When I received the news that Robertson McQuilkin, my 88 year old brother in Christ, friend, mentor, and encourager, had been called from this earth in to the presence of our Lord and Savior, I immediately experienced that unique Christian paradox of being sorrowful even as I was in the midst of rejoicing. (2 Cor 6:10)
I met Robertson for the first time in January of 1999. It was at one of the early Calvary Chapel missions conferences held each year at Murrieta Hot Springs in Southern California and I was on the committee that planned the conference and invited him to speak. When I found out that he had accepted our invitation to speak, I almost did back-flips of joy.
A Missionary Hero
At the time, I already considered him a giant of the Christian faith, especially within the realm of global missions, and I was a bit nervous and overwhelmed once more at the reality that God was again permitting me to personally meet one of my heroes.
I first heard his name some time in late 1983 as I was sensing that God might be calling me and my family to serve as missionaries. As I began meeting with former missionaries or furloughing missionaries that were staying in the San Diego area so that I could learn more about the missionary experience, his name kept coming up
When his book, The Great Omission came out in 1984, I devoured it in one sitting and knew that my living-missionary hall of fame had just been expanded from 2 to 3.
It was almost like I now had a trinity of missions heroes—Robertson McQuilkin, Bruce Olson and Don Richardson–and although I had a great desire to meet all three of them, at the time I hadn’t yet been given that opportunity.
It wasn’t just McQuilkin’s grasp of God’s heart for all people—his missions theology—that was expressed in the book that captured me.
It was also his ability to express his passion through simple, yet incredibly well written and powerful sentences. He was a great writer and as I began going through the other books he had written, his stature and influence in my eyes and life began to grow.
Although I had heard about his latest book about the journey he was on in taking care of his wife, Muriel, who was suffering from a severe case of Alzheimer’s disease, I hadn’t read it yet, but it was definitely on my must-read list. (If you haven’t read A Promise Kept yet, please do and you’ll have a taste of just one of the reasons why I have such great admiration and respect for this man of God).
The day that I met him, I nervously tapped lightly on the door of his room at the conference center and when Robertson opened it, I introduced myself, and then he shook my hand and invited me to come in and sit down.
Within minutes, his genuineness, wisdom, articulateness, humility, and grace-laden interest in me personally and our movement was on display.
Those traits were so evident so quickly that they both validated and amplified the things that I had already come to love and respect about him from reading so much of what he had written.
Moments with McQuilkin
Although I’m sure I’m only one of the hundreds, if not thousands of people who feel this way, I knew at that moment that God graced me in a special way by permitting me to become friends with Robertson McQuilkin– a man that represented Jesus more fully than almost any one else I know.
From that night forward, I learned that whenever I interacted with him I was not only going to be encouraged, challenged, taught, or inspired–I was also going to learn more about God as my relationship with Robertson deepened.
Here are a few of the things I learned about him and from him whenever I had what I eventually came to refer to as Moments with McQuilkin. He was:
A MAN OF HIS WORD, A TRUSTED CONFIDANT, AND GIFTED ENCOURAGER
Based on what was revealed in A Promise Kept and what I had heard and read about him from others, I knew he was a man of his word.
But he proved to me that this description of him by others was accurate within a few weeks of that first time I met him.
In one of our conversations at that conference, he asked me what God was stirring in my heart in regards to our Missionary God’s will for my life.
I told him about the vision the Lord had given me to create a hybrid missions organization called Shepherd’s Staff Missions Facilitators that I believed God wanted to use to primarily help and serve our group of churches as their global vision and missions endeavors were expanding.
After he asked me a couple of interesting questions, he assured me that he believed it sounded exactly like something our Missionary God would move one of His servants to create.
He then fanned the flames of my passion to move forward with confidence and helped me to think about and think through a few principles that he recommended I consider in guiding the ministry that God was leading me to launch.
To say that I was blown away with encouragement would be a huge understatement.
But what really stood out to me was what he told me in my last conversation with him prior to his departing from the conference.
He said that he was going to pray and think about finding someone that was navigating within a similar sphere that might be able to pass on some knowledge and wisdom that could be helpful to me as I proceeded with establishing the ministry.
Knowing that he had so many other heavy things on his mind and dozens, if not hundreds of other people that he called friends, I appreciated his willingness to make a promise like that, but I had no expectation that he would remember or have the time to actually follow through with what he said he was going to do.
He had asked for my phone number, and sure enough, about two weeks later, he called me and told me that he had thought and prayed and that he believed the Lord had given him the name of just the right guy that might be of help.
He gave me the name and contact information of one of his former students, Hans Finzel, who had recently become the president of a missions organization that served a group of churches that operated within a paradigm that was similar to ours.
In awe, I thanked him a dozen times and a few days later, I spent more than an hour on the phone with Hans. Thanks to McQuilkin and thanks to Hans, the things that I learned made a significant contribution to the launch and the ongoing success of Shepherd’s Staff.
When I was diagnosed with ALS in May of 2004, he called me and prayed for me over the phone. And he always responded to every written update that I regularly mailed out to those who were interested in knowing how my battle with the disease was unfolding.
After I was re-diagnosed to Kennedy’s disease in September of 2006, and had moved to Phoenix at the end of 2007, I continued to send out updates on how my health was, and the ministry God was permitting to do as the pastor of a church that was heavily engaged in ministry to refugees.
Here a few quotes taken from those emails.
From January, 2008:
Friend, I trust things are going well in this remarkable new adventure you’ve plunged into! May 2008 be the most fruitful yet, and full of God’s restoring health for your body…
From June of 2010, in response to my update where I explained the vision God gave me to begin what I called Phoenix 10/40 Interface:
Wow! Who ever said Jeff Jackson was not a visionary?! It sounds incredible and I’ll pray it works out for advancement of the Kingdom, even in ways unexpected. Wish I were a pastor so I could partner! Thanks for keeping me in the loop…
From March of 2009, in response to Shepherd’s Staff’s request for him to serve on our advisory board:
Your efforts on behalf of Calvary missions outreach is a matter of constant praise for me… I still feel that the Calvary movement could be an unprecedented participant in finishing the task! All that to say, yes, I’m honored to participate in this small way…
Blessings and thank you again for your friendship/partnership
A MASTER OF QUESTIONING, LISTENING, AND HEART PIERCING
One of his greatest and most fine-tuned gifts was the ability to ask you questions that provoked you to try to accurately articulate what you said that you believed.
He would listen intently to your first answer, pause for a second, ask another question springing forth from the answer you just gave, and then keep doing this until you ended up expressing it in a manner clearer than you ever had before.
After he had gotten you to do that, he would then use a few more questions that forced you to come to grips with the reality that you weren’t really living out the logical implications of what you so clearly just stated that you believe!
It was uncomfortable in a hurt-so-good way when he did this to you, and just plain entertaining to watch him do it to others.
He was also a master at wielding the truths of God’s word like a light-saber, or a velvet covered dagger. The loving and graceful way he cut to the core of who you are was painful, but it actually moved you to love and respect him more than you did before he began doing his surgery on you.
Here are a few examples:
—In 2001, I was at a conference with him in another state. My desire to go back to the mission field was burning at a very high temperature once again, and an opportunity to go to a Southeast Asian country with full financial support had been offered to us. Helen and I were fasting and praying about it and I now had the opportunity to seek counsel from Robertson face to face.
I explained to him what was going on and that we were praying and fasting about whether this might be God’s will for us. Of course, he started asking me questions, specifically about what God was doing in and through Shepherd’s Staff.
And as usual, he did what he always did–he helped me to see and understand things that I had either been unwilling or unable to come to terms with.
He then challenged me to consider whether I would be more effective for the cause by staying here and doing what I was doing or by going back to the field and engaging directly in the accomplishment of the cause.
When I pushed back by telling him that my heart was literally on fire to get back to the field, he told me that was the exact reason why I was so effective–and infectious in people’s live here in the states.
And he also said he knew exactly how I felt, because it was the same for him when he returned from having served for 12 years in Japan.
He said the passion I had to be on the field was so visible to others that it challenged and inspired them to re-evaluate their own understanding of God’s heart for the nations. And that my obvious passion to go, yet staying here because this is where I’m most effective for the cause was provoking people to see and understand God and His global cause in a way that they’re normally not exposed to.
Obviously, we didn’t go, and within a year and a half, I turned over the church I was pastoring, and devoted myself to directing Shepherd’s Staff full time.
A few years later, I was a fellow speaker with Robertson at a missions conference hosted by a church of more than 6,000 members.
About 200 people were attending the conference, and at the break between the general sessions he taught, I had a classic Moment with McQuilkin.
It was raining outside and we were standing in the foyer gazing out at a huge parking lot that was largely empty.
He turned his gaze from the parking lot to me and told me that the person who did most of the work organizing the conference looked a bit discouraged by how few people were attending.
I told him that I’m sure his perception was accurate—this brother was discouraged, but he was working hard not to show it.
There was then this awkward silence and almost as a reflex and without really thinking, I decided to fill it with one of those Christianese phrases that we tend to toss out whenever we don’t really know what to say.
I told him that although it was definitely discouraging to have such a small turnout, it was comforting to know that ultimately, “God is in control.”
He looked at me with his eyebrows raised and said, “Oh really?”
At that point, I knew I had set myself up to be McQuilkin-ized.
And sure enough, he lowered his eyebrows, cocked his head a bit to one side, looked even deeper into my eyes, and with an interesting grin on his face said,
“Brother, if God really is in control of the lives of more than 6,000 people who claim to follow Him, do you really think He’d have less than 200 of them show up for a conference that is being held to express His heart for all the people on this planet?”
As much as I would like to share so many of the others things Robertson said and did that wove him so deeply in to my heart, I think this will suffice for now.
If you know me and you’ve heard me say that I some times feel like the Forrest Gump of God’s Kingdom, it’s because God has graced a bumbling, stumbling, simpleton like me with the opportunity to meet and come to know a few great men that are clearly after His own heart–men like Robertson McQuilkin
Note: many of Robertson McQuilkin’s books and recordings are available online at Columbia University’s McQuilkin Library.
Three (of many) great Robertson McQuilkin books:
- A Promise Kept tells the story of his caring for his wife Muriel through her dementia.
- The Five Smooth Stones is a statement, summation and standard of ministry from Robertson McQuilkin’s five decades of ministry.
- An Introduction to Biblical Ethics is not an introduction, but a tool for a solid foundation for making life decisions.
Pastor Jeff Jackson is the founder of Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators and currently serves as the director of Church Relationships and Missionary Care. Jeff previously served with his family as church planters in the central Philippines and in the United States.