Roger Mills was my friend. He passed away Monday morning in Florence, Alabama.
I met Roger when he came to be the minister for the Rodenberg Church of Christ in Biloxi. It was his second time to be the minister there. How many preachers can come back to the same church a second time? (Interestingly Rodenberg’s current minister is on his second term there as well.) That speaks highly of his work and the man he was.
Roger was an elderly, veteran gospel preacher when I met him for the first time. He never missed come to our preachers meetings. He was intently interested in each one of us, asking questions, hearing our thoughts and discussions without judgment. Roger was known for his unrelenting outreach to everyone he met. He utilized the media, often urging the church to spend money on television time. His gentle, winsome manner drew people to him … a grandfatherly figure who was anxious to share the Word of the Lord.
One of my favorite memories of Roger relates to our after-meeting meals. We would sometimes eat at McAllister’s Deli. One of their offerings is an open faced roast beef sandwich called the ‘Big Nasty’. It always made me laugh to see Roger at the register ordering a ‘Big Nasty’ … it just didn’t look right. He could eat it all. His diabetes, he said, left him always hungry – never satisfied. He was often the last one to order, having stayed behind in the vehicle to inject insulin.
More than anything else I will remember Roger for his stories about Hurricane Andrew. Roger was serving the church of Christ in Homestead, Florida when Hurricane Andrew passed over. Some of you may remember that Homestead was wiped off the map … flattened by Andrew, just as was South Louisiana when it made landfall a second time. But homestead wasn’t like rural South Louisiana. Homestead was the site of several subdivisions – and the heavy winds of Andrew revealed that the builders had cheated the owners by not using the proper braces, leaving the homes vulnerable. Roger would reflect upon that and how he just knew that the brotherhood of Churches of Christ would respond, not to give up hope. And he was right. The church helped the community first, then rebuilt their own building.
He told this story over and over. And then a few more times. Of course we were not rude enough to let him know he had already told us this. In a prophetic way, he was preparing us for the disaster of our lifetime: Katrina. Once Katrina raked across the Coast, coming ashore in Southern Mississippi near the Louisiana state line, the churches mobilized to reach out to others. Traumatized and shaken, we were bolstered by the thousands of people of faith who flooded us with love, supplies, help, and funds.
When cell service was restored we were grateful. One afternoon my phone rang. It was Roger. He wanted to know how we were. We cried with one another on the phone and prayed together.
And nowadays when I lapse into retelling the Katrina memories I know that there are those who are thinking that they’ve heard this a hundred times. But I now know why Roger retold those stories. They become a part of your soul, redefining who you are.
Roger and Thelma moved to her home of Florence, Alabama. He said he just could not withstand a hurricane again. I’m embarrassed to say I lost touch with my friend. About a year ago he called me and we talked for a while. Roger had grown a little fuzzy and I’m not completely sure he knew which one of us preachers from the Coast he was talking to. But he was asking for funds for Churches of Christ Disaster Relief Effort. Understandably, a cause close to his heart. We talked a few times. He told me his health was not good, but he was grateful to have a task … always working for God in some form or another.
When I get to heaven there are a lot of people I want to see. But I hope I can sit down with Roger, that we can eat a Big Nasty, and listen to him tell me one more time how God moved in his town after a hurricane.
Thanks for reading,