When the Coach Takes the MVP Out of the Game

“What are you thinking, coach?”

What sports fan has never found himself hollering those words at the TV as they helplessly watch the coach of their favorite team remove the star player from the game? What soccer mom has never screamed those words at the youth-league coach as the best kid (usually her kid) is called off the field?

Similar feelings are going through my head this morning.

“What are you thinking, God?”

If Baptist Mid Missions of Brazil had a MVP, it was Doug Reiner. And last night, after a heroic battle with pancreatic cancer, God took Doug out of play.

To list Doug’s contributions to our work here would be to write a very long article indeed. A second-generation missionary, on the field since 1987, he was the go-to guy for questions about finance, policy, and the ins-and-outs of the Brazilian financial system. While many of us (yours truly included) see these aspects of life here as an inconvenience, Doug seemed to revel in them, which made him indispensable to our work. When I first arrived in Brazil it was Doug that drove me around the city of Fortaleza to make sure all my paperwork was in order

But more importantly, the spiritual and personal impact Doug Reiner had here in Brazil was enormous. Through his tireless work in the São Francisco Valley, countless people came to Christ and a small army of young men and women were motivated and equipped for ministry.

Doug (Pastor Jota, as he was known here) had a habit – more of a personality quirk – that endeared him to everybody who knew him. He would always great a person with a smile, and a hearty “My friend!” – in English even for Brazilians. But the words were usually spoken with a slight Portuguese accent – rolling the r, softening the d, and adding a slight e sound at the end – so it sounded more like “mai frrendge”.

Ín the Facebook tributes to Doug that have blossomed and multiplied since his homegoing it is amazing to see how many of them mention this one aspect of his personality. Indeed, a colleague of mine here in São Luís – yet another fruit of Doug’s ministry there in the São Francisco valley – confided in me that he thought the “mai frrendge” expression was Doug’s specific way of referring to him, until he read all the other Facebook posts.

Doug’s love for Christ, his skill and tireless energy, and his genuine, overflowing love for Brazil and Brazilians made him invaluable to our cause. And now this MVP has been removed from the game.

I can think of a number of reasons for a coach to take a star player off the field: he is tired and needs to rest, his particular skills have served their purpose, other players need to step up…and all of these may parallel the reason God took such an essential player as Doug Reiner out of our game…or they may not. God’s ways are far above our ways, and we may never even guess the reason this side of Glory.

But one thing is certain: when the star player leaves, the rest of the team feels his absence…acutely. With Doug’s leaving, a hole has been blown into the side of our work which one man alone (or two or three) will find it hard to fill.

But that’s us. For Doug, an eternity of incredible joy is just beginning.

In my minds eye, I like to imagine the arrival of beloved saints into the presence of their savior. Of course it is just my imagination, with the knowledge that the reality is far above what my limited mind can conjure up. Still, I can see Doug coming before the throne, where Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father. A broad smile of recognition spreads across Jesus’ face, He stands, His arms spread wide.

“My friend!” he exclaims.

Except, in my imagination, it sounds more like “mai frrendge!”

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