Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

by T.J. Buckingham

I recently made the very picturesque journey from my hometown, Melbourne, Fla., to the beautiful, small city of Vero Beach, Fla.

This quaint old city has the prudence of huge oak hammocks as well as the tropical views of giant palm trees. The air is persistently humid and filled with the sweet fragrance of orange blossoms, with an occasional trace of the not-so-sweet Indian River.

I absolutely love Vero Beach because of the wonderful memories of my grandfather, Jamie Buckingham, that resurfaces whenever I visit. This particular trip was special because I made it with my grandmother and Jamie's widow, Jackie Buckingham.

I had the ultimate tour guide, and she didn't disappoint. We drove by Vero Beach High School, and I saw her eyes light up as she recalled all of the mischievous things my grandfather had done in his youth like racing his old Ford pick-up truck as fast as it would go down the steel railroad tracks.

As I listened, it was obvious why she never remarried. Jamie's playful spirit and tendencies to be unpredictable had won her over as a teenager, and she was still very much in love with him two decades after his passing in February 1992.

She recalled with a laugh how she had to wait to wear her engagement ring until she was enrolled in college because my great grandfather, Walter Buckingham or "Daddy B" as we all called him, said that it would not be proper for her to wear it while still in high school.

We even drove down to the Baptist church where my grandfather spent his summer home from college as the acting youth pastor—his first real role in ministry. I suppose that was where he had his calling confirmed as he spent the rest of his life in ministry.

Our trip finished with a stop at the Vero Beach Retirement Community, a large piece of land that was once an orange grove owned by my great grandparents. I personally have very vivid memories of sitting around the palmettos with all of my cousins while my grandfather told us stories and tall tales of naughty monkeys and alligators—each character representing one of us in trait.

His ability to tell a story well and really captivate an audience was no doubt a gift from God. He would make the most obscure illustrations, like whether or not real men hug, and somehow always relate it back to Jesus.

I can remember my grandfather confessing to me that after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, he couldn't utter the name of Jesus without shedding at least a few tears. I admired his passion for Christ as well as his tenderness for the lost. Everyone who knew him did.

His life was an open book, flaws exposed for all to see. It was his honesty and imperfections that drew people in—and, incidentally, made me want to be a pastor just like him.

My oldest son, who we named Jamie, just turned 5. On his bedroom door hangs a small rectangular plaque that belonged to my grandfather. The words "Jamie Buckingham Loves Jesus" are burned into its wood. Every night after a story and prayers, I see this plaque as I close his door and I pray. I pray that the legacy I was handed lives far beyond my time here on earth—that these words burned into wood are also imprinted in my children's hearts, as they were in mine.

Facing the reality that it has now been 20 years since my grandfather went home is hard. I miss so many things about him, especially the quirky traits that made him so special like red hot candies in glasses of Coca-Cola, a pair of tattered tennis shoes he stubbornly wore and the way he could tell a story or fill a room with laughter. There were so many wonderful qualities wrapped up into one man.

Facing this reality also helps me to appreciate that I am not bitter or angry because he was taken from me all too soon. Instead, I am filled with reverence and appreciation for what he left behind. The legacy of a passionate writer, a pastor filled with humor but conviction as well and the grandfather who showed me and many others his uncompromising love for Jesus Christ.

T.J. Buckingham is a pastor in Melbourne, Fla. He and his wife, Amanda, have three children.

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