September 4, 2013

Mark Millican: Our loss, but heaven’s certain gain

“His mere presence seems to have conferred a blessing on everyone who met him.” — Alan Moorehead, describing David Livingstone in “The White Nile”


The late Charlie Waters told me once when he left Ellijay to be shipped off to World War II he knew it would be the last time he’d see his father alive.

And he was right.

As an Army intelligence specialist, Charlie was involved in the planning of D-Day from the eastern shores of England. Before that he’d been stationed in Ireland for awhile before staging began for the June 6, 1944, monumental invasion that initiated taking Europe back from the Nazis.

In the days before computers, Charlie said tactics and strategy were organized on clipboards, which hung on walls on nails and had their outline stenciled on the wall. The same number was on the back of the clipboard and inside the stencil on the wall. When an alarm horn sounded warning of a possible German air strike, the men grabbed the clipboards, ran to underground bunkers, and when the all-clear was given they placed the clipboards back in their places and carried on.

If you knew Charlie Waters and how much he loved to tell stories — especially funny ones — you can imagine what a hoot it was hearing him mimic the “Limeys” in England and Ireland. Some of those local stories he told over and over again, but you never stopped him by saying you’d already heard it. You just listened and laughed again because he enjoyed telling it so much and you didn’t mind either.

But Charlie was very serious about another matter — he was sold out on telling other people what a friend Jesus could be. He often carried senior veterans all the way over to Augusta — without charging them anything for gas — so they could see the doctors at the veterans hospital there. If you put credence in Christian theology, you might wonder how many of those men are in heaven today because Charlie took the time to patiently witness to them.

I can say without reservation, because I have seen him in action, thousands of people are in heaven today because of the generous, caring and loving spirit of Charlie Waters.

We were at the county jail ministering once on Veterans Day and I told the men about Charlie’s military service. Also, that since he and Catherine had no natural children of their own they considered the men and women at the jail their sons and daughters. After all, this dear couple bought every inmate a box of chocolate-covered cherries at Christmastime, even getting the diabetic-friendly confections for some. On that Veterans Day, almost every man in both large cellblocks came up and hugged Charlie in a memorable, tearful moment.

He was a great friend and mentor. On Saturday mornings before our prayer group met at 7, I showed up around 6:30 to chat with Charlie as he got the coffee going at the Bobcat Den. But one Saturday morning many years ago I felt lower than a snake in a wagon rut and dreaded facing him.

But I knew I had to.

The only two people I had told I was headed toward a divorce, even after much counseling, were my mother and father. Charlie would be the next. He must’ve sensed my uneasiness as tears began to well up in my eyes. I’ve had a few successes in life but a lot of failures, and as a relatively young believer this was not a part of the plan.

The only thing I knew for sure was he wouldn’t condemn me — he didn’t have that bone in his body. But I knew I had to look him in the eye, and when I finally stammered it out I hung my head. When I finally looked up, Charlie had tears rolling down his cheeks. He walked over and hugged me. I knew it was going to be all right.

His favorite hymn was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”:

“Till from Mount Pisgah’s lofty height, I view my home and take my flight;

“This robe of flesh I’ll drop and rise, to seize the everlasting prize;

“And shout while passing through the air, Farewell, farewell, sweet hour of prayer.”

I can only imagine the shouting last week when Charlie saw his mother again — and his father.

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