Beautiful words were spoken, prayers were said, tears fell and laughter was heard.
Dale Keith: In Remembrance by Chris Potts
Sometimes, watching him, I thought what a great detective he would have made. People just loved to visit with him, and they’d tell him things – things, sometimes they really hadn’t meant to tell him, or probably anyone else. Friends, strangers, neighbors, waitresses, cabdrivers … they all seemed to understand that he’d guard the secret, sense the urgency, catch the subtext, recognize the truth. And, of course, pray for them.
We all wanted Dale praying for us. Somehow, you kind of had the feeling his prayers went to the front of the line.
He was, always, so uncannily good with people. Any age, any race, any background. Pick a continent (Africa, Australia, Europe, North or South America); name an environment (a church aisle, a crowded plane, a country road, a banquet, a backyard, a bedside) and there he was, listening, hugging, sharing the Gospel simply and earnestly.
He thrived on his calling. Couldn’t sit still if his life depended on it. A dozen times, I sat beside him on 10-hour plane flights to Brazil … only, he rarely sat down. Before we landed, he’d know half the people on the plane – including those who didn’t speak English – having chatted or shown them pictures or prayed with them or led them to the Lord, between the cat-naps and the cabin service, somewhere over the Amazon.
Brazilians called him “the American who doesn’t act like an American.” It was the highest praise they could give the man who dropped out of the sky, every other year or so, to spend a few crowded days folding his long, lanky frame into and out of some pastor’s tiny car, striding boldly into mansions and hovels, schoolrooms and jail cells, sickrooms and the mayor’s office – spreading goodwill, fingering his way through the EvangeCube, and, more often than not, making a convert.
God anointed his efforts. Once, in a room of about 100 Brazilians, 98 came forward as Dale offered the invitation. Another night, his own translator turned around, at the altar call, to ask if she could invite Jesus into her heart, too.
He was such a cheerful, gracious evangelist that it was easy to miss how bold he was – blunt, even, if he thought someone was lying to themselves, or him, or God. And if someone tried to block the Gospel, or acted to dishonor God or His church, the easy smile would evaporate, and those warm eyes would suddenly blaze with a fire that unnerved those who’d misread his manners for meekness.
But, of course, it also takes a certain boldness to keep walking up and throwing your arms around everyone you meet. There just didn’t seem to be anyone Dale couldn’t envelop, even in countries where hugging isn’t the cultural norm. It was the Dale norm, and the world seemed to give him a pass on it.
Sometimes, I think we gave ourselves a pass, too. It was awfully easy, when Dale was on staff to take advantage of the blessing … to indulge the luxury of having someone around who would smile and hug the visitors and strangers, chat up the old folks, give a ride to the stranded, speak Spanish and move easily among those of other cultures, show up whether anyone else did or not, visit the sick and the shut-ins and share Christ at every turn.
It was like being on a ball team with one of those great, all-around players. Terrific asset, but a struggling team can lean hard on that one player’s reputation. And then, one day, he was gone – traded, overnight – and suddenly, it was a little more clear than it had been how much goes into making a church a church.
Love like his – for God, for people, for life – is so rare. Like all the best ones, he left us wanting more. More, not just of Dale, but of the God who enlivened and indwelled and inspired him with a purity and consistency we don’t always see, often enough, in each other. Dale was, we knew, the Christian who didn’t act like a Christian … he acted like Christ. And we cherished the reminder that some people still take their Father’s business seriously, and are content, like His Son, to go about doing good.
A few days from the end, he was telling me about an illustration he heard once, comparing death to the sailing of an ocean liner. Everyone crowds down to the dock to say goodbye, smiling, teary, and the ship pulls away, growing smaller and smaller on the horizon until someone, watching, finally says, “It’s gone.”
But of course, the ship isn’t gone. It’s merely slipped to the far side of that horizon, bound for another dock, where other friends are eagerly waiting for a wonderful reunion.
To those who still haven’t made the voyage, the ship seems to fade and vanish. But, in fact, Dale said, that isn’t true.
“The ship,” he said, “is in no way diminished by the journey.”
And he looked at me, and grinned.
A day or two later, he woke up, eyes wide, from a restless sleep, wiggling all over with excitement. “Oh,” he told his wife, Millie in a voice hushed with wonder, “Heaven is filled with such beautiful things! And you’re going to see them!”
And so we will. One of them will be that grin, waiting on the dock, and those arms, wide and waiting.