I’m gutted to say my old friend John Riches passed away this morning.
I first met John 24 years ago. I was living in the North of Rwanda doing language study, and he swung by to greet my Aunt and Granny for ten minutes on his way back to Burundi from Uganda. Off the cuff, I jokingly asked if I could hitch a ride with him to visit Burundi. He gave me three minutes to pack my bag, and we were off!
So began a great friendship. The war in Burundi was ongoing, and there was an international embargo as well, so he was generously bringing in lots of goodies for friends in his beloved Landrover. At regular intervals, on what was just about the most dangerous road in the world, he told me of previous close escapes, through ambushes, of charred dead bodies in the wreckage of taxis that had blasted past him a few minutes earlier… He lived by faith, was ready to die, and was a kindred spirit.
He had arrived in Burundi as a divorcee in his 40s. Brilliant with his hands and a methodical problem-solver, he was as good a mechanic and electrician as anyone I know. He saved us many thousands of dollars in our construction projects by sending back faulty materials or creating cheaper and more effective complex solutions.
Meeting and marrying Nadine gave him a second chance at creating a happy family. She was a few decades his junior, and kept him young. Their mutual love was deep and genuine. They had six children together, and their home was full of noise, chaos and laughter.
In obituaries (which I guess this is), the tendency sometimes is to exaggerate or overstate the deceased’s qualities. To avoid that happening here, let me just say that John was perhaps the least linguistically-skilled person I’ve ever met – after thirty years in Burundi, his Kirundi vocabulary extended to about a dozen words, and to listen to him attempting to communicate in French was sheer comedy! But despite the language barrier, he always got his point across eventually and got the job done.
About five years ago, he was working on our roof, setting up a solar panel. It was pouring with rain. I was sat reading a book when I heard the most almighty crash. Fearing the worst, I ran into our bathroom to find torrential rain pouring through a gaping hole. John had slipped and come smashing through the ceiling. He was hanging precariously from a metal beam, that stopped him falling fifteen feet onto the concrete below – which a 70-year-old surely wouldn’t have survived. I rushed him to the hospital to the X-ray machine (the one that he kept in working order!). Thankfully nothing was broken… and in his dazed bruised state he insisted he needed to go back and finish the job on our roof. “No John, you’re going home!”
That’s the kind of workhorse he was. He spent the last thirty years tirelessly keeping sound-systems working at churches, concerts, schools. I preached from the prison to the palace with him in the background overseeing the sound desk and rescuing the situation when things went wrong.
Unfortunately, he was such a soft touch that he seldom got paid for his work. Be it a medical centre, a school, or a friend, most had tight money situations and so John let them off or the bill got lost in his pile of disordered paperwork. I used to hassle him in frustration on behalf of Nadine: “John, you’ve got to charge for your services. You’ve got to take care of your family!” He would reply: “I just can’t. The work needs doing, they haven’t got any money. God will provide for me, He always does.”
And this morning, after three weeks of battling against Covid, John has graduated to glory. He would rank right up there as one of the most servant-hearted and kind people I’ve ever met.
Nadine is now left with six children in her charge. They have significant hospital bills to pay (hopefully mostly covered by insurance), have been asked to vacate where they live, and a future ahead of them without the main bread-winner. Please be praying for them all in their grief.
As John has blessed so many people over the years, I want us to bless him (and them) back. When he said: “God will provide for me, He always does”, that usually happens through His people.
So I invite you to be a part of his story and testimony. It’d be wonderful if we could raise enough to help Nadine own a family home, have funds to get all the kids through school, and start-up capital for her to exercise her entrepreneurial gifts.
Thank you! God bless you!