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This is a very special “Personal” written to give more detail to the passing of my wife, Shirley M. Pack. I believe all of you readers will want to know something about the unusual woman who was a big reason you became a reader of The Real Truth magazine.
At the time of his wife’s death after a long illness in 1967, Herbert W. Armstrong, Editor-in-Chief and founder of The Plain Truth magazine (of which The Real Truth is the continuation), wrote a special tribute in the May 1967 issue to her record of service and conversion. This tribute to my wife is written in the same spirit.
My dear wife of over 36 years of marriage died in the early morning hours (3:32 a.m.) of Sunday, July 22, 2007. I should first explain that Mrs. Pack was in and out of consciousness beginning Thursday (July 19) and this became complete on Sabbath morning at about 5:30 a.m. I mention this because, amazingly, she awakened shortly before the audio of the weekly Sabbath services for our Headquarters congregation was “piped” into our home for the two caregivers attending to her, and she remained awake until about 5:30 p.m., just as our service was completed. Due to the tradition of adding special international reports on the post-Conference weekend by ministers and representatives who are still here, there were three powerful messages, including the sermon that her caregivers noted she was clearly able to hear. As services ended, she closed her eyes and did not reawaken.
Because my wife’s history in God’s Way goes back to the end of 1959, and because she was known by countless thousands in the Church, condolences and notes of sympathy have been arriving from all over the world, and from people both within and outside The Restored Church of God. These have already brought a tremendous comfort to me and to our children. Two of our three children and a son-in-law serve at the Church’s Headquarters. I wish I could respond to each letter individually, but there are uncounted hundreds, with large numbers still arriving every day. My family thanks you from the bottom of our hearts for such an outpouring of genuine love and concern during this extreme trial. I am honored to have been married to one who touched so many people.
May I now be permitted to tell you more about the background of one of the most extraordinary “soldiers of Jesus Christ” I have ever known. While it is not my intention to lionize my wife or make her larger than life, I believe a brief outline of her life and service is appropriate in such a case.
Mrs. Pack fought one of the longest and bravest battles against a deadly intruder that I have ever witnessed, and we only learned later that her battle probably lasted between three and five years’ duration. I can make this statement with some experience, since I have witnessed many scores of people suffer with cancer. We often described her struggle as a “war,” comprised of what we referred to as daily “battles,” with days then broken into multiple “skirmishes.” I charted many kinds of indicators of her evolving condition on a daily and on a weekly basis as we hoped for the progress in natural healing that God, for His own reasons, chose not to grant, either dramatically or over a long period (Isa. 55:8-9).
It is important to know that my wife’s ability to confront this terrible disease as we did involved the assistance of many people here at Headquarters, bringing help in a host of ways far too numerous to recount—as nurses, caregivers, cooks, helpers with cleaning, shopping and other details, and more. Suffice to say that I have never witnessed the love of God within His people in the way that I did as these helped my wife over the last number of very, very difficult months. In fact, some of this still continues in the help that I am now receiving in her absence. Our family—and this would still include my wife because she will come up in the resurrection at Christ’s now soon Return and attest to this—is forever indebted to these brethren’s “work and labor of love” that God promises He will never “forget” (Heb. 6:10).
Some history might be important in this story. My wife’s health struggles actually began with fibroid tumors from about the time of the birth of our third and last child, a daughter, Jennifer, born in early 1980. This introduced physical challenges due to female-related health problems that made some aspects of my wife’s life difficult on a daily basis ever after. She suffered from severe anemia for years. (Also, in a certain percentage of cases, fibroid tumors become malignant and spread, which is what happened here.) Beginning in 1971, she was truly what Mr. Armstrong referred to as “50% of her husband’s ministry.” Those who know anything about our life understand that my ministry has been one of extraordinary challenge and difficulty all through the decades.
This letter could not begin to recount all of those unique experiences and special training that brought that ministry to where it is today. Inseparable in all of it was the phenomenal steadfastness of the partner who was there at every twist and turn, backing me up, defending me, taking care of an ocean of details—all while we were under fire almost nonstop through the years for upholding God’s truth. Her typing of all God’s doctrines into book and booklet form, this taking her alone about 10,000 hours to help me complete—plus thousands of emails (just since RCG began) and all of the regular magazine articles that were not part of the rewriting of Mr. Armstrong’s literature—has, of course, now become a story and service of legendary proportion among thousands of God’s people who have been the beneficiaries of her efforts. In fact, the Work could not have remotely been able to achieve all that God helped us to do in rewriting His truth for the final “push” of God’s Work before the age ends were it not for her very unique participation, and as no other wife in the ministry could have done. Frankly, this participation provided her husband with an immense advantage over any other minister of God in being able to carry out the overwhelming responsibility of what God had laid before me to complete.
Make no mistake, I know this—and I will never forget it!
Dear readers, I have often thought of my wife as part of a future chapter of New Testament Church history, as part of the expected coming large extension of the Book of Acts that the Church has long understood will appear because that book closes without an “Amen.”
But all of the persecution by enemies of the truth, long hours, holding our home together, handling financial difficulties because we poured every extra dime that we had into God’s Work, missed meals (not so much as a single bite of lunch for three and a half years straight at one point, from late 1999 to mid-2003), and so many other things in this vein—we were forced to eat dinner out three or four nights a week for years, and this after having already worked late all of those nights—in many ways wore down my wife’s remaining health and energy (II Cor. 12:15). In the truest sense, my wife may have almost literally “laid down her life for her friends” (John 15:13). I should add that, in the last months, she often repeated that she would not change anything. (Of course, looking back, there are things that I would try to change on behalf of her schedule if given another opportunity. Yet, I have often tried to figure out what I could have done differently in our workload and could not really come up with what would have been an alternative. God’s people are all forced to play the cards that He has dealt them.)
Know that in the last months Mrs. Pack remained more than ever positively determined to get back into the office and to help us finish God’s Work. She could not tell me often enough how much she wanted to come back and support me because she knew that no one else could understand the road that lies ahead for me personally. Even though she was declining, she still chose to come back once again to the office every day for over two more full business weeks near the very end of her life. This included the first two days of the recent Ministerial and Leadership Conference, and seeing her son’s presentation on Day Two.
The Work of God was absolutely everything to my wife. Though she could not help me with the typing of my most recent book The Work of God – Its Final Chapter!, she was able to carefully read it, even rereading certain parts of it. She expressed several times to different people upon reading it (1) how important it was that the message needed to be distributed among God’s people, (2) how upset many readers were going to be, and (3) that she could not understand how anyone who survived the apostasy in the Worldwide Church of God could miss the message it contained. I found it most encouraging that the book left her repeating the word “incredible” over and over.
At this point, it would be inspiring to review a quote that one of the visiting wives from overseas who attended the Conference gave me the day of my wife’s death. She may have been the last woman other than her caregivers and our daughter who spoke to my wife. Their brief conversation was Monday, July 16, Mrs. Pack’s last day in the office:
“One of the most spiritually uplifting experiences I have ever had in my life was meeting with the late Mrs. David Pack. This courageous lady, within a few short days of her death meeting me for the first time, was so fired up and focused on God’s Work, she said that no matter what happened to her, or the outcome of her illness, it was all in God’s Plan and that the Work must go on. She added that we must not be discouraged but more determined than ever to get on with the job of serving in and supporting God’s Work. These were her words. It seemed to me that she didn’t consider, at any time, her own suffering. She was far more concerned about God’s Work and getting on with it. Her love for God and God’s people shone through her and I can never ever forget that meeting.”
I am tempted to say that this statement says it all, but there is one other brief statement I would like to offer because it was part of my wife’s very last conversation with me, held one week ago tonight as I write. She barely had enough breath to utter the words. It contains perhaps the most inspiring for the reader, but for reasons you will see, the most difficult of words in her concluding sentence for me to hear:
“Tell the men in the office and the Church to always pray to keep their eyes on the Work. That is the most important thing for the rest of the age. Don’t take your eyes off the Work. I am just sorry I could not stay and do it with you.”
The Church has lost much with the passing of Mrs. Pack. That loss is simply incalculable. Her training began several years before Ambassador College, and she was already eleven and a half years in the faith when we were married. Before our marriage, she had traveled the world, attended two years of her college in Bricketwood, England, learned to play four instruments and been Mr. Armstrong’s secretary for two stints totaling five years over an eight-year period. Later, after marriage, she worked with the same 10,000 to 11,000 people that were in my assignments through the years, endured the same trials and personal attacks for unwillingness to compromise, while bearing and helping rear our three children—and always attending every Sabbath service with me in the years I pastored two and three congregations. Of course, all of this was while she was also experiencing the many aspects of my special training and preparation by God referenced above.
I have personally lost a kinship that allowed either of us to mention any name, date, event, doctrine, situation or circumstance, including all elements of the apostasy after Mr. Armstrong’s time and the resulting splinters, and know that the other had an instant frame of reference that required no being brought up to speed. Directly related to this, one of my wife’s qualities was that she was always “real.” She possessed an extraordinary intuitive ability to “smell” given situations.
We often felt that the best summary of our marriage, if we could only use one term, was “spiritually productive.” She told me twice in the last few weeks of our marriage, “No one could ever understand our marriage.” To say that my wife’s passing leaves a hole in the office is a great understatement. It leaves a bigger hole in our home.
I am not the only one of God’s servants to endure losing a wife. Those who heard my sermon “At the Red Sea” (many thousands have now listened to it) know the story of Mr. Armstrong’s wife dying in 1967, also after a long, difficult illness. Although almost age 75 at the time, Mr. Armstrong was required to go on without her for almost 19 more years. I also referenced how the prophet Ezekiel lost his wife at apparently a much younger age than was my wife, and how Paul must have lost his wife as well. We have had many dramatic healings in The Restored Church of God. Sometimes God allows people to continue living, through divine healing, and sometimes He does not because “it is appointed unto [all] men once to die” (Heb. 9:27). Ultimately, everyone dies of something, meaning everyone eventually dies having not been healed. My wife ran a long, difficult course of 43 years and 10 months with God’s Spirit, nearly four years longer than Mrs. Armstrong, plus another almost four more years of attendance as a teenager before that. In regard to actual length of conversion, baptized in September 1963, she was in fact four years and three months longer than I in the faith, because I was baptized in December of 1967.
In her last months my wife built the qualities of much greater longsuffering, faith, self control—I often called her the “regimen queen” because of her tremendous willpower—and, finally, she developed a greater and complete peace over God’s decision not to heal her. Despite wishing so badly to continue, she came to fully understand that “to live is Christ, and to die is GAIN” (Phil. 1:21).
My wife has reached the ultimate “gain”!
While the death of every saint is precious to God (Psa. 116:15), a unique circumstance exists in our age, and this may well have been the case with my wife because of what she would have possibly had to witness me endure. God explains in Isaiah, “The righteous perishes, and no man lays it to heart: and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come” (57:1).
May all of us “lay to heart” and “consider” what has happened here.
In the end, I am now alone. I repeat, as Christians, we are all forced to play the cards that God has dealt us. The only other option is to get up and leave the table and look for another “game.” This was never an option for Mrs. Pack and it is not an option for me. Neither should it ever be for you (John 6:66-68). In my wife, you are all left with a wonderful example that you can emulate in regard to approach to the Work and in acceptance of God’s will.
Brethren, know that I intend to press on toward the mark (Phil. 3:14) without looking back (Luke 9:62). This physical life is described as so much “grass of the field,” “a handbreadth,” as the ancient King David stated. On the other hand, in this age, time is very, very short. There are not remotely 19 years left to finish the Work. My wife’s own words quoted above are what is on my mind. Like Paul, I intend to fulfill I Corinthians 9:26-27: “I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beats the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” I am under no illusion that this will be easy. Paul knew that those of his office could also be unapproved by God (the more correct meaning of the Greek word adokimos, here translated as “castaway”). As a case in point, after posting this letter, I will go straight to do another World to Come program. I ask that all of you would pray for me that I would have additional strength going forward in a way that I never thought I would have to ask anyone to pray for.
Continued and even increased attacks on the Work of God are to be expected. Remember, Satan accuses God’s people “day and night.” He never rests in his efforts. Therefore, neither should we. Be assured that I will not flag. I will not slow down and plan to do all in my power to speed up. While “the god of this world” (II Cor. 4:4) is angry with God’s Church, the God of heaven is pleased with where His Church is going!
In the end, one of my wife’s favorite verses, so important to her as she sought to get sleep each night with her terribly difficult breathing problems, has in the final sense come to pass on her behalf. David also wrote, “I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for You, Lord, only make me dwell in safety” (Psa. 4:8). My wife is now at peace, asleep—and completely safe from all further spiritual threat and physical harm. I am very thankful that she had an incredibly strong constitution and heart, physically speaking (noted by those who cared for her), but of course spiritually also. This allowed me to have closure with her in the very fullest sense over a period of many months of her war against the cancer. But, in the light of King David’s words, I can also take comfort that her long, incredibly difficult struggle is over. We are left to think of how the completion by God of one “living stone” (I Pet. 2:5) in His Temple (II Cor. 6:16-17) within a number so small in the First Resurrection trumps all other reasons why we might wish my wife to have been able to continue at my side.