I received news a couple of years back that caused me to be both grateful – and sad.
The sad part came from the news that my boyhood pastor had passed away a few days before.
Pastor Richard R. Schwambach lived a rich life in Evansville, Indiana. Both his gentle heart and loving smile were so noticeable to me, even at age 10. But it was his clear sermon and his presentation of the Gospel that pierced my heart on that most special night.
It was 1963, and I had never understood the Good News before, nor had I ever prayed like I did that night. It was more than a church service – it was a beginning. With tears streaming down my young face, I gave my heart, my life – everything that I could give – to Jesus.
It is a moment that is etched in my memory, and I hope it will always stay that way.
What made “Pastor RR” so special to me was his deep and passionate love for Jesus. That love was evident in so many ways. He loved to sing and worship. He loved to pray, and he loved to see people come to know Christ.
He also envisioned his own sons with that love for Jesus, and both of them became pastors and are still serving the Lord to this day. I had the privilege of going to school with his youngest son, and enjoyed a good friendship with David for years after we graduated from high school.
As I was meditating on the news of Pastor RR’s passing, I remembered another event, one that had happened even earlier, maybe two years before his death. On that day, I had been looking through some old keepsake documents when I stumbled on something I had not seen in a long, long time – it was an envelope that contained my baptismal certificate, and a note from Pastor RR.
As I read it, my heart was freshly warmed by my remembrance of that special night in 1963. I was prompted to call him, and amazingly, by God’s grace, I was able to reach him on the phone. I shared my thanks to him, for his example that he had set before me. I also thanked him for the training I received in those first years of my life, under his ministry. I was also able to catch him up on all the things that had taken place in our lives since Cindy and I moved to Florida in 1985.
It was a grand conversation. And you know, even though I had not personally spoken with him since 1990, it was like we had never missed a beat. His enthusiasm for the Lord was still as strong as ever, and I left that conversation freshly encouraged in my relationship with Jesus, and freshly thankful that I had the privilege of knowing this great man.
Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (ESV)
Pastor RR Schwambach lived that very kind of life, one that is worthy of emulation. One day, I pray the same will be said about me.
Mike Gilland is Operations Manager for The Shepherd Radio Network, a group of radio stations in Florida that features the “Christian Teach/Talk” format. Mike hosts a daily talk radio show in the 2 PM hour called “Afternoons with Mike”, talking to local pastors and newsmakers. In Gainesville, Mike is heard on WTMN – 96.3 FM / 1430 AM. In Ocala, on WRZN – 103.5 FM / 720 AM. In addition to his broadcast experience, Mike spent 36 years in full-time ministry as a pastor and worship leader. As a guitarist, Mike performs at concerts, restaurants, private parties, etc. He is married to Cindy, the father of four grown children and grandfather to seven grandchildren.