I have a few friends who knew me long before I got married forty-seven years ago. James McCall was one of those friends. Actually, he was a family friend. Two of my older siblings attended his wedding in Trinidad, more than fifty years ago.
James was from a quiet township in Tobago. However, there was nothing quiet about the impact of his eighty-one years. On the passing of his dad at an early age, Jim assumed leadership for his seven younger siblings. Leadership traits began to emerge from that time until his untimely passing in New York a few days ago.
When my family and I migrated to the United States from Jamaica in 1991, Jim, as he was affectionately known, renewed contact with me. He initiated some of my visits to New York from our mid-west locations. His big-brotherly love was second to none.
His years in the police service contributed to his disciplined life. The many tributes offered at his zoomed memorial service alluded to him as a man of principle. Of the many accolades voiced at the service, one message was clear – James was a Christian first. This message was heard from his children, in-laws, grandchildren, siblings, neighbors and his many Christian colleagues.
In almost every telephone conversation with me, Jim asked for my wife. It was his way of emphasizing total care for the things and people for whom his friends cared. Each Easter he reminded me of my contribution in initiating an annual Christian convention in Tobago. His daughter’s tribute was correct when she said, “he left for the United States, but never left his love for Tobago.”
Jim received my blogs when I began blogging some nine years ago. Before long, he began to share each blog with his ‘fan club’. He thought I had something worth sharing and shared. For him, missing blogs suggested I was under undue pressure. He then called me to ensure that everything was okay.
One of his regular calls was to notify me of the death of mutual friends. It got to the point where, upon receiving phone calls or emails, I began to wonder who had died. Honestly, I was not prepared when someone else called me a few days ago with the news of his sudden death.
Of course, I am grieving the loss of a good friend. However, my sorrow is different. Like Jim’s son Stephen reminded us at the memorial service – “we do not sorrow as those who have no hope.” Those of us who share Jim’s faith, refer to his death as sleep. That is the term used in the New Testament to describe the death of Christians.
Just like natural sleep, the death of a Christian connotes something temporary. In addition, natural sleep presupposes a renewed awakening. The apostle used the death of Jesus to reinforce his point – just as Jesus died and rose again, in the same way, “those who die in Jesus will rise again.” Paul argued, if this belief is not true, then we are no different from non-Christians, who die without hope (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). As a matter of fact, Paul contended, if the dead Christian does not rise again, then our preaching and our faith are in vain.
Like me, my friend James McCall believed these truths with a passion. That passion was evident in his leadership as a church elder and preacher. It was at the memorial service I learned that even his neighbours called him preacher. He lived what he believed. Those beliefs influenced the care he showed for his Alzheimer stricken wife – he practiced the clause in his marriage vow, “in sickness and in health”.
My friend has left a rich legacy. He was an amazing baker and cook. He was a caring dad to his two adult children and to many children without dads. He was the joy of family gatherings. He was a leader par excellence. However, more than anything else, Jim loved Jesus. And, I am proud to be able to say, he was my friend.