By Peter McPherson
The 30th anniversary of the death of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy was remembered this past November, 1993. To those of us living in 1963 the untimely death of this impressive, energetic, intelligent and youthful man was a hurtful blow. The newscasters’ voices quivered in announcing it, the nation wept and people around the world mourned at this man’s death by the bullet of an assassin.
Re-living the emotions of that time recently via TV programming and newspaper articles made my mind turn to another untimely death, that of my oldest brother “Mac” (Ellsworth Burnice McPherson). August 28, 1993 marked the 20th anniversary of his departure at the early age of 53 (I now realize, for he was two years younger than I am now, the “baby” of a family of 11). His story, if you please, deserves telling.
As all of us who were of age can remember exactly where we were and what we were doing whenever the announcement of Kennedy’s death came, so I remember vividly the same at the news of the sudden death of Mac. That very day we had arrived in the city of Akron, Ohio to begin preaching with the Brown Street Church of Christ. It was late in the afternoon on a very hot day. Our family of five was preparing to bunk down for the night on the carpets (since our furniture had not yet arrived) when the phone rang at the “preacher’s house.” I answered it and Mac’s oldest daughter Marilyn said, “Why did you have to move today . . . my Dad died.” As such had been an awful blow to her, Mac’s wife, the rest of his immediate family, and others, so it was to me and my family. We were stunned. Then my oldest daughter Sherry and I returned to Canada for the funeral. Mac had been suffering from chest pains for a few years and was taking heart medication but no one knew that his leaving would be so imminent. Mac and his wife, Jean, had purchased a restaurant establishment in the city of Port Colborne (he also worked in auto sales in the city). Experiencing rather severe chest pains, he was taken to the city hospital and died almost immediately upon arrival. He had suffered a massive heart attack. As quick as that he was gone. We were not there to hold his hand, to show him our love. We sorrowed.
Mac was in his early forties when he began to think seriously about the state of his own soul and the need for salvation. His total conversion began with an emotional “faith only” doctrine “experience,” then into numerous and sometimes charged studies with an elder in the Lord’s church at Jordan, named Art Corbett (now recently gone to his reward and who had been converted by the late Roy Cogdill many years before). During a period of months over which Mac was learning on the one hand, and “kick(ing) against the pricks” (Acts 9:5) on the other hand, he was led to the repudiation of error, to the repentance of his sins, to the confession of his faith in Christ and to total immersion inwater for the remission of sins. It had been a period over which he agonized deeply and that caused him to wrestle spiritually and mentally night and day. But the clear passages on water baptism and the purpose of immersion (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21, etc.,) as well as the exposure of denominational errors, finally persuaded him to “gladly receive the word” and be “baptized” (Ats 2:41).
Mac served in World War II with HMCS. He was on the landing barges which unloaded troops on D-Day, but rarely talked about it. While in the navy he learned diesel mechanics and after the war he worked for a few years at such trades. Then he bought a farm at Lowbanks with Veteran’s aid and over his lifetime he would be owner and part owner in different feed mill operations. He joined the Oddfellows Lodge and would become Head Master of a local Chapter. Mac became interested in local politics and was elected as Reeve of the Township, serving for 4 or 5 terms. His respect and success as a politician, farmer, and business man led to his being nominated for Warden of the County . . . the very same year as his obedience to the Lord and the acceptance of his gospel. As a brother in the flesh, not yet a Christian, I was invited along with many others to the Warden’s dinner. Mac had been a man of the world and I know how much courage it took for him to stand in front of that large audience and say, “Tonight, this is the greatest honour given to me outside of my conversion to Christ.” I am sure that many wondered what had happened to Mac. Many would learn.
Mac quickly learned the New Testament Scriptures and could quote freely passages on the plan of salvation. He immediately went to work on others, especially his own family, his parents and his ten brothers and sisters. How he, with the truth of the gospel, tore our family apart (even as such often does, see Matt.10:34ff)! Another brother and his wife, as well as our parents, were of the Billy Graham “faith only” persuasion and they not only objected very strongly and turned a deaf ear but, through it all, caused some of our other brothers and sisters to turn on him (and later on me and others) as a disturber . . . one that taught “water salvation,” etc. But through it all, truth was victorious.
Mac taught his wife, a daughter and her husband, Marilyn and Peter Minor who today worship with the Jordan church. He turned to his sister Peggy and her husband, Harry Cosby, and converted them (Peggy passed away 4 years ago on the exact same date of Mac’s death and Harry is still a member at Jordan) and then persuaded a brother, Ray, and his wife. He urged his daughter and son-in-law, Peter and Marilyn, to try to convert his youngest brother, Peter and his wife, Judy, which they did. Besides this Mac reached a dying man, Mr. Miller, and saw him baptized into Christ. He was helpful in the conversion of Glen Nichols, taking him fishing so he would be a “captive audience.” Mac did some gospel preaching and after a sermon he preached at Glencoe a lady desired baptism (we carried hot water all afternoon from a house across the road to the meeting house’s broken baptistry!). And there has been that ripple effect on others . . . children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, nieces and nephews, etc. Rob and Sharon Caldwell who worship with the Wellandport church were obedient as a result of a contact with a nephew of Mac’s. Plus, the number of souls who have been baptized through my ministry of the past 27 years and from my son, Tim’s ministry over the past 5 years. Besides those who have been baptized from those we have baptized, an illustration of which would be that of Fred Brethour, now himself very prematurely deceased, who was converted by my teaching and then later himself went out preaching and converted some at Bracebridge, Ont. Then there is the more recent conversion of my youngest daughter’s husband, Shawn Parks as a result of Dawn’s interest and example. And on it goes. Thanks Mac! For your courage and example. For your study and trials. For your “love for the truth” that caused you untold emotional stress and difficulties. You paved the way and made it much easier for us. As usual, you were the leader.
The Wellandport Church and Mac
It was largely because of Mac and his interest in one area of his former influence that the elders of the church at Jordan and their zealous preacher, Norman Midgette, made plans to start a new church at Wellandport. Mac thought that surely some of his old buddies from the Lodge would attend that first gospel meeting (held right in the Lodge Hall) but not a one of them showed up. Because he obeyed the gospel, I eventually was obedient (as briefly told above) and though someone else might have went, I was sent to Bancroft to work with numerous contacts that had been made by the church at Jordan and their preacher at that time, Norman Midgette. A church was planted there in 1966 and continues to this day. Now I have started a church in the city of Peterborough (Pop. 68,000) as of November, 1992 (with the help of others and the Lord, of course). We have had both restorations and baptisms, and a small but dedicated and growing church exists where there had been none.
Learning the Truth on the “Issues”
Mac became intensely interested in the Lord’s church, its work and organization, etc., and studied “the issues” that were disturbing the Lord’s church everywhere. He sub-scribed to the Gospel Guardian and to the Truth Magazine and profited greatly from the writings of sound men. When the Inman-Willis debate on institutionalism took place in Parkersburg, W.Va., he, with some others, drove there to “hear both sides.” For him it was clear who had the truth and he wanted to stand with nothing but the truth. (Remember, this man had left his mother, father, and much family for the gospel’s sake and would from henceforth let nothing sway him that was not the plainly revealed gospel truth.) Mac would have loved to become a full-time evangelist himself, but circumstances would not have it. How very happy he was to see his youngest brother become a gospel preacher.
Mac loved to hear the pure gospel preached by sound men of ability and he had little regard for the soft-soap peddlers of the word. He enjoyed reading my articles in a weekly paper, especially whenever I would hit hard on denominational error or got a response from someone who had been “cut to the heart.” Mac was very straightforward. Moreover, though he had not been a child of God for many years, he took courage in the word of God and would confront anyone, even denominational preachers and erring preaching brethren. I well remember the night that he, after hearing that a Nazarene preacher would be at our home that night, dropped every-thing and immediately drove “furiously” some 20 miles to be at our home to confront him. The preacher could not with-stand Mac’s ability and passages on the need for baptism in the plan of salvation. He left shaking and embarrassed. Later that very night Judy and I were baptized into Christ.
Mac’s love for the truth cost him dearly. He had been a Past Master in the Oddfellows Lodge and a member of that institution for years. When he became a Christian he gave all that up immediately and severed lifetime associations. Mac had been a regular man of the world but he left that lifestyle for the Lord and the family of God. Mac had enjoyed the political life and the associates that go with it, but he severely dampered that. Mac so loved his parents and he cared for his brothers and sisters in the flesh but that would change somewhat as they shut him off from any meaningful spiritual discussions. Still, he would have the family in for a get together from time to time at his restaurant.
Mac had his imperfections. He seemed to have lost some of his zeal and enthusiasm. Perhaps this was due to the rather great success of his earlier efforts in the gospel and now the reality of less and much slower results. His health had been failing for years … much more than many of us realized and he still had the work and stress of his restaurant and obligations. But Mac had also become more gentle and communitive. A closer relationship developed with a son than they had not had before. He also had time for the small things like feeding the backyard squirrels from his hand, and for special attention to his youngest, a ten-year-old daughter, Cindy.
“My Brother, Mac,” . . . quite a fellow, eh? He has gone on and his final reward will be up to the Lord. Some of those converted over the years have fallen away but only eternity will reveal just how many made it to heaven and how many had an opportunity to be there because of him. How he desired for his family and others to be Christians and Christians only . . . to be saved from sin and its consequences … to live a righteous life and to have a living hope of heaven based upon God’s eternal word and his promises.
However great Kennedy was … and of course he was in his own rights, my brother Mac, according to God’s way of looking at things, accomplished so much more “through Christ” to God’s own “glory and honour.” As I left from viewing his body the day of the funeral, I instinctively whispered to him in my usual farewell manner, “Well, I’ll see ya Mac.” We certainly hope so.
Guardian of Truth XXXVIII: 6, p. 16-17
March 17, 1994