Friday, January 20, 2012

The Faith of My Uncle Willie

Today would have been the 102nd birthday of my dad's brother, William James McGahey, a remarkable man whose patience, love, and selflessness were the glue that held together the various branches of the McGahey family for more than six decades. His penchant for always looking for, and seeing, the best in people—a trait he shared with my father—was born in a humble acknowledgement that he had been the unworthy beneficiary of God's grace.

Uncle Willie was born in Balleymoney, County Antrim, (Northern) Ireland, UK. In a way, he never left, for his love of his native land, and pride in his Irish/British heritage, was such that it rubbed off on all his nephews and nieces who held him in the highest esteem. But his dad, John, left for America in 1919, and "Bill," with his mother Sarah and sisters Maria and Isabelle, followed just over a year later, arriving in New York on the Carmania on 24 January 1921, just four days after his 11th birthday. They initially settled in Montchanin, Delaware, but later moved to North Jersey, eventually setting down roots in the now-tough city of East Orange.

My uncle was not a man the world would have considered impressive. Indeed, times being what they were, he left school early to find work to help support the family. He ended up working for decades at the massive Kearney Works of the old Western Electric Corporation. What strikes me as wholly admirable was his lack of professional ambition and utter obliviousness to the careerism that so mars the pride-based culture of today's America. His work paid enough to support his modest lifestyle. More importantly, it enabled him to spend time on what really mattered to him: his family and his faith. He rarely missed an athletic competition in which one of his nephews was involved. He never missed graduations. He would travel long distances to attend services to hear his brother preach, even on Sunday evenings when he needed to be up at 4 AM to go to work. As I have recently looked back on a lifetime of family photographs, I am struck at how often Uncle Willie took his own vacation time to go on holiday with us rather than spend it going where he wanted to go. You see, where he wanted to go was wherever his family went. A truly selfless man indeed!

Most importantly, Uncle Willie was a godly man to a degree that is very rare to my experience. He was, because of life's circumstances, not an academically learned man. But he was nevertheless a well-read man. He was an ardent student of history and, especially, the Bible. His knowledge of God's Word didn't "puff him up" with pride, however (1 Cor 8:1), but rather fostered an undying gratefulness to the God who had saved him and a life of faithful service to the Presbyterian and Evangelical Free Churches he attended as an adult.

Not long ago I received a parcel from my cousin Jack Smith, another of Uncle Willie's grateful nephews. Among the treasures in that parcel was a photocopied statement, in my uncle's hand, of his thankfulness to God. I cannot read it without having tears stream down my face. I present it now, in full, as a testimony to God and God's work in the life of my dearest uncle. Speaking as one who had the privilege of an academic education my uncle didn't, I can honestly say that neither I, nor any Presbyterian seminary professor, could have written a more eloquent or theologically-accurate testimonial to God's marvelous grace in Christ Jesus:

To God our Father

I am thankful to God for the clarion call of the gospel that has come down thru the years. I'm thankful for the gracious invitation of our Blessed Lord Jesus Christ "to come unto me all yea (sic!) that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" [Matt 11:28]. I am thankful that God our Father by his marvelous grace gave me ears to hear that glorious call, and by His Spirit moved my heart to faith in His Blessed Son—Faith in the Blood of His cross that was shed for my sins and so I can testify that come what may on the road of life—come fair or foul weather, He that upholds all things by the word of his power has me under His care, and I am kept by His mighty love, untill (sic!) that glad day when I stand before the presence of His Glory with exceeding joy.

Bill McGahey                

I am thankful that God saw fit to give me Bill McGahey as an uncle, to serve, along with my father, as an example of what a Christian is and ought to look like. I am thankful as well that Uncle Willie is now, according to St. Paul himself (2 Cor 5:8), "at home with the Lord" along with, among others, his dear mom Sarah, his sisters Maria and Isabelle, his brother Jack, and his nephews Tommy Grant and Billy and Bobby Smith. And I am especially thankful that, because of the resurrection of the Son of God, all who believe in Jesus have the sure hope (1 Cor 15) of the resurrection to eternal life, and that I thus will have the privilege one glad day of joining all of them when we "stand in the presence of His Glory with exceeding joy." Soli Deo Gloria!

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