We Called Him "Paw"
Never have I seen such a funeral. Well before time to begin, all the rooms in the funeral home were filled; many stood in the hallways and on the porch, and others had to be turned away. That, plus the presence of fifty to sixty gospel preachers testified to the great love and respect earned from Christians and non-Christians alike. But its more profound uniqueness lay in the pervading atmosphere of joy . . . of confidence . . . of victory. Any lesser attitude would have dishonored the faith, the work and the character of such a servant as B.G. Hope: a man of God who rose above years of incessant pain, above severe disappointments from thoughtless brethren, and above the heartache of loved ones leaving the Lord, to stand tall in casting an unending shadow of kindness and warmth over all who knew him. It is, I confess, difficult to be purely objective about this preacher, whom his grandchildren knew intimately as "Paw."
Personal insights and incidents would fill a book: hearts he cheered, underdogs he encouraged, an affinity for young people, his keen sensitivity to one's feelings and needs, a readiness to give of himself to both friend and enemy, wise and instructive counsel to many young preachers, cooking breakfast for his grandchildren, early preaching appointments on horseback, his friendship with N.B. Hardeman, years as a school principal, the hundreds he baptized and married and buried - and even then, only the hem is touched. But a great part of both his work and his character was summarized in a few events of his final days on earth.
Physical pain was his close companion for many years and certainly so during the last days of his life which he spent in a hospital bed. As she had been for fifty - seven years, Maw was right there with him day and night. When he grew restless from the Buffing and began to toss and turn, Maw would read to him from her Bible, and he soon would be soothed and go to sleep. At such times, Maw said he often "would preach a little, then pray a little, and he'd quote the Scriptures . . . ." And finally, after almost thirty years of physical pain and four months of a bed-ridden struggle against too many odds, our Paw softly sighed his final earthly breath; then, throwing the cloak of eternity round his shoulders, he soared with the angels to heights unfathomed - there, we believe by faith, to be fitted for his golden crown of everlasting glory.
A perfect complement to brother Hope was Lena, his wife - but we know her as "Maw." Paw's preaching was often matched by hers, just as personal example occasionally speaks more loudly than words. And in Maw's conduct following Paw's death, she did some great preaching! Two incidents, I'll never forget.
Paw died around noon on a Saturday. Tears flowed and hearts ached as night approached, but Maw gathered those in her house together and said, "Tomorrow is the Lord's day, and we've got to settle down and get to bed early tonight, so that we'll be able to worship God in the morning." While in worship, she sang the songs and she prayed and she heard the sermon: what greater commentary on her love for her Lord and for His servant, her husband?
That afternoon was spent receiving all who came to the funeral home to pay their respects. But at five o'clock, Maw instructed us that it was time to go home and to get ready to worship. While custom may have been offended, her family saw and learned. She said, "That's where B.G. would want me, and that's where I ought to be, anyway. If he were alive, he would just close the doors to this place and say, `There won't be any more visiting; let's go to worship."' As Paw would playfully say, "Ya done good, Maw!"
The funeral soon ended and the crowd of relatives began to return home. But that night Maw took me into her bedroom, opened the closet, and removed one of Paw's newer suits. Handing it to me, she said, "This is the suit of a great man, who preached an even greater gospel. I want you to wear this suit in your preaching; B.G. would be proud for you to have it." Then she grasped my shoulders with her strong hands and my heart with her moistened eyes and said, "Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and doctrine." With that, she hugged me tightly and kissed me.
With a little alternation, I can wear the suit. But will it ever enjoy the dignity, godliness and charm as once graced it? Yes, I and others can wear Paw's suits, but who can fill his shoes?
Truth Magazine XXIV: 21, pp. 344-345