Over a quarter of a century ago, I was working as an associate editor for a denominational church magazine. The denomination decided to move me from central Canada to Canada’s most western province, British Columbia, so I could connect with the churches there. Included in my list of responsibilities was that I was to make an effort to become acquainted with the prominent church leaders in that part of the country.
Among those church leaders was a man named Vern Heidebrecht. Vern had grown up on a small farm in Abbotsford, British Columbia, and then gone off to study at Bible college and then seminary, eventually earning a Doctor of Ministry degree. He had successfully pastored several churches in the US; the churches flourished and grew. He had then returned home to Abbotsford, where he had become senior pastor of a church plant, which was rapidly growing into the largest evangelical church in Canada.
Following my instructions, I phoned the church and made an appointment to see the senior pastor. When I arrived at the church, I was soon ushered into his office. Vern and I talked for a while, and then he suggested we pray together. He prayed for my ministry, and I prayed for his, and we prayed for each other’s families. At the end of the meeting, Vern suggested that we should get together every few months and pray for each other. I was astounded. He was pastor of a church with thousands of members and in addition was serving on several boards and was in demand as a guest speaker in churches throughout North America and even beyond. I was astounded that he thought he had time to meet with me on a regular basis.
But that is what we did for the next several years, until his ministry was cut short by the early onset of Parkinson’s disease and I left my position with the denominational magazine.
A few years later, Vern’s wife Carol phoned me and asked if I would be willing to help Vern publish his autobiography. I agreed. At the end of that process, I went to see him. He was sitting at the kitchen table, his Bible open in front of him. His voice was faltering, and I had to lean in close to understand what he was saying. He was not reading—his glasses were sitting on the open Bible—but he recited from memory what he had just read: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:2-5).
The last time I saw Vern, he was in a nursing home. He was barely able to walk, and his health was failing. We talked for a while, and then he suggested we pray together. He prayed for my writing and editing ministry, and I prayed for his informal ministry of witnessing to the staff and residents of the nursing home. Then we prayed for each other’s families.
Vern passed away earlier this year. A short while later, Carol phoned and asked if I would help get Vern’s autobiography republished as a fundraising tool for a building extension for a local Christian seniors’ complex. The chapel in the new extension was to be named in Vern’s honor. I readily agreed. The book, The Best Is Yet to Be, has now been republished through my Mill Lake Books imprint. It is available through bookstores and Amazon, as well as through the seniors’ complex, Tabor Village. It is the story of a man who, through all his fame and success, his pain and his struggle, in many senses remained what he was from the beginning—a simple country boy with a deep, abiding faith in Jesus.
Thanks Jim for this lovely tribute. It was my pleasure to know this good man. His walk with God and his talk were consistent. When he asked me to read his manuscript and make comments, I felt great honour. His legacy follows him and I am grateful for the impact he had on my life. Thanks for remembering him.