By Mark A. Taylor
“I want that song played at my funeral,” my wife whispered to me as the soaring rendition of Steve Green’s “Find Us Faithful” flowed from the grand piano onstage. The pianist, Wayne Lundberg, morphed seamlessly into “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” as the auditorium filled for the retirement celebration honoring John and Joyce Samples for 50 years of ministry. About a decade and a half of that has been at East 91st Street Christian Church in Indianapolis where we gathered Sunday, August 25.
The 75-minute program was full of nostalgia (speakers included an elder from the first church John served and the best man at his wedding); laughter (in a video greeting Bob Russell mentioned John’s uncanny ability to imitate famous preachers in our fellowship. “That’s why you’ve never been chosen to be North American Christian Convention president,” Russell quipped); and tears.
Former E91 minister David Faust said, “More than one person has told me, ‘If you didn’t do anything else right in your ministry here, you did a good thing when you brought John to this church.” Highlighting one of Samples’s greatest strengths, Faust said, “Life is hard and all of us need shepherds. Even shepherds need shepherds.”
I thought of John’s heart for local ministers, demonstrated in his concern for them throughout his travels as director of Christian ministries for Standard Publishing, the work he did before moving to E91. As one speaker mentioned that day, “John was everybody’s best friend.”
Amy Blaskiewicz, who shared John’s E91 ministry as well as his office, said through the years she’d learned a lot about love (“John and Joyce treated me like a daughter”) and country music. Reflecting on John’s impact at E91, she quoted Philemon 7: “You, brother, have refreshed the hearts of God’s people.”
“I think your family will be your greatest legacy,” Russell said in his tribute. The program offered evidence to support that claim in the warm and wise tributes from his son, his daughter-in-law, and four grandchildren. (One of them quoted Psalm 1 from memory as a tribute to John and Joyce’s emphasis on Bible memory when she was a child.)
This is a special blessing of getting older—reflecting on years in the presence of men and women like John and Joyce whose example was godly, whose service was sacrificial, and whose persistence still prevails. This is the challenge when remembering a whole host of people like them whose faithfulness has stood the test of time: “Oh Lord, ‘find us faithful,’ too!”