This morning I awoke, rolled over in bed, picked up my Blackberry to quickly catch up on my emails and received news that my good friend and dear brother Neil Bulloch had passed away at 2:26am Sunday May 12, 2013.
I feel compelled to write this to share my thoughts and emotions. After numerous extended battles with cancer, the Lord has presided with mercies to bring Neil home. Since first hearing of the initiation of his most recent battle on Nov. 14 last year, it has been a constant item of prayer for me and my church. I have witnessed true love in the family of Christ and true love in a marriage relationship both personally and through the many email updates Maureen, Neil’s wife, would send the people who were praying for Neil and his family.
When I first heard of the seriousness of the matter, as I read a more detailed update the night of Dec. 3, it brought tears to my eyes. This time the battle was different. I felt something was imminent and unique about this battle. Those I was having dinner with immediately joined me in prayers for our dear brother. I have no reason to share these details with you other than I feel a desire to express these and connect with my loyal readers – perhaps it provides you with some new insight in a struggle you have, will have, or how you choose to live. I apologize in advance for this less coherent post and ask for your understanding as I pen these words as I think… just a stream of consciousness.
He is (remains) a great brother and a resolute example of fervent passion and service to the Lord in spite of age or health or anything thrown at him. His focus for those who didn’t know him was outreach to Muslims. He is an inspiration to me and shone grace and faith even in the midst of yet another cancer battle. This type of man is a rare gem. Even when I visited him in the hospital, and he was in pain and could barely ingest liquids and would simply suck on pieces of ice he was concerned with the patients who cycled through the other bed in his room. He would regularly preach the Gospel to them after demonstrating love in action. One night, he was supposed to have his bed changed as he had been in it for several weeks and finally they were going to do so, however they couldn’t get a personal support worker to help the nurses lift him and change it. As they were about to finally get his bed changed, another gentleman in the room who was battling pneumonia was coughing severely and yet no one asked how they could help him. Neil told the nurses to not worry about him and first help the other man. Later, when the man’s wife returned he asked if she would like us to pray for him, and I was blessed with the chance to pray for her and her husband.
As the days passed, I heard news of Neil sharing the Gospel with him and even the next patient who cycled through his room. Excerpt from Maureen’s e-mail: “One of Neil’s new roommates is a biker, a very interesting person. He has a brain injury from a fall a few years ago. He should have been compensated for a businesses [sic] negligence but didn’t seek it. He is only 57 and has had a number of small strokes, two big ones and a couple of heart attacks. Last night he offered to pray for Neil even though he admitted that he knows nothing about how to pray. Neil said “How about I pray for you.” The man was very relieved. He was so impressed with Neil’s prayer that he told me he wants to learn more about the Bible. Pray that we would have the opportunity to talk to him and that we would speak at a level he can understand.” The power of God is evident in how He used Neil and Maureen to bring the great news of the Gospel to others around him. Neil didn’t let anything stop him from loving people and sharing the Gospel.
I recall a few years ago during one of his other battles with cancer, in spite of doctor’s telling him to rest he had to go to Michigan for a Muslim conference because he wanted to share the Gospel. He was climbing stairs, walking door to door and on his feet much of the day disregarding the physical toll it took on his body focused more on the spiritual toll he knew he must pay. Even after he returned to Toronto, I saw him again at a Muslim vs. Christian debate as he functioned as the moderator. At the debate, I noticed as no one could miss that Neil had rather large stiches down a large portion of his throat from his most recent cancer surgery. Did that stop him from moderating the debate? No. Neil continued to serve God no matter what physically assailed him.
I want to share this because Neil was special. Neil was unique. I didn’t spend tons of hours with him as I do with many of my close friends but he was the type that even in rare encounters would impact your life. God would use him to chisel away at me and change me and I am sure God used him in the same way to change others.
The last story I want to share was an encounter I had with him several years ago as he came to my church for a Sunday morning service. After the service we were talking and he was asking about my health and I was asking about his, he told me something that I will never forget and that has changed my view of love and marriage and God’s sovereignty. Upon reflecting on his then most recent battle with cancer, he stated “of one thing I’m certain, that I have learned how much my wife loves me and how grateful I am to be with her”. In spite of the tremendous pains of cancer and humiliating impact on his independence he shared that God taught him a lesson and even after nearly 50 years of marriage he gained new insight into his loving wife and understood how God could use anything – even cancer – to show him new depths of his wife’s love and God’s love. On a side note, God granted Maureen’s prayers that Neil make it to their 50th wedding anniversary which was on May 4, 2013.
This is a man who God used mightily. A man who God used humbly. A man who God cared for deeply. A man who loved others continually. A man who was so compelled by the love of Christ for the lost – that he would go to any length to demonstrate Christ’s love and to declare His Truth in an uncompromising way – a unique blend in and of itself. I cannot share enough how much I appreciate Neil Bulloch except to close with the email I sent back to Maureen at 8:45am this morning in response to the news of Neil joining our Lord and Saviour in Heaven:
I cannot imagine how you and your family must feel at this time. I know I was blessed to have known Neil and am thankful God used Him to impact my life and countless others. His love for God, for you, and his family, and the declaration of the Gospel were resounding and clear. He was a child of God, a man of God, a servant of God, a partner in the Gospel, a missionary, a loving man, a devoted husband and an impassioned evangelist.
Please please honestly let me know if there is anything I can do at this time or in the future to help.
Some verses below that may help navigate the paradoxical feelings of sadness and joy at this time. May God comfort you and bring you peace as we have been granted assurance through Jesus our Lord and Saviour by the price He paid.
Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 14:8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
Much love for you all and ready and willing to help in any way,
This is me sharing about what is running through my mind…
May we use our time wisely,