WOODWAY, Texas (BP) — Texas pastor Mike Toby was dying of brain cancer but said he wouldn’t “bargain with the Lord for an additional 15 seconds.”
“I have fulfilled what God’s called me to do, and now this is my reward, my blessing,” Toby, 65, pastor of First Baptist Church in Woodway for 35 years, said before he died Dec. 29, according to his friend Terry Graham and associate pastor and minister of education at the church near Waco.
What had begun with numbness in one of Toby’s hands in October developed into a diagnosis of incurable cancer. The news sent shockwaves through the church, but Toby asked his congregation not to pray for his health. Instead they were to pray that his death would be easy for him and his family. He was ready to see his Savior face to face.
“His tenure here was to teach us how to live according to God’s Word, and once he got that notice [of brain cancer], he taught us how to die according to God’s Word,” Graham said, “with very much hope, very much a sense of purpose and meaning and fulfillment.”
But that didn’t take away the pain for First Baptist Woodway members like Vicky Kendig, who called Toby a “wonderful person.”
“[Y]ou can’t go through something like that … and then not mourn for him,” she said.
As the church, which is affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, was still coming to grips with Toby’s death, a second tragedy struck. Jim Gray, First Baptist’s minister of senior adults who sang at Toby’s funeral, was killed in a car wreck Jan. 30.
“[It] was like a kick in the gut,” said Graham, who described Gray as a man with a pastor’s heart who dearly loved the church’s senior adults.
Kendig found herself asking hard questions.
“[Y]ou say, ‘Why and how much?'” she said. “How much more can we take?”
Chris Sammons, associate pastor for young marrieds and discipleship at First Baptist Woodway, said that while the church is still grieving for Toby and Gray, it has responded to the time of loss by seeking God’s face.
“So we’ve gone through grief and we’ve continued to mourn, but even in the midst of our grieving and our mourning, God has proven Himself to be with us,” Sammons said. “And it’s hard to explain, but there’s not any question in our mind that we are not going through this by ourselves.”
Graham said the congregation is pulling together and supporting one another, which has left an impression on prospective new members.
“There’s a lot of strength here, and there’s a lot of depth to who we are,” Graham said. “Because you would first think that something like this happening would destroy us and would send us into a tailspin of not knowing what to do or how to respond. But that has not been the case. In fact, it has been nothing but something to join us together, to bind our hearts together and to help us become stronger and more appreciative of one another.”
Through this time of loss and seeking God, Sammons said he — and the congregation as well, he believes — gained the understanding that God’s arm is not shortened because of difficult circumstances, and that He is faithful in the midst of pain.
“It’s not that any of us would have chosen to write the story this way,” Sammons said. “But at the same time, we know that God writes the best stories.”
John Evans is a writer in Houston. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).