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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, October 12, 2009

Thanks for Will McIntosh

A week ago my friend Will McIntosh passed away.

I met Will in 1996, soon after joining Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church. He had recently moved from New York City, where he had served as Assistant Commissioner of Juvenile Justice, to Durham. He was married to Miriam, who completed her doctoral studies and became a dentist. He had a young son from their marriage, Brian, who is a year older than my youngest, Lydia, and attended the same high school.

Will and I met on a Habitat for Humanity project. We were both trying to keep busy on a crowded work site. The chapter was preparing for a house dedication across town, and they had one more detail they needed someone to take care of. So they sent Will and me to the other location to remove the temporary utility pole.

Will and I got a pick-axe and shovel to take with us, and we took off in a pick-up truck. As we drove, we introduced ourselves and got acquainted. When we arrived, I started trying to dislodge the 4 x 4 utility pole from the clay fill dirt. I was hacking away, but not making much progress. I was huffing and puffing, and probably turning red, realizing that as a man of about 40 years I had lost some of the vigor of my youth. Will was the same age as my parents, which meant that at that time he was in his late 60s. He suggested that he take a turn at it. He hacked away at the soil, then began to push and pull the pole until he had loosened it enough to pull it up by his bare hands. We loaded it all in the truck and headed back. He had made a serious impression on me that day.

Over the years, Will and I regularly got together to talk about what was going on in our lives. With children in the same age range, we usually had stories to compare. We spoke with pride about our kids, and we shared our concerns and fears for them. We both recognized the harsh world that our children were facing, and we wondered about the steps they would take on the way to maturity. Will put all of himself into Brian's upbringing and growth. Like my children, Brian probably wished that Dad would ease off on the parenting at times.

When Will and Miriam needed a pastor, sometimes they turned to me. Will was dealing with a heart condition in the last decades of his life, and his extended family dealt with setbacks, losses, and the kinds of things all of us face. Sometimes he came to me to talk through these matters, ask for prayer, and let me reflect back to him what I could see from our conversations. Frankly, this seemed to me quite an honor. Will had much more life experience and a wide range of knowledge and skills that I will never achieve. So I gave him my best, and always felt appreciated and loved for it.

Although we often conversed as peers, at the same time Will was a fatherly friend to me. I am blessed to have my father, W. D. Broadway, still living, and I depend on him for guidance in many ways. We have lived far apart during half of my life, and there have been a couple of occasions when an older friend has been, not a substitute, but a supplemental father to me. One was Weston Ware, my beloved friend from Dallas and the Christian Life Commission, and the other was Will. It's not so much that I went to Will for advice, but I looked up to him and learned about how to live from being around him.

Will believed in working hard and getting things done. Almost every time I visited his home, I was amazed to find that he had just begun or completed another construction project--an addition, an outbuilding, a fence, or who knows what. When I needed to do some cleaning and painting of the outside of my house, Will brought over some power equipment, showed me how to use it, and did a good bit of the work with me. If I had mustered the energy, I'm certain that he would have come over to do all kinds of home improvement projects with me.

Everly and I enjoyed our conversations after I had a visit with Will. "Guess what I learned about Will this time," I would say. Will knew about all kinds of things. He had been lots of places. And above all, he knew all sorts of people. He was widowed and remarried, and there were many stories of his family stretching across his 78 years. His family had to deal with the racist practice of a white neighbor fencing off part of their land and claiming it for himself. Will took charge of resolving that matter down in the family home place in Alabama. He had lots of stories of working with youth from his long years in the juvenile justice system in New York. He had managed his financial affairs well, and he had property in several states, which he traveled to maintain. He would tell me about conversations he had with Rudy Giuliani or George W. Bush.

But Will was very unassuming. He always seemed interested in what I thought about things, even if he knew plenty enough about them not to need my opinion. He was interested in politics, and he had a good sense about people and power. He enjoyed talking with me about Barack Obama, and although he was a Republican, he took great satisfaction in what the 2008 presidential election meant in U. S. history.

He called me "Rev," and I received it as a title of affection. I'm going to miss him. Knowing him has been one of God's blessings.

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