Tommy Thompson Bio 16 Sad Farewells

CHAPTER 16

Sad Farewells

In 1982, I received word that my mother, Agnes Crooks Thompson, was going blind. I had helped to return her to my sister Eileen in South Africa and I had a longing to go to see her. We put this before the Lord and the results were wonderfully worked out. 

The man who had bought our house on speculation asked for a six-month extension on his agreement to pay $5,000 he owed, but he said he could not meet this commitment, and we were disappointed. When the crisis of my mother’s health came up, I telephoned this man and asked him to accelerate his payment. He said, “No.” Reluctantly, I then told him I would be forced to sell at a discount the parcels of real estate he had given to me for collateral. The next day he paid up in full.

Sadie, Bettie and I flew to South Africa and visited my mother. It was an enjoyable six weeks of happy fellowship with her and the beloved saints of the Cape Province. It was a sad parting from her and I’ll remember it forever and her parting words: “Tommy go forth and preach the Gospel. You made your Daddy very pleased when he lived. Now do the same for the Lord and me!”

On the way back to Alaska, we stopped overnight in Amsterdam. The phone rang in our hotel room. My son, Billy, was on the line to let me know that my mother had gone to be with the Lord.

As soon as we could, we began to make arrangements for me to fly back to Cape Town for the funeral. Since it was a weekend, the airline would only give credit of $500. We decided it was best if Sadie and Bettie continued to Alaska.

I quickly ran into logistical problems with the airline. Although they assured me they would honor my passage to Alaska when I returned from South Africa, they would not issue a return to Cape Town. The KLM assistant agreed to let me use their telephone to call my brother George in Cape Town to see if he could do anything from that end. But, because it was the weekend, he could not help either.

Missionary pioneers can be stubborn, and I was determined I was going back to Cape Town on the 5 pm. South Africa Airline flight. I put my luggage in a cart and decided to go through the same way as the KLM assistant had taken me, right past the elevated immigration booth, without stopping.

Just as I neared the office door inside the immigration booth, an officer (angel?) called out, “Can I help you sir?” Then he pushed my luggage all the way through and past the booth and barriers without question. He pointed me to the place where I could meet the South Africa Airline pilot. My heart was beating very fast by now.

I saw a South Africa Airline official approaching my location. He was not the pilot, but was the station manager. I explained to him what I was trying to do. Quickly, he wrote down my credit card and, using his own credit card, covered my round- trip to Cape Town. “Run quickly!” he told me. “The flight is leaving in 10 minutes.”

I charged through the airport to the gate as fast as I could. Thankfully, the door to the aircraft was still open and I squeezed in. I plopped down, exhausted, in a back seat. I had no sooner sat down when a lady told me she had just been assigned that seat. I moved over. The lady sat down and began to weep. I asked her what the matter was. “I have just spent four months with my sick mother, and now I have to return home,” she said. “I am so afraid that I will never see her again.”

I told her about my mother just passing away and the great effort I had made to return to Cape Town for her funeral. “But look at your face compared to mine,” she said, and an inquisitive look of wonder passed over her face. I replied, “I am at peace because I know my mother is in heaven.” This opened the great subject of assurance and the gospel. I pointed her to the Bible and let her read reassuring verses.

A 14-hour trip lay before us. At that time, most African nations banned South Africa Airlines from flying through their air space, so our flight path was particularly circuitous.

After take-off, I tried to get some sleep, but I was constantly awakened by the lady next to me as she sought answers to many questions. One part of me secretly hoped she would fall asleep, too. But she wanted Bible answers to her questions. Committing my situation into the Lord’s hands, I showed her the answers from Scriptures. When the aircraft stopped for refueling she asked me to go outside with her, which I reluctantly agreed to do. After take off I answered several questions. Because of the hectic day I went fast asleep.

Two hours from Johannesburg, the flight crew awakened us for breakfast. I was groggy by this time. The last thing I wanted was the lady next to me to tap my arm again. But she did, and this time something seemed different about her. “Mr. Thompson,” she said excitedly. “1 just got saved, and now I know I will go to heaven when I die. I also will write to my mother and share this with her.”

God moves in mysterious ways indeed. I thought I had somehow missed the mind of God in all the fuss in Amsterdam.

Now I knew God planned it all for His glory, surely His ways are past finding out!

My return to Cape Town, although very sad in one way, was joyous because I knew mother was now with my father at home with the Lord. That’s what she longed for after he died. Mother always wanted her whole family to be near her, and we were all together at her funeral. In retrospect, it was the last time all four of us were together at the same place on this side of heaven. Andy, Eileen and George have all since passed on.

On my return journey I had a stopover at the Johannesburg airport, so I telephoned the lady I had met on the flight from Amsterdam. “Mr. Thompson, you will be glad to know I was at the Baptist Easter service this morning celebrating my Lord’s resurrection!” she said with genuine delight in her voice.

God often opens the door, but we have to walk through with fear and trembling, even if we have to push through with our luggage in a carrier, breaking the law. But the Bible does say, “Fear God and honour the King”.

In January 1984, Sadie arid I flew to Seattle for a Bible conference. We took the opportunity to get medical check-ups at the Medical Center owned by Stewards’ Foundation. I got a cleared report by the hospital. Things were different, however, for Sadie. Xrays showed some shadowing on one of her lungs.

The doctors administered tuberculosis medications to treat her for every possible cause of the shadowing. These made her very sick and weak. I took her to Westport on the coast to await the results of several other tests the doctors ordered.

After Sadie fell asleep in the hotel bedroom on the coast, I went for a walk along the wharf and prayed earnestly, beseeching the Lord to make her better. But it was Ezekiel 24:16 that came to my mind. In that passage, the Lord told Ezekiel of the imminent death of the prophet’s wife. God warned Ezekiel, “Son of man, behold, I am about to take from thee the desire of thine eyes.” I ran along the wharf with my hands covering my ears, shouting over the crash of the waves. “No Lord!” I shouted. “No!”

Later, back in Seattle, we were eating breakfast in the home of our hosts, dear friends Dave and Sandy Brandt. It was January 28, 1984. The telephone rang. It was Sadie’s doctor. I took the call. “Please sit down. I have some news to tell you,” the doctor said. “I’m sorry, but Sadie has incurable cancer in her right lung.”

My mind reeled with shock. How will I tell Sadie? There was no use in delaying, so I simply told her what the doctor had said. “Well, Tommy,” she said softly like the faithful soldier she ever was. “We will wait and see.”

It’s impossible to describe the dark clouds that filled our hearts. Dave and Sandy were so kind and comforting. The flight back to Anchorage was one of mixed emotions because the family had to be told of this awful news about their mother.

The whole family was stunned, but rallied around us. Brian was super-good to us. Billy flew back from his job on the South Sea island of Pago Pago where he was supervising the construction of airfields and docks. Billy put $6,000 at our disposal. Barry, who lived in Johannesburg, took it hard. Brent flew back from visiting Barry in South Africa. Young Bettie, not yet 18 years old and set to graduate from high school in May, was shocked.

The next six months were a blur of therapy, radiation treatments, hospital visits, and doctors’ appointments. An operation was attempted, but the surgeon had no sooner looked inside Sadie when he simply called off the procedure. The cancer had metastasized. Now all hopes were dashed and it was just a matter of time. In the final stages, Sadie was provided with nursing care in our own home. A few days before she died, I was sitting with her. With what little breath she had, she turned to me. “Tommy,” she said. “I’m up here, looking down on that body. I’m not in it.” I thought of the glory of God described in Ezekiel 10:4 and 11:22, 23, slowly ascending and leaving Jerusalem.

Barry flew in from South Africa upon receiving our reports that Sadie did not have long to live. He went into her room and visited his Mum. When he left, she asked, “Is Barry gone?”

Having seen all her children, Sadie seemed from that point to surrender herself to the Lord to take her Home. She was a wonderful soldier in submission to the Lord’s will. On the July 31, 1984, at 1 pm., Sadie departed for her Home above. She was 56 years old. We had been married for 39 years.

Brian sums it up perfectly when he says, “Mum showed us how to live and also how to die.” Oh, how we all missed Sadie: a great wife, mother of five, and fellow-soldier.

I will not write of everything about those awful months after Sadie’s passing. A few things stand out, though. When I read Ephesians 5:20 about “giving thanks always for all things”, I must confess my inability to do this regarding my dear Sadie. I wrestled with my inability to give thanks for Sadie’s illness. I had never before felt such lack of understanding of God’s will and His Word. One day during this struggle, I read 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” Of course, I had read that verse many times before, but like a bolt, that first word, in glowed into my mind, as I read it again, emphasizing that first word. With tears of thankfulness to the Lord, I finally understood. It was not for me so much to give thanks for Sadie’s illness as much as it was for me to give thanks in the trial.

Reviewing the whole past experience of Sadie’s cancer, I could give thanks for things in the trial, for many experiences including the kindness of Dave & Sandy Brandt in Seattle. Then Sadie’s primary physician, Dr. Beth Baker, had given us her home telephone number. “Call me anytime and I will come.” Doctors don’t generally make home visits anymore. Yet we could be thankful that Dr. Baker was willing and available to come anytime. The pharmacist had said, “Call me at any hour and I’ll come down to the pharmacy and give you what Sadie needs” - another most unusual kindness.

Brian took both Sadie and myself into his home every Friday night, fed us dinner (he is a talented cook), and put us to bed in his guest bedroom. This he did until Sadie was not able to go out. I hate to remember, though, I often had to slip out and go back home for clean clothes because of the sweat of stress. But the comfort, kindness and care Brian gave made our trial easier to bear, and Sadie got so much comfort out of Brian’s attention.

Near the end, night nurses were provided for Sadie’s care, and that was a welcome relief. One senior nurse was a particular comfort because of her expertise, so that even Dr. Baker listened to her advice and suggestions.

This nurse was an agnostic. I spoke to her about the reality of God, salvation through Christ, and other such things. “Why don’t you ask God to show you that He is real?” I challenged her.

One day, she and her disabled husband drove their pickup truck to a river to fish. When they were finished fishing, she noticed the fuel gauge in the truck was on empty. The highway was 16 miles away, so walking out was not an option. Besides, she couldn’t leave her disabled husband there alone because of the danger from bears. Remembering my challenge to her about God, she bowed her head and asked God to please take them to the main road for help. She started the engine, and began driving back.

God did better than she asked. With the fuel gauge never moving off “empty”, God took them to a filling station 20 miles away. Just as she turned the truck into the station, the engine stuttered and stalled to a halt, out of fuel.

She related this whole episode to me on her next visit to our house. God had manifested His reality to her. I then counseled and even warned her of her personal need to believe on the Lord Jesus for salvation. As far as I know she did not make a profession of faith. After Sadie died I never saw this nurse again. Many people wrote to me about how the Lord used Sadie’s death to bring glory to Himself.

Mothers are often the glue of the family, and Sadie’s departure proved this to be true. The finality of her absence brought on an awful loneliness. I struggled to deal with the reality of never seeing her again on earth. I threw myself into working long hours putting in new foundations at the Indian Valley Chalet. I would eat breakfast, take an apple, a sandwich and some water for my lunch, and work late into the evening. This physical labor was a therapy indeed.

I had Bettie, my dear daughter, to console. It hurt me so very much to see her missing her mother. Every day during Sadie’s illness, Bettie would sit with her and talk about many things. I often heard them laugh. A daughter’s loss of her mother, especially at such a young age, brings unique pain.

I decided to visit Ulster for Christmas and brought Bettie and Brian with me. I found myself going to familiar spots Sadie and I cherished in our younger days. This was so hurtful, and perhaps not wise. “What are you here for?” I asked myself at one of these spots. “I’m looking for Sadie,” I replied to myself. This realization brought sobs of pain. 

The Lord comforted me in many ways. On the way to Wallace Avenue Assembly in Lisbum for the Lord’s Day’s meetings they had asked me to take, I pulled my car down a side street and cried, “Lord, if I you could show Sadie to me in heaven, then I could go through with the meetings at the assembly.” I prayed this but please don’t think this request is foolish if you have not passed through such a trial.

The meeting began, and the first brother to pray took us into God’s very presence. Somehow his prayer was deep with expressions of the presence and mystery of God. This surely was an answer to my cry! It turned out that the brother who prayed had been through a great family trial himself, and this was the first time in six months he had taken part in public prayer.

When I got up to preach, I experienced a nearness of the Lord that I had not felt in a long, long time. When four elders approached me after the Gospel meeting, this brother was the one who spoke. “Brother Tommy,” he said, “I enjoyed your message. If I had not been saved already, I would have been saved tonight.” At that moment, I hesitated to tell him how his prayer had strengthened me. But a little later I went to the cloak room. He was there getting his coat, too. “Brother,” I said, “You should know that your prayer was of great help and encouragement to me today,” and I related my early morning experience. We just wept on each other’s shoulders and never said another word. But God brought comfort to both of us that day.

In 1986, after two years alone, the Lord brought into my life my dear Marjorie to be my wife. She has proved a helpmeet in the fullest sense of that word. She labours beside me, and on her own especially in the needs associated with the Lord’s assembly in Anchorage.

I thank the Lord that through Marjorie I have again enjoyed being devoted to the work the Lord has placed in our hands. After the loss of Sadie, my service to the Lord sometimes felt more like a duty rather than devotion, if one can understand the difference.

Marjorie is very much her own, ladylike person. The place she has taken has not been easy for her. She left a good career and a happy family, plus a number of assemblies in her home area in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, to move to Alaska. She has indeed sacrificed much to come into the Thompson family. Marjorie has made me live again, as it were, and shares the burden of the work of the Lord with me.

I can say the assembly in Anchorage has good potential in mostly young families and young believers. While I have planted and watered, God has given the increase in spite of plenty of opposition over the years.

In December 2004 eleven believers who had been in fellowship in the Anchorage assembly and lived in Wasilla, planted an assembly in His Name in Wasilla. It is 55 miles from Anchorage and is the fastest growing area in Alaska. Two of the main men are my spiritual sons in Christ. I always felt there should have been a testimony to His Name there many years ago and now the Lord has answered our prayers.

I have served my own generation by the will of God. Like Caleb (I am fast approaching his age recorded in Joshua 14:10-11) I can say, “If the Lord will be with me, then I shall be able” to go wherever He may yet lead us in the time allocated by His grace.