Friends are gifts from God. Remembering my friend…

For Abimibola Shabi (February 19, 1967 — October 1, 2012)

A dear friend who was part of the first church I planted (New Community Church in Brooklyn, NY) passed away recently. She was a very sweet person and I was honored to offer the eulogy at her Homegoing Service. I thought I would honor her by sharing what I said:

I tried hard to think about what to share to encourage us all as we remember our dear daughter, sister, and friend, Bimbi. We all have different things that we could emphasize about her. I’ll not be long at all today, but having been her pastor at one point, I feel responsible to include at least some of what Bimbi believed because it was her faith that guided her in many decisions in her life.

One passage of Scripture that I think would honor Bimbi and also encourage us is found in Colossians 3. Please allow me to read a few verses for us:

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. 13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I think the reason why this passage of Scripture makes me think of Bimbi is because it reminds me of what we tried to be like at New Community church, and Bimbi was such an integral part of that church as was several of the people here today.

I met Bimbi through Omar and I met Omar through Isabel. Bimbi jumped right into our church community and joined us as we all were learning the lessons of this passage of Scripture. We had small group Bible studies – often at Linda’s home a few blocks away. Bimbi eventually lived across the street from where our church met and stayed there for years and years.

We were people of different cultures and backgrounds who were trying to love each other and learn how to be a community. We had to learn things like this passage talks about: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness. I think it’s fair to say that we all learned some of those lessons from Bimbi and she learned some of them from others of us.

Bob tried to teach Bimbi to ride a bicycle. Some of us tried to teach Bimbi to drive. In fact, after she had an accident practicing, she was a little reluctant to try again, but I figured I would help and she passed her test using my car after working with me. I never told her this, but after the test, the DMV tester said to me privately, “She’s a horrible driver, but I passed her!” He figured he was doing me a favor!  Actually, I don’t know if Bimbi ever got behind the wheel of a car again, but she persevered in an area that did not come naturally to her and in the process we learned some things about being a community, about compassion, kindness, and forgiveness. We were learning to love each other and I can say that I loved Bimbi and she loved all my family and me. She always called me pastor, even 18 years after I left Brooklyn! She came to DC on several occasions and just 2 years ago came to Michigan to be at my son Jonathan’s wedding.

Bimbi was always encouraging to my children. She watched our kids many times for us and we still have a tape recording of a drama that she had the kids perform while we were away. There’s no question that we all benefited from Bimbi’s love, compassion, humility, and kindness – the very sorts of things that we see here in these verses.

This passage of Scripture also talks about thankfulness. Bimbi had some challenges from time and time, as we all know. Her health was one of the most recent ones, but not the only one. Despite challenges that Bimbi faced, I always heard her express some sort of hopefulness and even thankfulness. She was grateful to God for her life, for her family and for her friends. She didn’t give up easily on things. People who don’t give up easily – people who persevere – are often hopeful people; they believe that it is worth it to try hard and they are thankful for the blessings that come their way.

In addition to the virtues that I mentioned: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and thankfulness, the passage goes on to say, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God.” These verses get at our love for the Lord and how we show that love by learning God’s word and sharing with others. Bimbi truly modeled that in our young church, and for years afterwards.

Bimbi worshiped the Lord. She was intent on learning what the word of God said. She was a faithful member of our church, active in our discipleship groups, served as a deacon, and really ran our children’s ministry as a volunteer. She lived a life devoted to the Lord and even when the days of New Community officially came to an end, she found another place where she could learn the Scriptures and grow in her faith.

Bimbi wasn’t just a churchgoer; she was a disciple. Her life reminds us all that the Lord isn’t just looking for people to fill pews, or for people just to show up. Our Lord is looking for disciples – for people who will love him, learn from him, and serve him by serving others.

Indeed, the last part of this section talks about serving others. It says, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Bimbi was that kind of disciple, she didn’t shy away from serving the Lord with her life. On the contrary, she looked for opportunities to let the Lord use her. 

There is so much more I could say about how Bimbi allowed herself to be used. Some of you know that in addition to the things that Bimbi did for New Community that I’ve already mentioned, she was also our church’s historian, chronicling events in the life of the church by taking pictures. Of course that was back in the days of film and she gave us some of those pictures in the form of slides for those old carousel projectors; I’ll have to find a way to digitize them.

But there are even more things that we could share about Bimbi that don’t come directly out of these verses. For example, you know that Bimbi was on Who Wants to be a Millionaire? She called me to be one of her phone-a-friend lifelines, as I had been on the show several months earlier. She never had to call me during the show, but it was a common experience that we could share. She liked to learn and she liked to have fun. Bimbi could make us laugh – and sometimes unintentionally.

One time Bimbi housesat for us when we lived on 11th street but happened to be away for a few days. When we got back, we saw a teacup with the tea and the teabag still in it and other signs that someone had left in haste. When we called her, we found out that she had seen a mouse! She admitted that she had no desire to stay in the house with that mouse and she flew out of there!

I mentioned that Bimbi always called me pastor. She had genuine respect for Susan and me. But it was more than just respect, as I said; it was love. She loved all of us here. She loved her family. She often talked about her mother and you sisters, and she was concerned for you all and grateful for you all.

God shaped the way that Bimbi loved, and my encouragement today is that I know that if Bimbi could speak to us right now, not only would she tell us that she loved us, she would want us to know that God loved us. He loved the world so much that he gave his only begotten son, that whosever would believe in him would not perish, but would have everlasting life.

According to the Scriptures, Bimbi is at peace with God right now! To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. She is resting in the presence of our Lord Jesus and that is her desire for each of us. She wants us to have the assurance that one day we can be where she is. This life is not all that there is. She certainly would not mind that we shed some tears, but she would not want us to remain sorrowful. She would want us to put our faith in the Lord Jesus and be people of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness and thankfulness. She would want us to be people of love. She would want us to keep learning from the Lord and to put our faith into action by serving others.

So please let me extend an invitation to all of us today. That invitation is two-fold. One: if we do not have faith in Jesus, if we are not following him as disciples, then that can change today. You can respond to the Spirit of God who is knocking on your heart right now. You can tell God that you want to follow Jesus like Bimbi did and know that in following Jesus you will have life even beyond this life. And even before you leave this earth, you will, like Bimbi, have made a positive impact on others through your love and service.

The other part of the invitation is for each of us to make sure that we take the time to show love to our friends and family in tangible ways. It wasn’t always easy for Bimbi to travel, but she made her way to DC, to Ann Arbor, MI just to be with my family at special times, and I know that others here can testify that Bimbi showed her love in tangible ways. So can’t we commit to do likewise? Maybe we are trying to do that already. That’s great! Bimbi would not even judge us if we weren’t doing it, but we know that we should be about telling our friends and family that we love them! Life is too short to hold grudges.

Some of you know that back in the beginning of New Community, we met in our little apartment at 5 Garfield Place, which later became the church’s office and children’s ministry space. After the apartment we worshiped for about a year in the Parish Hall of St. Paul Episcopal Church, the very place where we will have the repast this evening. I think Bimbi would find it very fitting – and maybe even a bit funny — that we will have an opportunity to have fellowship with each other and remember Bimbi’s life in a space where many of us used to worship the Lord together.

Sisters, brothers, friends, we who believe in the resurrection know that one day we will see our sister again. We can weep, we can be sad, but we never sorrow as if we are hopeless. We have a hope! We know that one day we will see our Lord Jesus and we will be with him forever. We will be reunited with our sister and as the old hymn says, “when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, we will sing and shout the victory!”


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