A Voice in the Cloud of Witnesses: On The Passing of Scottie Sayles

Earlier this evening I was thinking of the brother in Lord who played a key role in my coming to Christ.  I met Scottie in the mid-1980’s when I attended YMCA Camp Campbell, where I heard the gospel for the first time. Like many hyperactive kids blasting through a week at camp, I didn’t have much focus on the Gospel; but I heard it. Scottie, a big guy with a big heart, served on the camp leadership team for trips to Camp Campbell and other Y camps over the years. He was big and goofy. The kids related to him, perhaps not so much a father figure (as some of the camp directors) but more like a hearty old brother or maybe a jolly uncle. I loved him.

One evening, after yet another campfire-side Gospel presentation, I was lying in my bunk bed in the open air cabins of Camp Fox on Catalina Island. Just a few weeks from entering high school, I knew the God was impressing upon me the Truth that God sent Christ to die for me and that I was called to life in Him.  As the Lord had arranged it, my top bunk faced the waterfront of this camp built right on the beach.  Laying in my bunk, watching the calm ocean front, I pondered life as a Christian and some of the objections and concerns I had.

After all were asleep, Scottie came walking along the retaining wall, doing after-hours rounds watching over the camp.

“Scottie?” I called to him in a forced whisper as he passed right in front of me.

“Yeah, Phil?” he answered as he turned to look right at me.

Now staring at him eye-to-eye from my top bunk, I asked, “What if it’s not true?  What if Christianity isn’t true?”

I’m now positive that he somehow knew that I was one of those kids on the verge of accepting Christ, as he’d seen me through to my brown rag in the Ragger program (Y folks know what I mean).With a soft and encouraging voice he said through a smile, “You know, even if it’s not [true], it’s not a bad way to live life.

That’s all I really remember of the conversation, other than him telling me good night as he walked away.  It was almost two decades later, when I ran into him in a local grocery store, that I told him that just after he’d walked away I accepted Christ. That was the last time I remember seeing him.

Tonight, I googled him only to find that on June 23, 2007 there was a memorial held for him at a nearby Little League field.  An email response from the event organizer confirmed what had hit stunned me an hour earlier: Scottie Sayles, my brother, humble witness to thousand of kids, the man whose kind words had comforted me as I embraced Christ, was himself ushered into the comforting arms of Christ on May 12, 2007.

Whenever I think of my brothers and sisters in the Lord who are now with Christ, the Holy Spirit often brings to mind this verse:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV)

The passing of our brothers and sisters in Christ should, according to this passage, cause us to disentangle ourselves from the snares of this world and press on in the mission of Christ. As every believer goes on to the place Christ has prepared for them, the mission passes more pressingly on we who remain. As I consider ministry, I now have Scottie joining the choir of believers above me, spurring me on: “Throw off everything and run, brother, the race is yours now.”

Though Scottie and I shared many meals in the big dining rooms of a couple Y camps, I shall next see him at the wedding feast of the Lamb and His Bride. There, apart from sin and pain, we shall fellowship once again, forever.

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