I first met Angie when Billie and I interviewed to become the pastor of the Church of God in Perry which was on its last legs with closing looming heavily over the property, building, and unfortunately, the people. The hopes and dreams of those who fought and worked to build a church in Perry hung in the balance. One family who invested heart, energy, and substance was the Henry family. The stories of Angie's parents loving and supporting the church have been told over and over again . . . and not enough mind you. Angie spent most of her life at the church and began playing the piano for the church. She never missed a Sunday unless it was absolutely necessary. Vacations and other such pleasures never got in the way of her commitment to God or to her church. In a day where it seems to be nothing to miss church "just because" or to jump from church to church because of this or that, Angie and her family were pillars, rocks, and rooted into the soil of the church. This was who Billie and I met that Sunday in November when we interviewed. Angie opened the service with some songs out of the Red Back Hymnal and her personality shined as she made everyone restart "Victory in Jesus" until she played it right and those on the stage sang it right . . .
After becoming the pastor of the church the first Sunday of December 2007, Angie and Joey became some of our first friends. Angie told us about "A Walk through Bethlehem" which was going on at Shirley Hills Baptist Church in Warner Robins. The church had put up a complete re-enactment of Bethlehem and Christ's birth. We joined Joey and Angie for the event and looked forward to a great night and a great night it was. It rained like cats and dogs and we all were drenched, but we had fun. We ate at "My Father's Place" pizzeria and Joey and Angie paid for our food. We didn't know it then, but we would find out later, Joey and Angie had to work hard for everything they owned. They weren't rolling in money. Yet, they were the first couple in the church to take us out. A friendship was birthed that night which would include trips to the circus, shopping trips for Billie and Angie, hair appointments for Billie and Angie, and trips down memory lane with Angie.
For those that never had the good pleasure or took the time to get to know Angie, she loved to tell stories. She had the memory of an elephant you might would say. She was one of those individuals that if you took her to a cemetery, you may spend several hours as she told you stories about each headstone she would pass. If you wanted to get Angie riled up, refer to her as a Yankee. She was in fact born in Bangor, Maine before moving down to Georgia near Colquitt just north of Lake Seminole in the southwest part of the state. You'd never know she wasn't born in the south. Angie was a true southern belle. She was a hard working woman who believed you earned what you worked for. I've loved hearing the stories from her brother Wayne about Angie growing up down in the country. Nothing he said surprised me.
Angie had four main loves in her life it seemed. She loved her "honey," Joey. If any couple was made for each other, it was Joey and Angie. Joey didn't realize he would be separated from his beautiful, sweet wife just 12 years after committing their lives together, but God knew no one would love Angie through her fight like Joey could. Angie loved her family . . . ALL of her family. Just ask her and she would talk to you for hours about each of them. There were very few Sunday's that Angie didn't request prayer for a member of her family or that you wouldn't see her in the altars crying and pleading for the lost souls of her family members.
Speaking of Sunday, another one of Angie's great loves was her church. She LOVED her church. If I had a church full on Angie's, every need in the community would be met, there would never be a financial difficulty, every worship service would be an anointed experience, and lost souls would hear about Jesus without end. Angie was every pastor's dream member to pastor. Now I don't want you to get the wrong idea. Angie wasn't perfect, but what made her perfect to pastor was her honesty. If she realized she was wrong, she'd apologize and apologize sincerely and immediately. She would fight for her church and if she ever felt her church or in our case, her pastor and pastor's wife, were under attack, she would vehemently fight. She didn't mind speaking her mind as she well did in several of our church wide meetings. Many people declare their love for their church, pastors, and members, but when Angie Graham said she loved you, you absolutely knew it because she showed it and proved it time and time again.
Above all else, Angie loved Jesus. She depended completely on Him. From the first time I met her till today as I held her hand not even two hours before she breathed her last breath, she trusted in Jesus. She wanted to honor Christ in everything she did. She was a rose among thorns, a diamond in a rough world. The light of Christ shown all around her. While she never seemed extravagant in worldly ways, she and her beloved Joey supported the church both in attendance and financially above and beyond people who possessed ten and twenty times what they possessed. With every dime Angie made, she gave 10% and more to her church. With every opportunity to serve God she received, she did so with fervor and intensity. The heart of a faithful soldier and warrior shown bright as she handed out free water in neighborhoods in Perry and invited every person she met to church, not just any church though, HER church.
After Angie was diagnosed with cancer, she didn't waver in her faith with Christ at all. As a human being, she wondered why I'm sure. No doubt, she struggled with fear considering her own mother passed away with the same type of cancer Angie had been diagnosed with. But she never doubted Christ. She trusted in His provision and healing from the day she received the diagnosis until she breathed her last breath on this earth. She never wavered. She never faltered. She never felt sorry for herself. She didn't want your sympathy or pity. She used her diagnosis as a means of witnessing. Her greatest desire was to honor Christ and to make Him known. In the two and half years she battled this horrible disease, her testimony resulted in souls won to Christ and many others rededicating their lives after watching how she lived hers. She asked every doctor, every nurse, and even the hospice nurses with each new individual she met, "Do you know Jesus? Are you ready?" Within 24 hours of her death, she witnessed to her last individual. With all the strength she possessed, she was able to pull herself together enough to ask her new hospice nurse, "Are you ready?"
I could write about the trips and experiences we had with Angie and fill up this blog. Time won't allow for me to talk about the trip to Colquitt for Swamp Gravy or the Primetimers' trip to "Field of the Woods" in Murphy, NC. Billie could talk for hours I'm sure about their shopping trips and how they "spruced up" Angie's style at times. After seeing Angie's new wardrobe and hair style one time, I commented on how good Angie looked and how Joey better be careful. Angie's simple and usual response was the same, "Yeeeaaaah boy!"
I could tell you about the dreams she had for our church but it would take forever. She loved what God was doing at Free Point and often shared her dreams with me of the city of Perry being set on fire for Christ through the power of the Spirit and the preaching of the Word at our church. She prayed for that. Believed for that. Fasted for that. Dreamed for that. She truly experienced great hurt and anguish each time our church was attacked or if Billie and I were facing great hurt and opposition. I have saved all of her email messages which she would always send me when she knew I was facing great trials. Her emails were always encouraging and she always offered different advice, but one thing was always the same in them all. She would always say in one way or another, "Bro. Ryan, we love you and Sis. Billie. We know God sent you to Perry and we will always stand with you and behind you. No one will hurt you with me around." Today, I'm missing that promise that she never once wavered on . . .
Her greatest dream for the church was for us to build a huge sanctuary where we could seat well over 300 people. As she testified in October, she told the church she couldn't wait to see the new sanctuary God was going to bless us with one day. You will Angie. You will . . . I don't understand life. I won't pretend too. What little I do know is that life is cruel. It has its high points for sure, but for the highest of highs, there seems to be the lowest of lows. Losing Angie Graham is about as low as a low one can experience in this life. I don't understand why she had to battle cancer. Someone so faithful. So committed to Christ . . . Yet she accepted the challenge and fought valiantly. I don't know why it seems that sometimes the most precious of people seem to be the one's that disappear the quickest from this life. According to the prophet Isaiah, I won't ever understand it all. God said that His ways are not my ways and His thoughts are not my thoughts. Obviously in the grand scheme of life and plot, God saw fit to take Angie home and in the process has both left a void in the hearts of many and has left an impact in hearts and lives of everyone she touched and came in contact with. Angie's greatest desire was to be used by God and there is no doubt that through this trial and battle, God used her greatly.
Angie Loo, (as Billie loved to call you), I tried my best a week ago as I sat in your home to tell you how much you meant to me and how much I loved you. Words didn't seem to do justice to the feelings I was trying to express. Your friendship, prayers, and support were treasures to me greater than most anything anyone could give me. Your faithfulness along with a few others allowed me to have a church to call my first pastorate. All that we have seen God do in four years, you get to take a lot of credit for because without your faithfulness, it would have never happened. I'm going to miss the way you worshiped and the sincerity of your heart as you testified about the goodness of God and requested prayer for those you loved most. I'm going to miss your honesty. I'm going to miss your laugh and your words. You will be forever missed by my family and I know without a doubt, your own family. I know right now you've been reunited with your parents and other loved ones and friends gone on before us all. Above all, you've found the arms of Jesus to be the greatest feeling ever known. I can't think of anyone that deserves that more than you . . .
I'll see you soon Angie. We love and appreciate you more than you'll ever know. Enjoy the rewards of your faithfulness and we'll continue to tell your story. You will live on . . .