One of my guilty pleasures is to play a game on my phone called Words with Friends. Its a game I can play in between the cracks in my day. Its online scrabble. I regularly have five games going at once. One of my game friends is Larry Hardin. Until today we were in the middle of a game until a received a notification on my phone that Larry had timed out. If one does not play for several weeks in a row the game ends. Indeed, Larry did time out. He normally plays fast and he likes to make comments when he plays. Just after Thanksgiving, however, he quit playing. I don’t think anything of it until I received an inbox from his wife to pray for him. “He had the flu and it turned to pleurisy and pneumonia. He’s was on the ventilator. A few days latter, I was deeply saddened to hear that my friend Larry died. My notification today that he timed out hit me very hard again.
Larry was far more than a gaming friend. Larry was a career missionary to Kenya. He experienced things most of us would never dream of doing. He raised up leaders, established a Bible School, ministered throughout the country. In Kenya, Larry gave his all. He survived bouts of malaria, hardships with the government, and difficulty raising support. Finally, after spending his all, a problem with his VISA forced him to return home. He and his wife and their beautiful daughter Natali took it as the will of God. They were coming back to Atlanta and their other children and hopefully an easier future. But within a month of his return he contracted the flu! How ironic. This was not ebola, or malaria, or typhoid, but America’s winter viral nuisance. He died in one of America’s premier medical centers-Emory University Hospital.
I only met Larry this year when he came to our church to speak about his work in Kenya. My wife and son and I went on a missions trip to Kenya this summer and Larry was our host. He organized a retreat where Melanie and I ministered to missionaries. It was one of the highest honors of my life. He let us use his van to go to other places in Kenya to minister. He stayed behind to do his own missions work and rode his motorcycle so we could have a vehicle.
One of the hardest things for me to grasp is that he and I are almost the same age. He still had so much to give. When I was with Larry in Kenya, however, I saw a man who had given his all. I could see that he had endured many sorrows and was “acquainted with grief”. He gave more in fifty years than most of us will give in a lifetime. The last word he played against me was “Kat”. It’s one of those words you only see in scrabble. I looked it up though and discovered that it is a derivative of khat-an african tree with medicinal properties that is often put in tea. How appropriate. Larry was much like an African tree who dispensed the medicine of the gospel wherever he went.
The flu didn’t win. You and God still had the last word and its ringing in my ears and the ears of thousands of Kenyans. I had another friend who died while serving Jesus in Kenya. She used to say, “Christians never have to say good-bye, they just say “see you later” That’s my last word dear friend….for now.
The last project that Life Church helped build. This is a mission house.
Larry and Barbara
Daddy and daughter Natali