“God just put a dream in my heart. He put a fire in my belly, so to speak, that I couldn’t let go of. And that’s all I could focus on. From the very beginning, there was a dream.”
With abundant grief, we announce the passing of Paul Bubar from mortal existence into the heavenly realm after 87 robust years of life. He will be dearly missed, but we know that he joins the multitude of saints in worship with his new body, finally at home with his beloved Messiah. To celebrate Paul’s passing into eternal glory, we want to remember and honor his history.
Paul was born on March 6, 1933 in Blaine, Maine to Mary H. Bubar and Benjamin C. Bubar. Paul, the youngest of six children, grew up immersed in both Christianity and American politics. His father was an itinerant preacher, staunch abolitionist, and a three-time House Representative in Maine, and both his brothers and sister followed suit by pursuing ministry, political office, or both. Paul graduated high school at the age of 16 and matriculated into Gordon College, but was kicked out — twice — for having too much fun. He then transferred to Barrington Bible College, and graduated with three theology degrees. During his college years, Paul began to pastor a tiny church in Northfield, Massachusetts and he continued to minister there after graduating.
As a young and vivacious pastor, Paul invited revivalist preacher after preacher to come speak to his tiny congregation, and was denied again and again. The only man to accept was none other than Jack Wyrtzen, who stubbornly still preached to tiny rural churches in addition to Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium. Around 1958, Paul began to work with Word of Life by traveling to Florida and speaking at youth rallies and events, and in 1959, when Paul was 26 years old, Jack invited him to join Word of Life as the athletic program director for camp on the Word of Life Island. Thus began a nearly 80 year-long career serving the Lord with Word of Life.
From the beginning, Paul took it on himself to be the glue undergirding the social fabric of Word of Life’s camps and, eventually, Local Church Ministries. He drove a motorcycle onstage to entertain campers and wrote comedy bits, but he also supported the staff under him and around him. If someone had an idea (like the Word of Life Quiet Time!), he was the guy who supported the idea and manifested it by pulling together all the necessary people. Within the next twenty years Paul became involved with nearly every camp and, as director of LCM, developed a network of essential supportive churches across the United States. His influence was so substantial that in its early stages, some cheeky friends of his referred to LCM as “Bubarology”.
Notably, he was a major figure in the adventure of establishing Word of Life in Hungary during the 1980s and into the early 1990s, when the country itself was still under a strict communist regime, hostile to both American influence and born-again Christianity. But Paul believed God planted a dream in his heart to plant a ministry there, and he moved forward with a stubborn, child-like faith. The tension between Paul’s dream and the Hungarian status quo was intense. The Hungarian Minister of Churches accused Paul of being a CIA agent, and informed him he was unwelcome in Hungary. Hungarians told him his mission was impossible, and warned him to leave before it was too late. One church leader met with Paul in a hotel lobby and said, “You must leave and cannot come back.” The very existence of Word of Life Hungary is as much a testament to Paul’s humility, firm faith, and hopeful good humor as it is to the Lord’s divine provision, timing, and awesome power over the mortal world.
In particular, Paul’s spontaneous, fated friendship with Michael Kovács illustrates the Lord’s miraculous provision. Early in the development of WOL Hungary, Paul was bumped off an overbooked Pan American flight onto a different flight on his way back from Hungary to the States. Mildly annoyed and maybe a touch frazzled, Paul moved himself and his heap of paperwork onto the new plane, and mentally prepared to buckle down — but the man seated next to him kept peeking over his shoulder and peppering Paul with questions. Paul learned that the man was a Hungarian Jew who had survived the Holocaust. This piqued Paul’s interest, but he still had his mind on the papers in front of him, so he kept his answers short and polite.
“Are you a priest?” asked the man.
“No. Not really,” Paul answered.
“Man of the cloth?”
Paul contemplated it briefly, then said, “Uh, yeah, you might say that. Why do you ask?”
“I have a question for you,” said the man. “The question is: why? Why did my whole family perish, and I alone survived? Yeah? You answer that question for me?”
And in that sudden moment, Paul knew the paperwork in front of him was unimportant. Over the course of the flight, Paul took Michael on a journey through the whole Bible: Genesis and the fall of Man, Isaiah 53 and the prophesied Messiah, the New Testament and Christ’s death and resurrection, and finally Revelation 3 and the commands to believers. Paul concluded by stating, “This Christ wants to be your Messiah.”
Moved deeply in his spirit, Michael answered, saying, “Oh, I am that close, –” Michael held up his hand up and pinched an inch of air between his thumb and forefinger, “– that close. But I cannot.”
Michael did not accept salvation, but the two men did become good friends. And this unlikely friendship, to Paul’s great surprise, became critical to the establishment of Word of Life in Hungary: Michael worked for the Hungarian government and had influence over the still staunchly communist political sphere. Michael exercised his political clout to open doors and bypass bureaucracy. By encouraging fellow government officials to back away and give Word of Life the freedom to work, Michael gave Paul and the rest of the team the space to make Word of Life Hungary an entity independent of communist control — a rare and marvelous freedom not available to many, if any, other religious organizations in the entire country. And Michael did all of this because he liked Paul, who gladly offered a listening ear and honest, humble, bold words. God works in a mysterious, sweet way, and Paul chose to remain attuned to the Lord’s misty workings.
Paul and his Hungary missions team continued dreaming big, and God continued to provide. They acquired Andrássy castle story for next to nothing, in exchange for providing free camp for local children. The Hungarian Bible Institute came together, and the government actually supported the program because of the bilingual program, which was taught in both English and Hungarian. Forty years of dreaming later, and the ministry in Hungary is still thriving.
But Paul’s legacy goes beyond his work in Hungary. He also served as a mentor to many, many people, including Don Lough, Jr., the current Executive Director of Word of Life. He wrote Not By Chance: The True Story of Word of Life’s First Missionary Efforts in Communist Hungary. Paul’s stubborn faith and sensitivity to people’s needs galvanized Word of Life’s camps, LCM, and the expansion overseas, but his love also rippled into communities beyond Word of Life. When he lived in Schroon Lake, he made a habit of eating his breakfast downtown at the (now-defunct) Sugar Bowl diner specifically to rub shoulders with the locals. Years later, some of these small-town Schroon Lakers asked Paul to come and pray with them on their deathbeds. Paul has undoubtedly received a very diverse heavenly welcoming committee.
Paul was also a dedicated husband to Shirley and a caring father to David, Dan, Jonathan, and Sarah, and the success of his work for Word of Life is largely due to the loving community he nurtured within his own family. Recently, on March 7, 2020, Paul’s youngest daughter Sarah asked him if he met Shirley in 1960, when she was a camp counselor, and he nodded and grinned. “And that’s when you fell in love,” Sarah stated.
“Oh boy, did I ever,” he said, his eyes lighting up. He shook his head, seemingly still in happy disbelief after sixty years of marriage. He looked up and away, mouth open and smiling, absorbed in some golden moment from the past.
“You’re still kind of in love with her, huh?” Sarah asked, and chuckled. “Did she have cat glasses on?”
“Yep,” he said, grinning. He thought for a moment, and then said, “And it wasn’t just her looks. I watched how she treated people in the office.”
“How did she treat them?”
“Everybody,” he said slowly, deliberately, “With respect.”
This mutual respect and caring seemed to flow freely in their marriage: they cried together and held each other in stormy seasons, and rejoiced and celebrated together in times of abundance. Shirley’s godly support is certainly the foundation of so much of his personal success; she anchored their marriage and family by encouraging his ministry abroad, and by encouraging their children to include themselves in his vocation by seeing his absence from them as an extension of generosity to others. However, Paul did make time and create space for his family. During his time as director on the Island, his office had a back door reserved almost exclusively for his children. Paul’s daughter, Sarah, remembers him calling it “Sarah’s Door”, and said she could come to him with anything at anytime (“Even if it was stupid.”), and she would receive his undivided attention. He raised his children with the same dedication to the faith and to family, and his children were beside him until the end of his life, caring for him in the way that he once cared for them.
Paul Bubar became all things to all people, and this fulfillment of Paul the Apostle’s principle is why he is well-loved, and why his legacy runs so deep and wide. When Paul told Michael Kovács his plans to plant Word of Life in Hungary, Michael said, ‘You’re crazy. You can’t do that there,” and then said, “You’re the most naive man that I’ve ever met in my whole life.”
And Paul answered by quoting Scripture: “Yes, but you must remember that the One I work for is different than the one you work for. The one I work for is capable of raising up governments and putting them down. He is capable of changing the hearts of kings, presidents, and dictators, and God is going to do these great things here in Hungary.”
When asked if he felt like his life’s work measured up to his expectations, Paul said, “It’s more than I ever dreamed.”