By Mark Ellis —
Rick Warren’s father, Jimmy, was a Baptist minister, church planter and missionary for more than 50 years. He mostly led smaller, rural churches, but he was also a skilled carpenter. One of his favorite mission activities was to construct churches overseas.
“In his lifetime he built over 150 church buildings all around the world, on every continent,” Warren noted, at the recent “Finishing the Task” conference held at Saddleback Church December 5-7.
Warren went on to relate the touching story of his father’s passing – a story he shared in The Purpose Driven Life – but at the conference he revealed significantly more details than were contained in the bestselling book.
Pastor Jimmy often was involved with disaster relief. “When Saddam pushed the Kurds into northern Iraq and they were all going to die because they had no water, my dad took 19 people in and built eight water wells that kept them alive,” Warren recounted. When floods destroyed Guatemala following a significant earthquake, Warren’s father assisted in rebuilding efforts.
After Warren’s father learned he was dying of cancer, he came to Rick and said, “Son, I think I have one more church in me.”
“Great, dad,” Rick replied. “If you want to die with your boots on, go right ahead.” He knew his father had never been the type to sit at home and watch TV. “Where’s the last church you want to build?
Rick now treasures his last photograph of his father – building a church in the forbidding climate of Siberia. “He’s up on the roof, in the snow, in the winter, and he’s nailing down the roof. That’s how I remember my dad.”
As the cancer reached its final stages, the family brought Pastor Jimmy to live at Rick’s sister’s house and they called for hospice care. “In the last week he was hallucinating a lot,” Rick recounts. “He was dreaming aloud. I sat by his bed and listened to my dad talk in his dreams. You can learn a lot about someone by listening to their dreams.”
“As I sat next to him I never heard him talk about being a war hero in WWII…I never heard him talk about the books he loved or the movies he’d seen. I never heard him talk about fishing, which he dearly loved,” he noted.
During the last week of Pastor Jimmy’s life he was reliving his building projects around the world. “Go get that lumber. Make sure you’re back on time. This is how to wire that….here’s how that joist fits together…”
Then on the night before he died, Pastor Jimmy did something that surprised everyone. Rick, his wife Kay, and their niece had been sitting attentively by the bedside.
He was in a dream-like state and he became very agitated and started to try to get out of bed. “Jimmy, you can’t get out of bed,” Kay said. “Whatever you need, we’ll get for you.”
He kept trying to up and they kept insisting he remain in bed. “Jimmy, you’re sick and you’re weak.” He could barely stand up and his body had wasted away due to the ravages of the disease and the fact that he had stopped eating. “Just tell us what you need,” they insisted.
Undeterred, the dying patriarch kept trying to get out of bed.
Finally, Kay’s voice developed a stern tone and she said, “Jimmy, you’re dying, you can’t get out of bed. Whatever you need, just tell us and we’ll be glad to give it to you.”
What he said next stunned them: “I’ve got to save one more for Jesus! I’ve got to save one more for Jesus!”
Pastor Jimmy began to repeat this phrase over and over. “I’m not exaggerating,” Rick recalled. “In the next hour he must have said it over 100 times.
“One more for Jesus…reach one more for Jesus. Save one more for Jesus!”
Moved by the extraordinary testimony, Rick knelt down by his father’s bed, with tears running down his cheeks. “I was thanking God for the heritage of a father like that. I bowed my head and thanked God for my father.”
Then, like the biblical patriarch Jacob, Pastor Jimmy offered his final blessing.
“My dad reached up his hands – very frail – and he puts them on my head like a blessing and he said, ‘Reach one more for Jesus….one more for Jesus…one more for Jesus.’”
“I intend for that to be the theme of the rest of my life,” Rick says. “It’s why I’m committed to the very core to finishing the task (the Great Commission).”
“If you know something more important than bringing God’s lost children back to him, building them up to maturity, training them for ministry and sending them out on mission, I invite you to stand up right now and tell us.”
No one stood in a room of over 600 mission leaders and pastors gathered from around the world. Because they too are committed to ‘reach one more for Jesus.’