Four years ago today, Clark Millspaugh went home to be with the Lord. For those of you who didn’t have the privilege of knowing Clark, he was a businessman who took an early retirement, because he sensed God calling him to spend the second half of his life in a more hands-on ministry role. So along with his wife Anne, Clark bought a rundown mechanics shop, and turned it into a grocery store in a high-poverty community. It met a critical need, as the neighborhood was considered a food dessert, and most folks didn’t have access to transportation. That was the beginning of The WestSide Harvest Market.
Meanwhile, across town a group of us were busy trying to plant a church. We knew God was calling us to be in a high-poverty community, but weren’t sure which neighborhood specifically. So we began meeting in the youth room of another church, and waited for God to give us clear direction. Two years later, a friend introduced me to Clark, saying, “I think you guys should work together.” He was right - Clark’s vision and ours lined up beautifully - and two weeks later, our church was meeting in the WestSide Harvest Market.
We settled in, looking forward to many years of working together with Clark. But it turned out God had a better plan - one that included taking Clark home long before the rest of us were ready to say goodbye. I say it was a “better plan” because nothing could be better than for a child of God to be reunited with his Heavenly Father. And on October 7th, 2012, that happened - as Clark entered his eternal rest with the Lord and Savior that he loved so much, and served so well. And not a day has gone by since then that I haven’t thought about him, and missed him.
To be honest, one of the things I have missed most about Clark was his ability to be an encouragement. Clark took seriously Paul’s challenge in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to, “encourage each other and build each other up.” It showed up in his words and actions, as he regularly inspired me to persevere in the work God had called us to do. And so as I’ve been remembering Clark today - and the encouragement he was to me - I’ve also been challenged to evaluate what sort of an encouragement I am to others. I think it’s an important question for Christians to ponder, because as the Thessalonians passage makes clear, God wants us to encourage one another.
The truth is, our behavior is contagious, and we can either spread the spiritual disease of discouragement - or we can spread the spiritual remedy of encouragement. Every encounter we have with people will either build them up, or tear them down - and the choice is ours. Through our words and actions, we will leave people either blessed or burdened. So today, let’s commit to be people who encourage. Let’s commit to being intentional in using our words and actions to encourage others to move closer to God. Let’s live in a way that, when we are taken home to be with our Lord, others will remember us as people who spread encouragement along the path we walked.