My Tribute to David Bridgman, Mentor
On August 9, the Reverend David Bridgman went home to be with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. This is my tribute to a wise saint, a faithful pastor, an untiring advocate of global missions, and a personal mentor.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve been remembering fondly the summer I spent as a youth and mission intern with David Bridgman in Wichita, KS and the ensuing friendship and mentoring over the last two decades. I will miss David: his friendship, his wise counsel, and his passion for Jesus and his mission.
God brought David into my life during my college years as I was still wrestling with the future shape of my call into the ministry (i.e. “What ministry path does God have for me in the future?”) Ironically, as David was approaching 65 years of age, he found himself wrestling with many of the same questions. I remember this unique common ground: both of us looking a bit starry-eyed into the future, though we were separated by more than four decades of life!
I’m not sure when “Rev. Bridgman” turned into “David” for me, but I often felt his warmth, gentleness, and encouragement over the years as I navigated different seasons of life and ministry. David was the mentor who connected me to Latin American Mission (I spent the summer after college in Mexico City) and WEC International (I spent a year after Mexico City in Equatorial Guinea before coming back stateside to attend Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary). Years later, David arranged the “neutral pulpit” in Orlando where the pastor search committee from Trinity Wellsprings Church met me and heard me preach in person for the first time.
The Book of Romans: During my initial internship years ago with David, I’ll never forget the simplicity of pastoral ministry that was communicated to me when we spent time together reading and reflecting upon the Book of Romans in his study. Unbeknownst to me at the time, David was helping shape my view of pastoral ministry. A faithful pastor reads the Scriptures with his people and prays for them. I still remember the excitement with which David talked about the apostle Paul, the fundamental thesis of the entire Book of Romans (Rom. 1:16-17), and the chasing of many Pauline rabbit trails that summer. I had the joy of jumping into deep waters with an experienced pastor of almost four decades. I almost feel embarrassed by the abundance of riches that God has given me in the form of pastors and Godly men who have sowed deeply into my life.
This summer, what biblical book did I read with Trinity’s own college summer intern? The Book of Romans, of course! The cycle had come full circle.
Sage Counsel: David was wise. Knowledge and application came together in a unique way in David’s life. David was knowledgeable on a wide gambit of topics, but it was David’s deep wisdom that, for me, made him such a valuable mentor and brother in Christ. I suppose David is part of the reason that I often pray for wisdom: wisdom in leadership, wisdom in parenting, wisdom in loving my wife well. I often had the privilege of experiencing wisdom "up-close and personal" through David, sort of like seeing different faces of a beautiful diamond. In any age, wisdom is a scarce commodity. Is our age particularly adroit at running a deficit of wisdom? David’s wisdom touched people deeply and paved the way for numerous initiatives for the Gospel all across the world.
Retirement? Nah. I often tell people that David accomplished more for the Kingdom after 65 years of age than most people do in an entire life time. David bookended his life in a beautiful way. As the son of missionaries to China, David spent the last 20+ years of his life making numerous trips to China and enthusiastically throwing himself into networking and supporting the ministries in China (particularly in the Yunnan Province) through Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship and other mission agencies.
I’ll always remember his humble blue car in the parking lot of Eastminster Presbyterian Church of Wichita, KS where David served as the Associate Pastor of Missions. For me, his blue car was a symbol of what mission is all about, especially for a church that was known to send over $1 million all over the world for missions. Yes, we want to change the world, but let’s do it humbly and in the way of Jesus.
A Hospital Good-Bye. I’m so thankful that I received a text a couple of hours before David passed away. I was able to make a quick trip to an Orlando hospital where I saw David for the final time. David asked that I read Acts 20 of Paul’s farewell to the Ephesian elders:
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again...I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God,which he obtained with his own blood...And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” (Acts 20:24-32)
After I read the passage, David wrote on a piece of paper: “I commend you to God.” It was a touching end to our earthly friendship. I thanked him. I prayed for him. David was ready to receive his crown of glory.
David touched many lives over the course of his pastoral ministry. His passion for missions took him all over the world to “testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). I recognize that I am just one voice amongst many celebrating the faithfulness of a wonderful saint. Yet, I personally received “David Bridgman, Mentor” as God’s grace in my own life.
The great saints of God have a way, I think, of deeply shaping the people around them. It gave me a quiet sense of joy, over the years, to know that David was proud of me.
I am profoundly grateful for God’s gift to me in David.
“First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.” (Romans 1:8)
Pray especially for Mary Bridgman, David’s wife of 62 years, and his daughter Ellen.