Friday, June 8, 2018
5:00 PM to 7:00 PM EDT
Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church
860 Peachcrest Ct
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.
860 Peachcrest Ct. NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
Life Story / Obituary
Bill “Harold” Johnston exemplified what it means to be the hands and feet of the Lord he loved. A humble servant, his life was filled with meeting the needs of others whether his country, the community he lived in, or the family he treasured. It was no secret that Bill was married to the love of his life, and together they were thrilled to welcome all, including children and grandchildren into their hearts and home. No matter the circumstances around him, he counted it all as joy. Life will never be the same without Bill here, but he leaves behind a timeless legacy that his loved ones will proudly carry on in his footsteps.
. Despite the realities of economic hardships and impacts of WWII, William and Harriet (Finlay) Johnston were filled with great joy as they were blessed with the birth of the baby boy they named William on February 26, 1934, in Ballymena, Northern Ireland. He was joined by his older sister, Margaret, and his younger sister, Eva. Known by Harold until he was 18, he faced tragedy with the death of his mother when he was only five. As a result, he and his sisters went to live with Aunt Fannie, Uncle George, and Bill's grandfather for the next seven years.
This was an eventful time in Bill’s life and he witnessed pieces of world history firsthand. He witnessed the German bombers fly low overhead en route to bomb nearby city of Belfast. When his father later remarried, Harold and his siblings moved back with their father. Even with these hardships, Harold grew to be mischievous, fun, and filled with practical jokes. Feeling responsible to help provide for his family, he left school to begin working when he was just 14. Harold worked on a grocery truck, selling food along a route in the rural countryside. Although times were not easy and there was rationing to deal with, Harold was the first one in his family to own a bicycle and then later, a car.
When he was 18, Harold joined the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC, police force). Because his name needed to correspond with his birth certificate, he started going by Bill. Bill spent the next 18 years working with the police, eventually becoming a sergeant. The work was dangerous due to political unrest, causing Bill to deal with bombings, shootings and other dangerous activities. Over the years Bill lost some of his good friends and relatives due to this unrest. He did still have some fun, too, as he was known for his practical jokes. Throughout his career, Bill earned many awards, valors, and promotions, including some for his heroic efforts.
Even though Bill had grown up attending church, it was while listening to a radio show that he learned of his need for a Savior and his heart was opened. He made the decision to attend Belfast Bible College, living on campus. Bill took note of a certain young lady named Rachel Watson as she rode her bicycle to campus. Even though he did not exactly grab her attention in a positive way, his persistence paid off as she allowed him to carry her bags to the airport when she was leaving for mission work in France. Over the two years that followed, Bill and Rachel corresponded through letter, even writing when their letters didn't make it through the mail service. Bill was working in a mission in Ireland during the time Rachel was in France. She soon learned of a new mission in Switzerland, which she excitedly told Bill of since they would be able to serve together once they were married. Three weeks later, the couple married on October 2, 1971, and then left for Switzerland. Together Bill and Rachel served there for the next four years. It was in Switzerland that they welcomed their first child, Cherith.
The family of three returned to Northern Ireland where they took jobs planting a new church in a community of 700 homes. Bill faithfully visited each and every home, meeting the people and inviting them to attend. Their family grew with the birth of three more children, Andrew, Ruth, and Eunice. As a father, Bill was second to none. His children affectionately refer to him as “Daddy.” Though they never had a lot, Bill knew how to do special things with his children like teaching them his practical jokes, bringing them to Dairy Queen, surprising them with licorice, and having weekly game nights.
In addition to keeping up with their children, Bill and Rachel were known for their hospitality to others. They always seemed to have guests as every new relationship started with inviting them for a meal or a visit. Bill and Rachel were true partners who ministered together. With a desire for their children to have Godly spouses, they investigated a move, eventually moving to the panhandle of Texas (This is where Bill could get a job that was needed for his visa.) Bill had traded his suit and tie to become a mechanic as this is the job God gave to him so he could provide for his family. In 1985 their family moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they completed the family with Stephen, giving them five children (CARES). Bill again took an unfamiliar job to provide for his family. He started at Thornapple Valley Meats and then spent many years working second shift in assembly at Herman Miller. Bill was such a diligent worker that it took several people to replace him when he retired. He also worked other jobs including delivering magazines. They turned this into a family affair as they piled into the car on delivery days, running up and hanging magazines on people’s doors.
The primary reason Bill and Rachel moved to Grand Rapids was to attend the church, Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church. As he pastored the church for a number of years, he faithfully prayed for everything and had both a balance of doctrine and discipleship. Bill was a man of few words, but when he spoke others listened. Their home remained open to anyone who needed a place to stay and also became a home to David and Jesse. . Bill retired from the ministry in 2010, but he continued ministering to people. There was more time for ministry, wisdom sharing, jokes and pranks, and he also had more time to spend with his wife, children, grandchildren, other family members and friends. Bill was also able to spend more time with his grandchildren, getting to know them on their level, reading to them, completing puzzles and bringing them ice cream.
Content to follow whatever path the Lord led him, Bill "Harold" Johnston lived an extraordinary life while blessing all who were near. He was an amazing role model to all who knew him, and his wisdom was truly unmatched. A fantastic husband, father, and grandfather, Bill was the rock of his family. Deeply loved and respected, he will be forever missed.
Bill "Harold" Johnston, age 84 of Grand Rapids, went home to be with his Lord and Savior on May 31, 2018. Bill is survived by his wife, Rachel; their children (and grandchildren) Cherith & Patrick Kapenga (Christelle and Xander), Andrew & Susanna Johnston (Nathan, Noah and Treyon), Ruth & Brian Wilson (Alex, Elisabeth, Ian and Andrew), Eunice & Adam White (Keziah, Gabriel William and Keegan), and Stephen & Deborah Johnston; his "adopted children" David O'Connor and Jesse (Kari) Alvarado; his sister, Eva Johnston and his nephews and nieces in various parts of the world. He was preceded in death by his sister, Margaret Knox. The service to remember and celebrate Bill's life will be held on Saturday, June 9 at 10 AM at Grace Immanuel Reformed Baptist Church where friends are invited to visit with his family on Friday from 5-7 PM and on Saturday from 9 AM until the time of the service. In lieu of flowers, his family suggests memorial contributions be made to Eastown Ministries. To read more about Bill's life, to share a memory or photo, or to sign his guestbook, visit www.lifestorynet.com