Bill and George were boys who were born in Africa as missionary kids as I was. The three of us were about the same age. We grew up together on the same 'mission station' in Northern Rhodesia in the 1940s and '50s. Bill and George were my best friends. As young boys we played Red Rover, hunted antelope and shot at crocodiles along the Kalomo River; we explored much of the African 'bushveld' on the mission station.
George was an amateur biologist and a consummate prankster for as long as I can remember. He would sneak around and drop a frog in your pocket if he could get away with it. But he couldn't keep a straight face ... his face gave him away on every trick.
Bill was a dreamer and a storyteller. He would launch into to his old African or other stories whenever their was a lull in the conversation and someone looked like they might give him their attention. He amazed you with all the details of the events that he could remember. I could never recall those details even if I had been a major character in the story.
After grade school we went off to boarding school in Lusaka, the capital city. There we grew to become young men who felt our independence at a pretty early age. The British boarding school made us tough and responsible for our own lives. With no parents around we had only our friends to rely on. We learned to swim, play rugby, bunk out (leave the dorm after hours without permission), walk six miles to the movie theater on Saturday afternoons and ride the old steam-driven train home overnight on holidays and long weekends. Oh yes, and do some studying too.
In the early 1960s, all three of us traveled to the states and attended Harding College together. After college, our lives took different directions. George went on to become a medical doctor who practiced in Northeast Arkansas. Bill became a professor who taught languages at McMurry University in Texas. Both became well-respected in their professions. And I returned to a life in missions in Africa. Thereafter we would only meet occasionally and get a chance to catch up on each other's lives.
Is this when you begin to say to your friends of faith, "You go on ahead ... I'll see you later"? George went on to be with the Lord a few years ago after a difficult struggle with cancer. Bill and I were both able to be at George's memorial service.
Then Bill died suddenly of a heart condition last month. Nancy and I happened to be in the U. S. and were able to attend his memorial service. We heard some of those old stories again from Bill's friends and more we had never heard before. And we were blessed to meet some of Bill's family we had never known.
It must be that time of life ...