I learned last night that my uncle, Pastor Bill Brewer, passed away. Uncle Bill was my mentor, my tormentor, my surrogate father, one of my heroes and my friend all rolled into one.
It was Uncle Bill who moved my family out of an inner-city Los Angeles ghetto to Imperial Valley. He had visited my mom, seen our living conditions, and then took it upon himself to help us have a better life. I’m sure he regretted the decision at a truck stop in Indio when my pitbull Prince relieved himself on Uncle Bill’s leg. Uncle Bill was scared of Prince, and rightly so, so he just pleaded quietly for me to get my dog to quit using his leg as a fire hydrant.Uncle Bill was the second of three generations of Assemblies of God ministers in my family. To say that these two men had an impact would be as silly as saying water is wet. They were both important men in the Assemblies of God, and I am proud to say that I am, “Bill Brewer’s grandson or nephew, take your pick.” I doubt seriously that my ministry has, or ever will, compare to these two giant heroes of mine, but I am thankful for the shadow they cast upon my life.
I learned how to do ministry by watching my uncle. His love for the people of Faith Assembly was unmatched. Ministry at Faith Assembly included being a bus captain, picking up papers in the parking lot on one of our roving staff meetings and learning to sweep sidewalks in the correct, Uncle Bill approved, method. It is those lessons that have helped shape almost every aspect of my ministry in one way or another. Every life that has been touched by my life or ministry had a beginning in sweeping the walks of Faith Assembly. I hated sweeping those walks, but I wouldn’t give up the lessons in humility and real ministry I gained from them.
My vocabulary grew under my uncle’s tutelage. I learned exotic words like shuckamaguckle from Uncle Bill. He was constantly making up his own words. I told him more than once that he was probably cussing in some foreign language, but he never believed me. Then came the night that he said one of his made-up words during a basketball game. The gym fell silent as everybody looked at him. Everybody in the gym, except Uncle Bill, knew what he had said. He pleaded with us that he had made that word up, and somebody told him, “You didn’t make that one up…” When one of the guys explained the Spanish word Uncle Bill had “made up” his head turned as bright red as a stop light.
I could fill a book on my experiences with Uncle Bill, and many of them would be mundane, day-to-day things that probably would only interest me. Yet each one of those memories helped shape my ministry, my manhood, and my life in ways that I may never know this side of heaven.
In 2001 I wrote about my Uncle Bill and Aunt Leslie, “Ministry is giving when you feel like keeping, praying for others when you need to be prayed for, feeding others when your own soul is hungry, living truth before people even when you can’t see results, hurting with other people even when your own hurt can’t be spoken, keeping your word even when it is not convenient, it is being faithful when your flesh wants to run away. In short, ministry is living for thirty years in a town where nobody else wanted to pastor, and succeeding at it. Ministry is being like my uncle.”
In the movie Gladiator, Maximus tells his men, “What we do in life echoes in eternity.” The words, works and love of Bill Brewer are already echoing in eternity, and now Uncle Bill is seeing his Savior face to face. I’ll miss him more than words can express, but I wouldn’t dare ask him to come back.
Love you, Uncle Bill, see you in heaven… Jerry