The news came, as it typically does, in the midst of a full schedule of commitments and responsibilities. My wife and I had just returned home from four days of ministry and fellowship at a gathering in South Carolina.
We were tired, and glad to be home. Our oversized mailbox was filled to overflowing, our dogs needed loving attention and after taking care of these, we left home again for another commitment in our city.
I discovered the news when we had returned home the second time, at around 1:30 in the morning.
John Keating has died. Some of my readers never knew John, but he was closer than a brother to me.
John and I first met in the lobby of the Seattle Revival Center in 1997. John was an Irishman, scheduled to minister among us. I had walked into the lobby and saw a room full of people, among which was one man who stood out in stark relief among that crowd of saints, at least, to me. I walked up to him, we exchanged appraising looks and then we moved together into a warm and Christ-filled hug. We somehow ended up on the floor, legs and arms askew and our hearts meshed inseparably.
John was far from a typical preacher, minister, apostle, prophet; he didn’t fit anybody’s image or expectation. He was rooted in another world, joined to a kingdom not of this world. And because he was much more a member of an eternal kingdom than he was a member of a temporal world, John seemed odd to many people. Well, he was odd. And I suppose, so was Paul and Peter and Steven and the whole host of First Century follower-leaders of Christ.
We ministered together in America and in England and in Holland and in Northern Ireland and in the Republic. We worked together from Cork to Coleraine. We were in Omah just after the bombing. We prayed through Londonderry – or Derry – your choice. We laughed in pubs and preached in pulpits and met men and women in the streets and we watched our God bring peace where it was claimed no peace could be found. In 2004, John and I made a quiet, private tour of the North and then drove into the South. John wanted to purchase a pub and serve as barman and it would be a church – a John-kind-of church. Under the radar. Non-conventional. Effective.
He didn’t buy a pub, but we toured a lot of them. And John moved on. Under the radar. Non-conventional. Effective.
Last night I was scrolling through Facebook Messenger and found a video clip of our Fireland days. I commented to my wife that the music we were listening to were songs we sang during those heady days of revival in Northern Ireland. And then, unexpectedly, a dam broke in my soul and tears rushed from my eyes and all I could do was roll into a fetal position and cry.
When John first came to America, he was enthralled with this giant land we Americans call home. He wanted something American to wrap himself in and that something became a fine, leather coat. We went shopping and John found just the coat he was looking for: A heavy, well-made leather coat. John wore that coat proudly until one night he or somebody, I’m not certain who looked at the tag inside the coat: “Made in Ireland.” John was so disappointed, but I thought to myself, “You can get John Keating out of Ireland, but you can’t get Ireland out of John. He was passionate about the Irish and the land and the history, of Celts and Vikings and the Irish who endured and he was passionate about Ireland becoming Fireland as the fires of God’s Spirit burned through the land, touching hearts in every city and county and region.
The cloud of witnesses that has cheered John, and you and me onward toward the Prize has grown this week with the entry of John Keating.
I grieve for Sandra and for John’s family, both biological and spiritual. I grieve for the cities and the churches and the people that now will never hear John’s rich and simple voice, urging us upward, onward, inward toward the high calling in Christ Jesus. I trust that God knows what He’s doing, and for what He has done with Johnny. But I miss the lad. You know, I miss you, John.