheryl’s life, and it was a life given to that task, that changed everything.
I imagine Rod is having a lot of fun right now in heaven, but I also have a sense that he is wanting to encourage us all to finish the our own journeys well.
Rod is now in grandstands cheering us all on. I picture Rod when I read Hebrews 12:1:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,
Thank God for heroes like Rod Hoople who remind us all what the point of life really is.
This video will give you a glimpse of this very special man: