Our family had an old friend pass away last week. It is sad, for sure – especially for his family. But there is an underlying joy because of the fact that when I think of this guy and what he did with his life, I can’t help but picture that moment when he reached the glory of heaven and he heard the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
We first met Larry Mills in the year 2000 in Pharr, Texas when we began attending Living Word Evangelical Free Church. Larry was a guy that was very involved in the life of the church as a deacon, Sunday school teacher, AWANA leader, etc. He was the type of guy that everyone sort of gravitated to as a friend. He wasn’t a polarizing person and was very well respected.
About a year and a half after we met Larry, his wife Brenda, and their family, Larry and Brenda felt called into full-time ministry. He became a missionary with Mid-America Mission and was going to Arkansas to run a Christian camp. When he began his fundraising process, I remember vividly hearing Larry’s story and how his life was changed to become a powerful force for the Lord through extreme brokenness. He lived for many years with a severely limiting heart condition – on the magnitude that, according to conventional medical explanations, he should not have even been alive when we met him in 2000. But the Lord found it fit to defy convention and keep Larry around for a few more decades via a couple of sets of artificial heart valves.
So Larry left our church community in Texas to be a missionary to Arkansas…and then my connection to him became unique. In the wake of Larry’s departure, there were many roles to be filled in the life of the church. I became very familiar with the refrain of, “Hey Chris – Larry used to run the junior high AWANA group and we were wondering if you could take his place,” or, “Larry was leading this Sunday school class – could you take it over?” I must have been approached about four different things to replace Larry’s roles in the church – some I accepted and some I didn’t feel qualified for. I felt flattered to be seen as a replacement to a guy that everyone respected and depended on. But at the same time, I didn’t feel like I measured up to be “Larry’s replacement,” having seen how his life was so in tune with the gospel.
I remember talking with Larry about a year or two after he had begun his ministry in Arkansas and hearing him talk of extreme discouragement at the start. He was able to confess his need and not act as if he had it all under control. That conversation made a strong impression on me. I’m still trying find that level of humility in my life…I’m so not there yet.
Larry Mills was a fantastic family man and a missionary of very great substance. His task of running a Christian camp in Arkansas evolved into other things throughout his decade and a half of ministry in Arkansas. He took on administrative tasks for the ministry. He spent a lot of time in pulpits, filling in as churches in the area had need. He took on prison ministry in a few prison units in Arkansas.
I must say that his prison ministry struck me the most. Every week for the last four or so years, we would get an e-mail with prayer requests from prisoners that Larry was reaching out to, either in person or through correspondence Bible courses. I’ll admit that I didn’t read the prayer requests every time. But often reading them was an encouragement to me – seriously! It wasn’t the, “Wow, their lives are so screwed up that it makes my problems look pretty small,” type of encouragement. It was the, “Wow, Larry is putting it out there, being used mightily by God to reach the rejected and forgotten of society - against all odds,” type of encouragement. Reading the words of those prisoners, many of whom were requesting more course materials and praising God for their spiritual growth, made me relearn every week how one gets used by God like Larry did.
Larry Mills wasn’t perfect and didn’t have it all figured out. But his ability to confess that and rely on the Lord to lead him is what made him a good and faithful servant. Well done, Larry.