I met Doug Reiner in Brazil perhaps a decade ago. He was a second-generation missionary whose great desire was to see a truly indigenous Baptist movement in the country to which he ministered. In many ways I came to view him as the ideal of what an American missionary ought to be.
About year ago Doug died suddenly from cancer. One of the people most affected was his close friend and co-laborer, Mark Swedberg (Mark’s son, John, is a graduate of Central Seminary). I’m appending Mark’s reflections on ministry with Doug Reiner.
Doug Reiner — A Tribute
by Mark A. Swedberg
I’ve known Doug for most of our lives. We met for the first time in late 1972 or early 1973 at the Iguatu Camp. We were 8, going on 9, and that camp was the bee’s knees for junior-aged boys. I remember that Doug took my brother and me into a room where we saw bats sleeping upside down, hanging from the rafters. A day or two later, he took us on jegue ride. It was great fun and we quickly made friends.
Of course, that was not unusual for Doug. He was friends with everyone, and if he had an enemy, or even an adversary, I never heard tell of it.
We didn’t see a lot of each other growing up, what with him way up in the northeast and me down south, but when we did, I always enjoyed it and thought of him as one of my buddies. And then we were off to college, he to Pennsylvania, I to Colorado.
Doug and Renate made it back to Brazil before Anita and I, but when we finally reconnected, our friendship picked up right where it left off.
We saw each other more often than before because we both enjoyed going to the Mid-Brazil Field Council Meetings, and we would run into each other on other occasions, as well. And then something happened: what had been merely a good friendship became a close friendship, and I began to realize that, in Doug, I had soul-mate.
I first became aware of this when Doug invited me to fill in for him while he was on furlough. I wanted to do it so badly, but I just couldn’t see my way clear to going. A few years later, I invited him to come work close to me when another colleague was on furlough, but he couldn’t come either.
The Lord never allowed us to work in the same area, but He did the next best thing: He allowed us to work on several projects together. We served on two or three Executive Committees, and near the end of his ministry in Brazil, he helped me out at EBR, our publishing house in Brazil.
Doug was many things. Perhaps the thing that first attracted me to him was his sense of humor. He was hilariously funny, and boy did he have stories to tell. Once, when he was at the bank, he lay his cell phone down to fill out some paperwork. When he looked up, it was gone. He asked all around, but nobody had seen it. Right then it started ringing and he recognized it by its unique ringtone. So he turned to the guy that had it and said, “My phone is ringing in your pocket, and I need to answer it.” Uncle Rick McClain had saved the day.
One night, a few years ago, he was in rare form. He told my mom and me of the time that Tim finally dragged him onto an ultralight. Doug had been resistant because an ultralight had none of the things that he liked about flying. But Tim finally got him to go up with him in a two-seater. They were flying along when they had some sort of trouble and Tim landed it on the water. After fixing the problem they were ready to fly again, but the plane couldn’t take off from the water with two people in it, so Tim made Doug swim to shore. That ended any nascent love of the ultralight right then and there.
Doug was a hard and tireless worker. When he invited me up to work with him, he gave me a rundown of a typical week. I was exhausted before I got done reading it.
And he was the most logical problem-solver and astute observer of people I have known. As I mentioned, he and I served on several Executive Committees together. What most people didn’t realize is that he was the brains of the operation, although he never would accept the presidency.
The first time I was president was an executive committee for the ages: Doug was treasurer, I was president and Jim Leonard was secretary. Three MKs. The torch had been passed. Doug was in the States at the time, and Jim and I decided to pull a prank on him. We called him up and told him that all three of us had been elected, but that the body made a switch and elected him president. “No,” he said. “Nooo.”
That year was supposed to be a light one — at least that’s what Dad told me when he convinced me to stand for president. But before the month was out, we were slapped with an audit by the INSS, and that was only the first situation we faced in the most difficult year I’ve ever had as president. I soon learned to listen to Doug. God got us through, but Doug was one of His principal agents.
Doug was one of my favorite speakers. His biblical insights and ability to communicate them were so very edifying. He was our most sought-out workshop leader at the EBR Conferences.
But of all his qualities, the one that most stood out was his servant’s heart. I saw it in concern he constantly showed toward Renate. He was willing to let her study and take a backseat. I saw it in the fact that he never wanted to be president, but was willing to do a lot of the heavy lifting.
I saw it in a conversation we had with Kevin Bauder over lunch at an EBR conference. He was telling Kevin how missions in Brazil has changed. Before, we Americans were in the driver’s seat. We set the agenda. Now we needed to help Brazilians fulfill their vision of ministry. In fact, he asked his Brazilian coworker what his coworker’s dreams were because he was willing to do anything in his power to help him achieve them — to the point of driving him several hours each way to a preaching point every week. That put me under conviction more than any sermon I had ever heard preached.
He and Renate left a huge hole in Brazil when they were called to serve in the Home Office. And now that he’s gone, he leaves a huge hole in the Home Office. But the one that we are feeling most is the hole he leaves in our hearts.
Cancer is a ravenous evil. And it’s comforting to know that his struggle is over and he is in the glorious presence of our Lord. But I want to remind you and me that that’s not our blessed hope. Our blessed hope includes the resurrection of our bodies at the return of our Lord. The cancer that has taken Doug doesn’t get the last word. One day the puny little box he’s in will burst and Doug will come forth, radiant and whole, to be with our Lord, and us, forever and ever.
Jota, my friend, I’ll see you again in the flesh. And when I do, I want to hear more of your wonderful stories and, especially, of your wonderful Savior. Um abraço.