Tribute to Sam Ericsson

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Sam Ericsson, the Founder and President of Advocates International, passed away on January 21, 2011 after an 11-year battle with cancer. He is survived by his wife, Bobby, and three children, Monica, Ryan and Nick. Our thoughts and prayers are with them in their loss of a wonderful husband and father. Sam was a great supporter of the WEA, for which he served as General Counsel. 

I first met Sam in December 1991. He phoned me from London Heathrow Airport and said that he had heard of my work with the WEF and wanted to meet me. He asked me which train he should catch to my home. I explained to him that I lived on an island 75 miles from the English coast so that was not an option! However, there was a flight to Guernsey from Heathrow within the hour. Sam was with me in Guernsey, Channel Islands, Sam two hours later. 

It was a strategic meeting. Sam had just resigned as Director of the Christian Legal Society in the United States. He left CLS because he felt God was calling him to set up similar groups of Christian lawyers across the world. At that time there were associations of Christian lawyers only in the US, UK and Canada. As CLS wanted to continue to limit its work to the United States Sam had to move. It was either following God’s guidance or staying with CLS. Like Abraham leaving Ur of the Chaldees Sam went out not knowing where he was going. He had no financial resources, no precedents to follow. It was just he and God. Like Abraham he trusted God even though the task seemed impossible and the way ahead unclear. We had a fruitful discussion together. The experiences of the WEA in supporting the persecuted since 1851 was a useful pointer to what needed to be done. 

When Sam went to meet his Lord last week there were groups of Christian lawyers across the world, including Albania, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia/Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, France, Greece, Haiti, Netherlands, Israel, Jamaica, Jordan, Kenya, South Korea, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Mongolia, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Rwanda, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Togo, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States and Zimbabwe. They link together thousands of Christian lawyers, who use their professional talents to serve the poor, the marginalised and the persecuted. They seek to engage with governments to stop persecution of Christians. 

Sam’s life verse was: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book…before one of them came to be.”  Psalm 139:16.  He knew that God knew when his time was up, when his ministry was accomplished – to the minute. That minute occurred during a working session of the Advocates International Global Council held in London on the day of his death. The Council had not met physically for two years, but God ordained that day for us to meet. At the beginning of the morning session we prayed for Sam and the family.  He was still in this world. At the beginning of our afternoon session Sam was with his Lord. We prayed again. We thanked the Lord for all that Sam had accomplished, for his influence on all of us and for the vision he had passed on. Sam had fought a good fight to the last, he had run the race. For two years the US board of AI had been working to assist the Global Council, which consists of lawyers across the world, to take responsibility for AI and make it a truly global organisation, like the WEA International Council. Little did we know that the day chosen for the meeting was Sam’s last. Sam and the US board handed over the baton at the exact moment when we were all met together. That experience will live in the life and work of AI for many years to come.

Sam reminded us many times that we are “never owner, always steward” of the talents and resources that the Lord has entrusted to us.  He lived that out to the full with his generosity and the investment he made in the lives of men and women around the globe.  As a lawyer Sam was an advocate for others. He lived out Micah 6:8 with integrity. Like Barnabas Sam was an encourager. He and Bobby opened their home to thousands of guests who they had an opportunity to influence for good. Sam’s discipleship was borne out by his adherence to Philippians 4:13, and his acknowledgment that his biggest challenge was too often his own failure to complete that verse.  As he used to say, “I can do all things - but sometimes I forget to rely on Christ.”

It was a great privilege for me to work with Sam for twenty years. I have lost not only a colleague but a friend, and for us in the WEA, a friend of the WEA. Thousands of people who have been touched by Sam’s ministry, hospitality and friendship will say the same. 

John Langlois
Chairman, Advocates International
Chairman, WEA Religious Liberty Commission