I had just celebrated my 21st birthday. Life was good! I was studying business management and although still a student, I was quite driven to get ahead in life. I had discovered foreign holidays and loved travelling. Spiritually I was also doing well, I had made a recommitment to the Lord 17 months earlier and I was loving discipleship in a youth group in Belfast and at my church. I felt so spiritually alive it was wonderful.
Life seemed exciting, especially looking towards the future. I remember sharing that sentiment with my friend Eddie on the afternoon of my 21st birthday party. I remember saying to him, ‘Here we are on the top of the hill with all of life ahead of us!’ Eddie and I had a real sense of excitement about life! We had grown up in the same church and even went out together as teenagers but we began to reconnect around the time of our 21st birthdays.
My birthday passed and we were waiting to celebrate his 21st birthday a few weeks later. One Sunday afternoon I came home from the youth group in Belfast and I knew something was wrong. My mum made me sit down and told me that Eddie had died that day. Edward Magill (Eddie to his friends) was a Reserve Policeman serving in Warrenpoint, Northern Ireland. When he left the police station to go to the local shop for his colleagues, he was ambushed and shot dead by IRA terrorists. It was the 20th February 1983. I remember this day because it was the day my life changed.
I had faced death before, even the death of elderly relatives, but nothing prepares you to face the death of a 20-year-old friend. It felt like my world had been broken. Thoughts of anger and revenge flooded my mind in those initial moments. How dare terrorists take Eddie’s life! The next day Eddie’s photo was on the front page of all the papers. His murder was national news and it was on all the TV news channels.
I thank God that I had surrendered my life to him months earlier, because in my grief and shock I turned to God to help me. I had nowhere else to go. People’s words just went in one ear and out the other. The only source of help and comfort came from God and his Word. The words from 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 were so helpful to me:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.
‘The God of all comfort’ became so real to me! There was a real sense that God was ministering to me, to my soul. It was special.
What happens after death?
We believe in eternal life and that at death, we as believers go straight to Heaven, into the presence of the Lord, but what is that like? As a 21-year-old I hadn’t given it much thought but I wanted to understand what Eddie might be experiencing in Heaven. I remember searching Scripture and reading about Heaven and what I found encouraged my soul.
Revelation 21:4 was especially comforting:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.
What a place Heaven must be!
God used Eddie’s death to speak to me and challenge me. As well as comforting me, God challenged me and asked, ‘What if it had been you?’ What would I have to offer God if I stood before him? I realised I had nothing to offer the Lord. I had accepted the Lord Jesus as my Saviour as an 8-year-old child. I wasted my teenage years in rebellion until I recommitted my life to the Lord as a 19-year-old student. God’s question changed my life! I began to live with a perspective of eternity.
A great discovery
God used Eddie’s death to teach me that life is short and that death is a reality. I knew that only the things I did for Jesus would last. The impact of God’s work in my life at this time led me to losing my drive to succeed in business. I discovered that God had a plan and purpose for my life! I wanted it and I wanted to do it. Verses like Jeremiah 29:11 were amazing:
‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
The search for God’s will for my life led me to attend Belfast Bible College. I wanted to learn more about God’s Word. My interest in mission grew and I sensed God calling me to missionary service. God called me to serve him in Spain, which I did for 27 years before he then led me to Nairobi, Kenya in 2018.
How does Eddie’s death still impact my life?
It keeps me focused on the main thing.
Eddie’s death has become what is called in Spanish the ‘eje’ of my life – that is like the axis on a bicycle wheel. It’s the centre-point of my life in the sense that when I feel a bit disorientated or off track I remember Eddie’s death and God helps me refocus my life. I remember that I only have one life and it is only worth living it for Jesus. I remember that Eddie didn’t have that opportunity, but I do and I need to make the most of that privilege.
It helps me minister to others in their loss.
I have a real empathy with people when they lose a loved one or a friend. I can feel some of their pain because the pain I experienced was so deep and raw. It is as 2 Corinthians 1:4 says, ‘God ….who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.’
God uses the comfort we receive from him, to comfort others.