Sunday, December 18, 2011

Bill Stankovich had no idea how many lives he touched

When the Stankovich family first moved to Sault Ste. Marie in the 1960s and quickly became part of the Calvary Baptist Church family, Gloria and I had no idea how our lives would be intertwined for years to come.

Bill was a wonderful friend, always fun and full of life. We played softball and basketball together, went on youth retreats and engaged in every kind of church youth group activity imaginable. Our youth group was like a very close family. God did some very special things in our lives in those years.

Bill had a terrific sense of humor. It seems like he was always smiling or laughing. His positive, enthusiastic spirit was contagious. I can’t imagine anyone not liking him. I remember once when something funny happened during a baptismal service. Bill had to put his head between his knees and hold his nose because he was laughing so hard and didn’t want to disturb the service.

I treasure the memories of the “Brothers’ Quintet” – Bill, Walter, Mike, my brother Terry, and I. Bill sang lead. I’m not sure how good we were but in many of the small backwoods Baptist churches and youth rallies where we sang across the U.P. the people were more appreciative than discerning and we were often asked back. Songs like, “On the Jericho Road,” and “Have a Little Talk With Jesus” were some of our favorites.

Years later Bill would sometimes stop to visit Gloria and I as he traveled from Elkhart into parts of Michigan for their travel trailer business. We had no idea for many years that he was the one who secretly left money at the local Gambles store for us to come in and purchase some much-needed living room furniture we could never have afforded. A year later Gloria and I saw that the matching chair was on sale for $100 at Gambles’ sidewalk sale. Gloria pressed me to buy it because we would never have another opportunity to get the matching chair. I didn’t feel that we could afford even $100 for the chair so I put her off by saying, “If you pray and God gives us $100 before the sale is over, we can buy it.” Having little faith, I promptly forgot it. Gloria didn’t. She prayed.

The next morning we heard noise on our front porch and looked out to see a man standing at the door with “our living room chair” upside down on his head. “Did you buy that chair?” I fired a bit angrily at Gloria? “No,” she replied, “I just prayed and asked God to give it to us.” For years it was a total mystery who could have known that the chair matched our couch and who could have purchased the chair before it vanished forever. It was probably 25 years later that Bill let it slip when he was visiting Gloria’s parents in the Soo and the mystery was solved. It was a “God thing” that Bill was passing through town, saw the chair and pulled off his secret act of generosity and kindness. It was an affirmation of my wife’s faith and a rebuke for my lack of it. God used Bill to answer Gloria’s prayer and encourage our children to see how God took care of us.

Over the years, especially during the time when our income as a small town pastor was very limited, both Bill and Carol blessed us many times with their generosity and kindness.

Sometimes people never know how their acts of love and faithfulness will bless others and advance God’s kingdom far beyond what they could imagine.

Bill and Carol became acquainted with missionaries from our church named Jim and Roni Bowers. When Bill learned that the Bowers wanted to build a houseboat so they could travel the Amazon River to share the Gospel with Peruvian Indian villages unreachable in any other way, Bill spearheaded an amazing project of putting together the finances and the materials to be shipped to Peru to build the houseboat. Hundreds of Peruvian Indians came to know Jesus as a result of the Bower’s river ministry in the houseboat Bill played a key role in providing. Generations of Peruvian Indians have come to Christ because of Bill’s work. For all eternity that work will continue in Peru because of what Bill did.

But that wasn’t the end. Bill and Carol made it possible for Jim and Roni to adopt their precious baby Charity who gave them such joy in her short life on earth.

Then in 2001 the whole world stood at attention for two weeks as every major news outlet was riveted on the story of the missionary airplane mistakenly shot down over the Amazon River by the Peruvian Air Force and the American CIA. Roni and Charity were instantly killed, while the wounded pilot and Jim and Corey survived by clinging to the sinking airplane in the Amazon River until the Indians rescued them in their dugout canoes.

Every major television and radio network, national news paper and magazine, and other sources of news camped out at Calvary Church in Fruitport to cover the events leading up to the funeral which was broadcast live all over Western Michigan. For more than a week, the missionaries’ story remained as a top news story across the nation. Jim and many others had amazing opportunities to talk about Jesus as the One who was sustaining them through this tragedy. Jim interviewed multiple times with Diane Sawyer and others and met President Bush at the White House.

Through the tragedy, Jim and many others had a platform to tell the story of Jesus. Only God knows how many came to know Christ through that time.

A number of young people heard the story and as a result gave their lives for missionary service. They now serve in various parts of the world. The book which told the story quickly became a best seller in the USA and was translated into Spanish so it could spread the message through the Hispanic world.

None of this would have happened apart from the houseboat in which Bill was such a key player. It probably never occurred to Bill that he had an essential role in the spread of the Gospel around the world in such clear and dramatic ways and that his efforts would result in thousands of people around the world hearing about Jesus.

Bill never thought a great deal about himself. He was a model of self-deprecating humility and was embarrassed if anyone called attention to the good things he did. He probably never allowed himself to even think about how God used him to spread the Gospel around the world. In heaven today, he knows and has heard His Lord’s “well done.” Probably he has met many people who came to Christ through the chain of events in which Bill was an essential link.

Bill deeply loved his family. He often told us what a wonderful wife Carol was and how much he loved his children and grandchildren. Nothing gave him greater joy than to think of them loving and following Jesus.

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