Unassuming leader, kingdom builder: A tribute to Wayne Drost

             

 (Published in the Christian Courier, October 11, 2010)

 When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a  manner that when you die the world cries and you rejoice.  Indian Proverb.

On September 9, 2010, suffering from complications due to Alzheimer’s, Wayne Drost, 71, went home to glory. Without a doubt, he rejoiced to meet his Saviour, but many of us cried. And, perhaps, as the proverb says, on some metaphysical plane, even the world cried. Wayne’s grandson, Alex, hobbling around on crutches at the Philadelphia airport, was met by President Obama himself who stopped to inquire why he was travelling alone in such a condition. Alex replied that he was returning to university after attending his grandfather’s funeral. The President asked him to pass on his condolences to the family. When I heard this remarkable true story, I thought it was fitting: a kind of holy insider joke – the most important leader on the planet pausing to pay his respects to one of God’s most unassuming leaders.

 It affirmed what I wanted to do … express my gratitude for Wayne’s life of visionary leadership. He was wholly dedicated to the reformational task of building up Christian institutions in education, in labour, and in the community that would function as living testaments in our secular society to the transforming power of Jesus Christ. Wayne embodied the sacrificial kind of pioneering and persevering leadership that Churchill described: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

I worked with Wayne on the Education Committee of Lambton Christian High School. I remember word for word one sentence that Wayne spoke at a meeting. The committee was having a heated discussion about something that I forget and he said, his brown eyes fierce, “I am so grateful that at the end of the day I can get down on my knees and confess the sins that I commit to my Lord.” That stayed with me. A leader who admits his sin. A leader who knows things will go wrong, but leads anyway. 

Wayne was the first principal of London District Christian Secondary School. His impact on the Christian school movement in Ontario cannot be overstated. Gary VanArragon, former principal of Woodland Christian High, remembers Wayne’s influence: “When I became a principal in 1992 and attended principals’ meetings, his vision of leadership in Christian schools did a great deal to give me the courage to lead. In all the years that we worked together, his passion never failed and his commitment to Christian education remained fresh and inspiring to me. I remember high school principals’ meetings …  where we spent hours in intense discussions about mission, vision and programs for Christian high schools, discussions in which Wayne played a leading role. I remember his insistence that these conversations not be abstract but focus on the actual operations of our schools. He wanted those schools to be places where students could be trained to be world changers for the kingdom of God, whether they worked on their family farms or were business executives or wherever their life’s path led them.” 

Herman Proper spoke for the Alliance of Christian Schools at Wayne’s retirement in 1999, thanking him for his leadership on the Board and for his conscientious committee work. In meetings across the province for decades, Wayne spelled out his contagious vision of what Christ could do in education with a few willing and faithful disciples.

Wayne also played a significant role in the Christian Labour Association of Canada. He served on the CLAC National Board for thirty years, including seven years as President. CLAC representative, Hank Beekhuis, reviewed Wayne’s legacy of passionate commitment to that organization at the memorial service. He concluded by noting with conviction that Jesus would welcome Wayne with the words of Matthew 25:21: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

After his retirement, Wayne did not rest. He served on the Board of Vision Nursing Home in Sarnia, once again acting as chairperson and inspiring others to give of themselves. In recognition of his diligent community service, a number of scholarships offered by Vision bear his name.  

Wayne also turned his attention to the church in his senior years, eager to offer his energy to local ministry. He served as chair of council and also as visiting elder. He was a good listener and his counsel always focused on the hope found in the person of Jesus Christ. 

Wayne’s memorial service was held on September 13, 2010 at the Redeemer CRC in Sarnia. Pastor Jim Poelman commented: “If Wayne was not your friend, you would have had to wonder what was wrong, not with Wayne, but with you. Kind, generous, wise, caring, fun, true, supportive. These are some of the adjectives that spring to mind in describing Wayne. He was a leader in every community in which he lived and we are the better for his servant-like leadership.”

Wayne’s substantive contributions to the community were supported by his family – his wife, May, his daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren, and extended family. Also here, close to home, Wayne served as a leader, a public example of faithfulness and support. In her eulogy daughter Pam Beattie said, “Of course the most important relationship in Dad’s life besides his one with the Lord has been his marriage. Dad and Mom celebrated their forty-seventh wedding anniversary this past June. The fact that we can count the number of “serious” arguments they had during that time on one hand is a testimony not only to careful and conscientious parenting but also their devotion to each other. Our Mom and Dad’s relationship has been inspirational to us all; their marriage exemplary of loving faithfulness.”

Knowing that I wanted to write this tribute, May warned me not to make Wayne out to be a saint. He had his flaws and failures. But for me and countless others, he was a model of forthright and humble leadership. And we need that example of “a long obedience in the same direction” because it’s our turn to take up the reformational challenge.

Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; no one can tell where his influence stops.” The Apostles’ Creed calls the church “the communion of saints.” So, Wayne, my friend, I will name you teacher and saint and seek to follow. Thanks for showing me the way.

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Everyday Christian (Christian Courier ~ September 27, 2010)

My name is Cathy Smith. Kind of an ordinary name, isn’t it? No one has trouble spelling it, at any rate. I’m a Christian, a wife, a mom, grandma, retired teacher, daughter, sister, aunt, Canadian, gardener, friend, reader, church member, bulletin editor, catechism teacher, history buff, choir member, art lover, neighbour and homemaker. And now a writer, too! But Christian was first on the list for a reason. It’s an indelible part of who I am, like my name. I’m delighted to be here, the newest CC team member, writing for a publication that also puts Christian first. My column will highlight the efforts of an everyday Christian like me to live, sometimes faithfully, sometimes stumblingly, as a Christian every day of my life.

Even ordinary Christians can be called to walk extraordinary paths. I’ve been married for thirty-two years to someone who does not share my faith. I have three children. One is a Christian. Two call themselves atheists. I love my local church dearly and have been a member for thirty-two years, but I favour women in church office, and my congregation does not ordain women. I’ve taught hundreds of kids in two Christian schools, both elementary and secondary. I carry them all with me, invisible tattoos, my life inked with their names and faces. They are my very own personal cloud of witnesses. I live in a small town, where, like the bar in Cheers, “everybody knows your name.” The crucible of my Christian faith is my marriage, my family, my church, my students, my community. Jesus calls me to practise my discipleship close to home.

I remember having a cool family Bible as a kid. It had four different versions of Scripture lined up side by side on one page. I loved that Bible. Especially the translation that offered up Paul’s rebuke to the Galatians this way: “You stupid Galatians!” (Gal. 3:1). That was deliciously scandalous to my childish ears. We weren’t allowed to call one another “stupid”! When I had friends over, I always chose that passage to read aloud. 

I’m hoping that my reflections on living as an everyday Christian might serve a similar function. Something to line up beside your experiences. A gauge. A mark on the wall. Or perhaps, a mirror, where you’ll see yourself – your pilgrimage as ordinary and extraordinary as mine. Let’s compare notes. Here’s my first: 

Holy Ordinary

Another Sunday morning church service. At 55, having attended church twice a Sunday for most of my life, I’ve probably sat through more than 5000 services in my day. You might think it just gets ordinary and repetitive after a while. Not so.

These are the things I saw at church yesterday.

I saw a doting dad smile in absolute adoration at his bald young son. I saw fresh purple coneflowers and white Shasta daisies grace the sanctuary in glass vases that sparkled with the sunlight streaming in from the window. I saw a restless four year old rest his head trustingly on the shoulder of his fourteen year old babysitter. I saw an usher joke with an old friend as he headed into church. I saw a friendly adult ask a teen how things were going. I saw a middle-aged woman ask the same of an elderly man. I saw an organist and pianist play duets that offered up their best accompaniment to the congregation and the Lord.

I saw a house of God full to the brim with expectant faces, eager for the good news of God’s faithfulness to all generations. I saw a young pastor give his utmost to do justice to the Word of God and the sacrament of baptism to two new members. He preached with convicted preparedness, and spoke to the parents with warmth and hope. I saw a young wife and mother slip her hand into her husband’s as they stood together to speak their thankful vow. I saw the children of our church family skip to the front to witness the baptisms up close, the pastor handling the milling chaos with good humour and ease. I saw a senior citizen lean forward, smiling, totally engaged in the moment. 

I saw the faithful dig into their wallets and give to the work of the church. I saw a powerpoint slide show that highlighted the fun and energy of the VBS program held the week before. Dozens of teachers and helpers, grinning into the camera. A hundred children or more sporting colourful t-shirts, working on crafts, and singing songs.

 I saw a grandma lift her hands in quiet praise during the doxology.

 I saw God work. It’s fearsomely beautiful to behold.