My friend Noel

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed

The Rev Tim Smith, pastor at Hele Road Baptist Church in Torquay. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

Proverbs 17:17 tells us that, “a friend loves you all the time, and a brother helps in time of trouble”.   

I was reflecting on the value of true friendship the other day as I stood saying my final goodbyes to my friend Noel. Can I tell you just a little about him?   

Linda & I first got to know Noel and his wife Joy back in 1993, when we started attending the church they were part of in Bournemouth. We shared a passion for football, and although Noel’s first love is Birmingham City and mine is their bitter rivals Aston Villa, we found common ground in a shared love for AFC Bournemouth, often standing together on the terraces of their old Dean Court ground.   

One particularly memorable match we enjoyed together was when Bournemouth contested the old Division Three play-off final at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. The team played the perfect match, beating Lincoln City 5:2, but what I most remember about that day was, before the game, as we were settling into our seats in the stadium, Noel said with a cheeky grin, “I’ve got something for both of us to wear”, and fished out of his bag two bright red, curly wigs!   

It was a warm day, and I’d forgotten how hot it was under a full head of hair!  I didn’t realise that during the afternoon, the red dye from the wig transferred itself to my bald noggin, and when, as we left the stadium, I took the wig off, I discovered that I was now, literally, a red head!   

During those early years of our friendship, when I was a student at Bible College, and money was tight, one of the things I discovered about my friend Noel was his generosity. He paid for my ticket at the footy on countless occasions.   

And over the years, whenever we’ve been out together for a meal and a catch-up, I’ve never got a sight of the bill. If I offered to pay, Noel would simply laugh, and that was that.   

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One other significant thing that Noel & I had in common was our Christian faith. At one point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is described as a “friend of sinners”, something which we both discovered to be true, and this “friendship with God” was of the utmost importance to Noel in all the years that I knew him.  

Last month, having heard that he had received a devastating health diagnosis, I spoke with Noel on the phone, and was able to pray with him, asking God that he would give my friend peace in both his heart and his mind, and also reminding him of the promises the Lord Jesus makes in the Bible of an eternal home, with Him, when our earthly lives have run their course.  

Noel received his “homecall” less than two weeks later. Both the songs of worship he chose for his funeral service underline how important his friendship with the Lord was to Noel.   

One says this of Jesus, “You are my friend, and you are my brother, even though you are a king” And the chorus of the other simply says, “Knowing you, Jesus, there is no greater thing”.   

The Bible reminds me that, as a Christian, although I’m not immune to the grief and sorrow that is experienced when a dear friend and loved one dies, I am not without hope for the future.   

Faith in Jesus looks beyond this life, and promises something more. I found comfort in such thinking, as I stood at Noel’s graveside last week. But as I recalled his many kindnesses to me and my family, I also realised this:  I miss my friend.