ABOUT MY FRIEND AND FELLOW-LABORER IN CHRIST,
SAMUEL GONZALEZ (1949-2013)
By JACK COTTRELL
JULY 31, 2013
[The following is the tribute I was privileged to give at the memorial service for Sam Gonzalez, one of the founders of the Yucatan Peninsula Christian Mission, who died on May 31, 2013 at the age of 63.]
In one of his newsletters, Brother Sam quoted Jeremiah 48:10: “A curse on him who is lax in doing the LORD’s work!” Then he said, “With this verse in mind we want to start the year making plans for serving the Lord to the most of our potential.”
As I read that, I thought, “That kind of sums up the life of Sam Gonzalez.” Not the curse part, of course (!), but the part about “serving the Lord to the most of our potential.” This describes Sam very well.
I recently read all of Sam’s newsletters that are posted on the YPCM website. As I surveyed the reports of Sam’s activities, I kept thinking, “What a busy man! Has there ever been a harder worker on any mission field?”
I already knew he was a hard worker. In 1971, after he graduated from Collegio Biblico, he enrolled in Cincinnati Bible Seminary as a graduate student in theology. I was his teacher for many of his courses; I know what a serious student he was.
Then in 1973 he returned to Mexico and began his work with the Yucatan mission. In 1978 his mission board asked me to go visit with him in Merida, to get a sense of how the work was going and to see what needs he might have. I spent nearly two weeks traveling with Sam to his various church and preaching sites, and again I was impressed with what a hard worker he was.
I could see from that visit that Sam was very intent on planting churches. Also, in his reports in the newsletters he was constantly mentioning new churches. For example, he mentioned that he was helping a young preacher to start a congregation in Tabasco—the first Church of Christ in that state.
I also know that Sam was busy simply as a preacher of the gospel. I saw this during my visit and in the newsletters. In his very last letter (May 2013) he said, “I am ready to preach a lot in Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo.” Unfortunately he himself will not be doing this any more, but in a sense he will – through younger preachers whom he taught and mentored.
Yes, Sam was a very busy as a preacher, but also as a teacher. After many years living in Merida and working with many church congregations in that area, he moved his family to San Luis Potosi and joined the faculty of the Central Christian Bible College there. He also continued teaching in many church congregations. In the newsletters he mentions many of the classes and subjects he was teaching, e.g., theology, Romans, occultism, and the work of the Holy Spirit. I was thrilled to see this, because these are courses he had with me when he was a student at CBS!
I also know that Sam was not lax in doing the Lord’s work because of the many sacrifices he made for his ministry in Mexico. He often spent much time away from home, even months at a time. In his last newsletter he mentioned his plan to be in the Yucatan for two months, until July 15 (2013). He describes other such trips.
Sam also carried out his duties in the face of considerable risk and danger and opposition. In his travels he at times had to go through territories controlled by drug cartels, who did not hesitate to kidnap travelers for ransom. God protected him. Also, in some parts of Mexico the dominant Roman Catholic population often engages in militant and violent persecution of Protestant Christians in general. During my 1978 visit we talked with a member of one of his congregations who told us how her house was often pelted by rocks during the night. It was futile to ask for help from the police.
Samuel Gonzalez was indeed a hard worker, but all of this hard work is now in the past. Brother Sam has now entered into his Sabbath rest. Hebrews 4:9-10 says, “So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His” on the seventh day.
I have no doubt that Sam has entered into that heavenly rest. You might ask, how do I know that? Because he was such a hard worker? Because if anyone ever worked hard enough to deserve heaven, surely it was Sam?
NO! If he learned it nowhere else, Sam certainly learned it from me in his courses at CBS. He had my course on the grace of God, and he learned what it means to say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith—not by works, lest anyone should boast!” And, “We are justified by faith, apart from works of law.” And, “You are not under law, you are under grace!”
Sam knew that his hard work was not what saved him. He knew he was saved by grace, not by law-keeping. He knew he was saved by faith in the mighty works of Jesus Christ, not by his own works. He knew that he was saved by grace, through faith, in baptism, FOR good works—not BY them.
In one sense Sam was not ready to die; I’m sure he wanted to spend more time preaching the gospel and building up the churches in Mexico. But in another sense he WAS “ready to go.” He knew, because of the grace of God, that he was saved! He had an assurance of his salvation—not based on what HE had accomplished, but based on the all-sufficient work of Jesus.
I am sure he passed into glory with great peace in his heart, because of his confidence in the blood of Jesus. This is what the old hymns call “resting in Jesus,” or resting our hope and assurance of heaven on the cross of Christ.
You see, even before he entered into that heavenly Sabbath rest (resting from his work), Sam was already resting his soul in Jesus. “Blessed assurance, all it at rest!”
So where is Sam now? I don’t know where his worn-out physical body is, but that’s OK—he won’t need that any more. At the moment of his death his soul (his spirit) was separated from that body and was taken directly into the angelic heaven to join a great crowd already there. Who is now there with him? For one thing, many angels are there, since this temporary “heaven” is in their natural world. Also, a manifestation (theophany) of God the Father is there, seated on a majestic throne. Seated with him is the resurrected, ascended Son of God, Jesus our Savior, in his glorified human nature. Finally, Sam is there with the souls of all the saved who have already died, including the many converts he won to Christ in his 40 years of working with the Yucatan mission!
What are Sam and his fellow Christians doing now? We can only speculate that they are spending much time worshiping the Father and the Son, and probably fellowshiping with one another. But the main thing they are doing is WAITING—waiting for God to call an end to this present world and to initiate the second coming of Christ. That’s what we are waiting for, too: for this world, this age, to come to an end. It’s just that Sam has a more comfortable waiting room!
Our blessed hope is that if we die before Christ returns, we will join Sam in that heavenly waiting room and be able to fellowship with him there! In his last newsletter he said, “We will be in Yucatan for two months, until July 15 . If anyone would like to meet us there, just let me know.” Sadly, that is no longer possible. But we can still meet Sam — someday, in a better place!
What will bring this waiting to an end? The second coming of Christ, followed by the resurrection of all the dead and transformation of the living, and the Final Judgment (see 1 Thess. 4:13-18). But why will there be a Judgment Day, if we all will already know whether we are saved or lost, even at the moment of death? One of the main reasons is that we will have our earthly deeds examined (2 Cor. 5:10) in order to determine the degree of rewards we will experience in the final heaven.
On that Day, all of Sam’s hard work and good works will be displayed—not to determine if he is saved or lost, but to determine the amount of heavenly reward he will receive. I believe he will be right there among the top — graduating “summa cum laude,” as it were. As in Matt. 25:14-23, he will hear Jesus say to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord!”
Then will come the time when we are all transported from the Judgment scene in the angelic world, to the “new heavens and new earth” (see Rev. 21:1-7). There on the new earth, Sam and the rest of the redeemed will spend eternity—
—in blessed fellowship with family and old friends.
—making new friends.
—meeting patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, and the saved of all the ages.
—feasting on the perpetual buffet of the “marriage supper of the Lamb.”
—nibbling on the fruit of the Tree of Life.
—drinking our fill from the River of the Water of Life.
—walking with Jesus!
—resting with Jesus!