Here is an article about the 2 trips to Egypt with Rev. Lorenza Smith and Matthew Aragones. The article was written by Sharon Sheridan of the Episcopal News Source. I am grateful to God for everyone who supported the trip! God is Good.
Here is an article about the 2 trips to Egypt with Rev. Lorenza Smith and Matthew Aragones. The article was written by Sharon Sheridan of the Episcopal News Source. I am grateful to God for everyone who supported the trip! God is Good.
“Each of us is now a part of the resurrection body, refreshed and sustained at one fountain where we all come to drink. The old labels we once used to identify ourselves—labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free—are no longer useful. We need something larger, more comprehensive.” - 1 Corinthians 12:13
In August of 2013 I was working at Camp Capers in Waring, Texas. One afternoon, after I finished facilitating the I saw a news feed on the camp computer about the violence taking place in Egypt. (The Egyptian people were protesting the newly elected President Morsi, and Muslim Brotherhood supporter, for his actions toward moderate Muslims and Christians. When the protests led to his removal from power by the Army, which supported the people, the Brotherhood retaliated by burning churches and taking over mosques. When the Army countered the Brotherhood…extreme violence broke out in the streets.) After reading this…I was moved in many ways. In 2006, I visited Egypt with Duke Professor Dr. Warren Smith for his class about Early Alexandrian Christianity. During our trip we visited the desert monasteries to meet Coptic Monks, Coptic Churches, local attractions, the city of Alexandria, the Pope’s weekly Bible Study, and Mount Sinai. It was an amazing trip (and a catalyst to my homeless experience in 2012.) I will post some photos of the 2006 trip in the next few days. So, when I saw Egypt flipped upside down and the death toll rising I was eager to learn about what was truly happening in the country I fell in love with 7 years ago. (To learn more about the Egyptian conflict look here or online.)
The night of the news I contacted Rev. Lorenza Smith (a Methodist pastor who for the last 3 years has lived among the homeless under the stars) to see if she would be interested in a pilgrimage to Egypt to learn more about the violence, visit a few of the burned churches (there were a total of 80), and show solidarity to the Coptic people. After some planning and schedule shifts we were able to go to the country for one week in Mid September. (Look at my Facebook Timeline in September/October 2013.)
The Saturday and Sunday before we left, I went with Lorenza and a friend to share life with the priests, sisters, and parishioners of St. Anthony the Great Coptic Orthodox Church in Bulverde, Texas. We thought we should meet some people connected to Egypt before we flew to a country in turmoil that we knew little about! It was a wonderful experience. On Satruday we meet with a wonderful nun who lives in the convent and was from Egypt. She graciously told us her testimony, led a tour of the local church, and gave us contacts in Egypt that we might find helpful. Before we left, she invited us to worship the next day…but warned us the service might be long! The next day we attended the service at 8:00am and it did not get out until 12pm! She was right…it was long. A four hour service! Despite it length, it was a huge blessing to both Lorenza and me. We first witnessed a baptism of a young child, then prayed the morning liturgy with the nuns, read the Palms, prayed more, sang, read more scripture, sang, heard a sermon, witnessed Holy Communion, and then got sprayed with water at the end. (At the end of each Coptic service the priest sprinkles/throws water on everyone in attendance as he exits during the blessing.) After our anointing of holy water we ate lunch with the parishioners, learned more issues about Egypt, then left for the airport. The first thing I learned is that the Coptic Church does not take intentional community for granted! Even if it takes you 5 hours. What a blessing!) Lorenza wrote the following about our visit.
“Before leaving for Cairo, Egypt today my colleague, Gavin Rogers, and I worshiped at St. Antony the Great Coptic Orthodox Church in San Antonio, Tx. Blessed to witness a baptism, and visit with a wonderful faith community. At their meal, several people shared their stories of family and loved ones in Egypt, and sending us off in prayer. Driving to Houston now to catch our evening flight to Cairo, Egypt. Continuing to do nothing, but communicate the love of God –by being present, listening and learning. Please keep us in prayer!”
We were off the the airport. Our mission was to two fold. 1. to live in solidarity with the people (equally with Muslim and Christians) and show them they have not been forgotten. 2. to find stories of hope and love not being told in the media. Here is what I wrote back in September to my friends and family about the trip.
As friends and partners in Christ, I wanted to write and ask you for your thoughts and prayers for a pilgrimage I will be taking with my friend Rev. Lorenza Smith this next week. On Sunday I will be flying to Cairo, Egypt to meet with different Coptic Christian leaders and Professors who are facing many trials during the increased violence around their country. We will be living among the people and visiting churches that have been attacked or seen acts of violence. We will also be meeting with Muslims who also have been victims of violence by various radical groups. During our journey we will also be visiting the Coptic Slum “Garbage City” and visit with the poorest of poor in Egypt. Pray that Rev. Smith and I can connect with the right people and witness God’s grace through Christian community, solidarity, and non-violence. My prayers go deep for all of you and the continued work you all do for the Gospel and Christ’s Church.
After Lorenza and I arrived in Cairo we checked into the Hilton Ramses hotel around 10pm on Sept 16th. The government and General Sisi created a curfew and military lockdown that started at 11pm and ended at 6am. (Which is much a much different Cairo that is usually open and busy until 3-4am.) And, I am not going to lie. It is a unnerving feeling driving though the streets and seeing tank after tank guarding the city (and two tanks, soldiers, and street barbwire guarding our hotel) and having to go through security checkpoints to enter our hotel. Here is what I posted about my arrival: “Cairo. Tanks. And travels. The security in Cairo is very strict (with good reason). The Army guards many places at night for the protection of citizens and visitors. All have been kind. At one of our hotels we had to check through security every time we entered.”
Once we arrived at the Coptic “Vatican” in Cairo, we had to go through security (which had tanks!) and try to meet with the English speaking secretary so we could schedule a meeting with a Bishop or the Pope. After meeting with an official, we were told all key leadership were out of town and told about the dangers of traveling to burned churches. Which was not surprising when you consider how many places the leadership had care for since the attacks. But it was a bummer to realize we missed talking with the Pope and Bishops. It was then Rev. Lorenza taught me a good lesson….”our ‘plans’ and ‘our planning’ are not important to the success of the trip…we just go with the changes, trust in the people we do meet, and get out of the way so God can show us the right relationships to focus on.”
At 1pm we had a lunch meeting with a Egyptian professor named Dr. Mary Massoud from Ain Shams University (a contact though Lorenza). She hosted us and two other ministers for a meal in her home. She spoke of the conflict in Egypt with a deeply rooted understanding of the historical context. She was an absolutely gracious host and wonderful cook! Before the other ministers arrived Dr. Mary gave us tea and shared with us her Coptic heritage and information about the Coptic New Year “Nayrouz” the Copts just celebrated. Dr. Mary’s family is a mix between Coptic Orthodox and Coptic Evangelical.
Nayrouz is the name of the Coptic New Year. The word means “radiant light.”
Christians in Egypt dates back to the 1st century to the Day of Pentecost, when those from Egypt who had gone to Jerusalem to worship, returned with the good news of Chirst’s redemption [Acts 2:10]. Under the influence of St. Mark (who organized the Church in Egypt and established the first catechetical school), Christianity spread so fast that by the middle of the 3rd Century almost the whole country of Egypt had adopted Christianity. This greatly displeased the Roman Emperor, who wanted his subjects to worship him. Under Emperor Diocletian, persecution of Christians in Egypt became so inhuman that at any one time dozens of men were slain, along with their wives and children. So harsh was the persecution that the Egyptian Church decided to date its calendar from the time Diocletian came to the throne , 11 September 284, calling it the Calendar of the Martyrs, in commemoration of those who had died for their faith. According to this church calendar, we are now (Sept. 2013) at the beginning of the year 1729c.m.
The Feast of Nayrouz has been celebrated on 11 September, with guava, red dates, and pomegranates. The redness symbolizes both the blood of Christ shed for humankind, and the blood of the faithful martyrs. The witness of the guava symbolizes the white heart given by Christ to his followers. Some churches, recalling the O.T. Feast of Trumpets, preach the 2nd Coming of Jesus at this feast.
After we learned this story we were introduced to Fr. Rich Belser and his wife Anne to eat lunch. They serve at All Saints Episcopal/Anglican Cathedral in Cairo. (It was great to run into a fellow Episcopalians!) We spoke more about the conflict in Egpyt, the roll of the US and Egyptian governments, the military, and the church response. (More about all the politics in another post.) Overall it was a blessing to meet all of them and share life with locals.
After the lunch Lorenza and I went back to the hotel to plan our next two days and try to get into the city of El Minya, Egypt which took the lion’s share of church attacks. (Read Minya Attack Article.) Problem 1. We were told by many people that Minya was too dangerous to visit. Problem 2. The day we arrived, the Army had just taken over the city and blocked most roads into area in attempts remove the Muslim Brotherhood rule over Minya. (Read Army Take Over Story.) So, it was going to be an interesting next two days. All we could do is pray and hope to find a driver who would take us to Minya. (The hotel tried to find a driver but they found nobody who would take us…even for more money.) Therefore, Lorenza and I walked to streets, smoked Hookah, and talked with street children to relax and enjoy the neighborhood. Later that evening after street food and smoke we met a man on the street named Achmed…who owned a car. I decided to talk with him and see the best way we could make it to Minya. After some broken communication, negotiations, and taking photos with the Army tanks at our hotel, he said he would take us into Minya and find us a translator to ride with us. We planned to meet at 7:30am at our hotel the next morning! We were off to Minya! Hopefully the Army would play nice. Time to smoke more Hookah.
After talking with Achmed and others on the street, Lorenza spent time with a child she met near the hotel (who surprised her with a Pepsi after she shared life with him). He had so much joy on his face. Here is what she said when the day was done:
I continue to hear stories from Egyptians, that Muslims and Christians live together in peace, it is the extreme agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood that is creating the violence. What I hear is that the media is not reporting accurately. The will of “the people” is aligned with the military. I will continue to listen and learn…We’ll be moving locations within Cairo… going to miss my new friend. Hope to make it into the Minya area tomorrow where churches, schools,
orphanages and other buildings were burnt.
Once again, Lorenza reminded me the reason we were in Egypt. To love and to listen to even the smallest of voices. We went to bed praying for our journey to Minya. Hopefully we would get there!
This past month I was able to visit the country of Egypt with my good friends Rev. Lorenza Smith and Matthew Aragones. It has taken me awhile to debrief the trip but I am going to post during the next two weeks about the two trips and a day by day (or close to it) account of what we accomplished. God is Good. We went to Egypt to be in solidarity with the Coptic Christians and all citizens affected by the events of this past Fall.
Here is an article my good friend Lindy wrote for Focus on the Family’s Leadership Institute. My prayers are with them as they change their program to better meet the needs of current college students.
For 5-6 weeks this summer I have been at Camp Capers. I am having a blast working with the students and staff!
Most church members are afraid of Junior High students. The main reason….Well….Junior High Students are crazy! Their brains are not fully developed yet, in fact, their brains are not even close to being developed.(The average person’s brain is not fully developed until the age of 25!) The parts of the brain that thinks of an idea and the parts of the brain that realizes consequences are not fully connected. So many teenagers make poor decisions and must learn from their actions. Middle School students (6-8th grades) are developing into young teenagers that are full of energy, questions, hormones, and very little attention span. In a short amount of time, they can be a handful to oversee and push the most qualified teacher or volunteer to insanity. Most “overseers” usually don’t last long.
The average youth minister in America stays at a local church on average of 18 months. That is not a good statistic. Now that might say more about the misguided expectations many churches and pastors place on a youth minister…but overall…why is it common for so many youth leaders and volunteers to give up so easily?
This was not the case for Trinity Baptist Church youth volunteers Sue and Carl Moore. For 42 years (that’s right, 4-2!), they served as JUNIOR HIGH LEADERS for the Educational department on Sunday mornings. The Moore’s absolutely loved Junior High students! They understood the students need for “acceptance and constant questioning” as possibility, opportunity, and potential to love students at a crucial time in their teenage life. When most people were rejecting these students, The Moore’s were accepting them just as they were….the crazy but amazing Junior High Students. Apart from the students, one of the lasting legacies the Moore’s made on TBC is helping design and oversee the building of the Education Wing on the Mulberry Campus. The Junior High Lounge is still named after them and used every week by our Jr. High Minister, Claire Glover.
In order to compile this article, I met twice with Carl Moore (who is now 96 years old). His wife Sue passed away in 2010. The first time we met, I went with my then assistant, Sarah Benson. We met with him to get photos and stories about the past youth program at TBC. Sarah and I planned on staying one hour. We were there for over three. He told us lovely stories about his ministry to students and how much he adored and loved his wife, Sue, of 65 years. Each night before he goes to bed, he looks at his favorite picture of his bride and wishes her goodnight. Even in death, they are not separated from the love they had for each other. Before we met with Carl, Sarah said that she would not cry…well…once we were finished, there was not a dry eye in the room. Words cannot express the love this man has for his wife and his family…and for the hundreds of Junior High students they adopted at TBC. I met with Carl again last week. He is alert, full of grace, laughter, and answered every question I had without hesitation. I also used part of the “Trinity Trumpet Spotlight” article (written October 2010) for information about dates, church involvement, and part of Sue’s early life.
Carl was born on June 17, 1916 in the small town of Quincy, Michigan. He was a northern boy who was raised on a farm by his parents. Carl grew up helping on the family farm and engaging in 4-H Club activities. Carl had been awarded two scholarships and enrolled in Michigan State Agricultural College and graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Animal Husbandry. He was appointed Asst. Agricultural Agent and 4-H Club Agent over two counties. Then during the onset of WWII, Carl was drafted as an officer in the military and served in the Army Air Force (now U.S Air Force). He flew B-26 Marauder planes over Europe. However, Carl says “a World War, and blind date can change everything.” After the draft in 1940, Carl went to training in Tyler, Texas. While in the “Rose Capital of the World”…he met a young teacher in training named Sue Watkins. Friends had set them up for a blind date, and after that date…they knew they were a match made in heaven.
Sue Watkins was born three years later about 70 miles from Dallas, Texas. Sue, who her family called “Popsy”, grew up in a family with a Southern background. She had all the usual childhood diseases, including rheumatic fever, which may have caused her poor eyesight. Sue attended East Texas Teachers College in Commerce, Texas and graduated with majors in Home Economics and Science. She accepted a teaching position in West Texas, far away from her home. Sue taught school in West Texas for a time, but grew homesick and returned to East Texas. Even though she went back home after becoming homesick…God had a better plan for Popsy.
After the war was officially declared in 1941, Carl went to Navigator school and became an Army Air Force Navigator. From 1944-45 Carl completed fifty combat missions as a B-26 Navigator and was awarded the Air Medal with Silver Star, Distinguished Flying Cross, Purple Heart and numerous commendations. His craziest memory flying was the day his team lost an engine flying over the Sahara Desert and they had to figure out how to land safely. He wrote about his Marauder experiences in his book Flying B-26 Marauder Over Europe (Tab Books 1980 & 2012). He won the Purple Heart while flying over Germany bombing bridges and his team caught anti-aircraft artillery. While in the air, his plane was hit and he was hurt by glass and plastic shrapnel. “It was not too bad…but it got me a Purple Heart,” Carl said smiling with a slight smirk and laughter.
During this time, Carl and Sue developed a serious relationship. Upon his return to the U.S., Carl and Sue announced their engagement and were married in October of 1945. He said with affection, “My favorite date with Sue was the date before we were to be married” “Why?” I asked. He replied, “Because we went to a good movie and did a lot of smoochin!” I guess I walked into that one.
After the war and marriage, Carl earned his PhD from Purdue University. In 1948, Carl was employed at the Federal Reserve Bank in Dallas, Texas. In 1955, he moved to San Antonio as Vice-President of the San Antonio Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank. He brought his family Sue, Cindy (who died in her youth), Henry and Susan. A year later, they moved to 2322 Blanton (across the street from Buckner and Martha Fanning) where they still reside.
Carl was invited to serve in several civic positions for many years: the Board of the Baptist Hospitals for 32 years, the Board of the Character Education Foundation, as Director of the Church Loan Foundation and the San Antonio Rotary Club (We are fellow members!). In 1968, Carl was asked to serve as Chairman of a group to secure financing for the ALIVE Pavilion at Hemisfair’68, San Antonio’s World’s Fair. The pavilion’s witness was to show Moody Institute “Sermons From Science” films. These films had a significant impact for Christ, but it would take three years after the close of the fair to complete the financing. During this time, the Moores also became very active in Trinity Baptist Church. Sue served as the President of Trinity Women in Action (TWA) and led the TWA Prayer Group that met for many years in their home. Carl served on the Board of Deacons where he was chairman, vice-chairman and secretary for several years, Chairman of the Personnel Committee, Counseling Committee, Stewardship Committee and one year on the Budget Committee.
Carl and Sue also worked in the Middle School Sunday School Department for 42 years, teaching both the children and grandchildren of many grateful church members. They created games and skits to teach the students Bible verses…they served with passion each and every week. Some of their past students are now Trinity leaders. The Moore’s are legends! Carl and Sue loved those Jr. High students for who they were…and saw their potential for Christ. “They were at a crucial stage in their life….they were trying to figure out who they were as a person and going through many life changes….we were there just to teach what we could and help them find the answers.” Carl recalls that all too often he did not know the answer and thought to himself “what can I even possibly do to help this teen.?!” But time after time his and Sue’s love would rule the day and bring peace and love into the student’s life. “That’s the crazy thing about youth ministry” Carl said laughing. “You just have to show up and care…its not that hard” After leaving the youth ministry, Carl said he and his wife really found no interest in the Adult Education department. He said to me laughing, “After 42 years of working with Junior High Students..who are not suppose to be smart, I was not challenged by many of the Adult Sunday School classes. They seemed boring and dull in comparison…Imagine that!”
Carl and Sue are my youth ministry heroes!
Since retirement Carl has been busy writing novels (16 and counting) and keeping up with Henry, Susan and their families. In 2010, Sue passed away after suffering from Dementia over a ten year period. Even in those last years where Carl said that Sue could no longer remember anyone, “She was still my Sue….regardless if she did not remember me. I knew she was mentally gone but I served her until the Lord took her home physically.” Carl was a loving and caring husband each step of the way! Carl reminds me of the power of “presence” with both his Junior High students and with his wife during the last year, Carl shows us how to minister with actions more than just with the spoken word. words. St. Francis of Assisi would be proud of this Baptist family.
“Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” – St. Francis of Assisi
I will dedicate this blog just like Carl did when he wrote the book So You Have a New Bible (Trafford Press, 2007): “This writing is dedicated to Sue and to the dozen of other fellow workers who strived to present the message of the Bible to growing, inquisitive, questioning, flexible, but lovable young persons.” Amen Carl. Amen.
There are certain couples that come into your life (or your church life) that understand what it means to live in grace, understanding, and love. John and Darleen Park are one of those couples. Here is part of their story.
John Park, Jr. was a Pastor at Trinity Baptist Church for over 32 years. He served as the Recreation Pastor, then Married Adults Pastor, then Associate Pastor. He was the only Pastoral Staff member who served with head pastor’s Buckner Fanning, Charlie Johnson, and Les Hollon. He was loved by everyone at TBC for his dedicated and consistent service to the Gospel. At the beginning of 2012, John was diagnosed with brain cancer. After 6 months of living out his wonderful life on earth with dignity, he passed away on July 2, 2012.
Before writing this post, I met and had lunch with Darleen Park to talk about their life together. She was very kind to reflect on so many personal details that were still raw in her memories. She is an amazing woman full of strength and courage. Darleen and I met at the French Sandwich Cafe, a local hole in the wall dive, where John and Darleen would regularly frequent for lunch dates. It is a great place. The restaurant serves french food and is owned by a wonderful Asian family that has been in business for many years. “It is one of those lucky finds,” Darleen said about the place, “John and I Ioved meeting here for lunch.” The day we met was also Valentines Day and the day after their 26th anniversary of their first date at the San Antonio Rodeo. It all seemed fitting despite the tenderness of the moment. It will be a Valentines Day I will always cherish.
John Park, Jr was born on August 1, 1956 to the parents John and Kathy Park in San Antonio, Texas. The Parks were members of Trinity Baptist and John, Jr. was active in the youth group and church life. Trinity was and always has been his home church. After graduating Baylor University with a BS in Education/Recreation (John and I had the same degree from Baylor…SicEm!) John made his way back to San Antonio after serving in small ministry jobs around Texas. He eventually got a job at Trinity Baptist when Associate Pastor Don McLendon asked John to head the Ruble Center ministry in 1980. At the time, the Ruble Center was being transformed from an old elementary school into Trinity’s first community center. John had the privilege to help design and program for the new building. While in full operation, the Ruble Center hosted community GED classes, women’s ministry events, recreational opportunities, community outreach, and Young Adult Sunday School. (Later on…John would use his experience to help design Trinity’s 3rd Campus, TriPoint Center for Life in 2009.)
John was a newly married man when he came to Trinity. Life was as “good as it gets” being a young adult in his 20′s. He married his high school sweetheart, had a degree from Baylor, had a pastoral job at San Antonio’s largest Baptist Church, and soon would have his first son, John Park, III in 1982. Nothing seemed to be going wrong, then life made a major turn amid all the new change in his life. A few years into his marriage, the relationship began to fall apart and become extremely challenging. John, now an ordained Baptist minister working with young adults, was committed to make his marriage work…but over time it was becoming harder and harder to salvage his marriage. John, more than anything, wanted to properly care for his young son JPIII. Nothing was more important than his son. Since his job was to support young married couples, this problem could have quickly derailed his ministry at TBC. However, the compassion and understanding he received from his boss, Pastor Buckner Fanning, made it clear to John Park that if he honors God, his job, and his family (even during a divorce) that “the church was behind him.” Darleen said, “It was during this broken time in his life that John learned to show genuine compassion and pastoral care to the congregation Once he was shown that love…he used it for good to show to others.” Soon after his separation, John and his first wife finalized the divorce and he found himself a single dad raising his first son. Life moves fast…but “God always seems to have a plan.”
In the mid 1980′s, John found himself dating again…and boy did John date around! He once told me that me must have had 50 dates with great Christian women (many from TBC…another act of grace by his head pastor!), but they never seemed to last much past the first date. John once said smiling to me that “his reluctance to never go on date #2 made many of the girls pursue him even more.” He was a true but genuine ladies man. Even in the dating life…God seemed to have his hand in John’s life.
Darleen Prewitt was new to San Antonio. She came to Texas from Oklahoma to attend The University of Texas in Austin. After graduation, she began graduate work at UT Health Science Center to become a nurse. Daughter of a military chaplain, she wanted to find a good church home and found that home at Trinity Baptist. This “Oklahoma Longhorn” quickly became involved with the young adults ministry and joined the Women’s Volleyball Team at TBC…quickly becoming the captain. One day she received a call from John…assuming “he was letting her know of a change in the volleyball schedule”…but instead, he was asking her out on a date to the San Antonio Rodeo. It was a slick move by the TBC ladies man.
Being a good ole country girl, she accepted the offer! That week they went to see Michael Martin Murphy (who surprisingly looks a lot like JP.), and they attended the livestock show in the Freeman Center. After the lovely date, John quickly knew he wanted to take this beyond his usual first date, and he began to seriously pursue Darleen. Four months later they were married on June 20, 1987. “We even had to wait longer to get married because of other family wedding commitments that were planned for over a year…we were ready and eager to hitch up and get married,” Darleen said. It was true love…like a “wildfire” according to M.M. Murphey.
Once married, John and Darleen loved spending time at John’s family ranch in Blanco, TX. Both Darleen and John were country folks through and through. Darleen told me over lunch, “We did not have a cabin there. So John, being such a resourceful man, turned a small goat house into our bedroom by lifting the roof and using sliding doors as the window and door. One night while sleeping, we noticed the family horse standing over our bed, I guess the horse did not get the memo about the change! That is the kind of life we lived…simple, fun, and laid back. We loved spending that kind of time together. The time we spent at the family ranch was one of the happiest moments of our lives.” I understand John’s love for his ranch. My family’s ranch means more to me than even my hometown. It’s a place of retreat, nature, and family memories. It’s amazing that an old goats barn and a small amount of land can be so holy….but somehow it becomes just that…holy ground.
The family kept growing. In 1991, John and Darleen gave birth to their son Dakota Richard. Soon after, in 1992, they had their daughter Amber Kay. They began being involved more and more as parents at TBC…helping with sports teams and children events… but they were ready for one more child. In the year 2000, they had another child, Sawyer Dillon. It has been a joy serving their children at Trinity Baptist. Dakota was a graduating senior when I arrived here in the summer of 2010. He now attends Baylor (like his dad) and is a member of the Baylor Wake Boarding Team. Amber attended camp with us one more year and now is attending college in San Antonio. Sawyer is currently a sixth grader and participates in Upward Basketball. He’s a solid player. (Even though my team beat his team three weeks ago! Hey, a man has to brag!) However, I am afraid he will beat my team next time. He has gotten better! My favorite memory with Sawyer was taking him to a vintage Luche Libre Mexican Wrestling match in South San Antonio. It was like the Jack Black movie, Nacho Libre. We had a blast watching those amateur wrestlers fake hit each other. We both like the crazy and random experiences in life. So…we get along well to say the least.
As a pastor during the 90′s, 00′s, and 10′s, John witnessed Trinity Baptist Church go from about 6,000 members to about 1000 members on an average Sunday. The changes at Trinity were dramatic to put things lightly. After the retirement of head pastor,Buckner Fanning, and the relocation of many San Antonio residents to the North Side, the church went through some very hard years full of quarrels and fighting. Many of the pastoral staff and laity were leaving the church over bitter reasoning and misunderstanding about others at TBC. Some of the issues were natural changes that happen in the life of a church, some were political, some gossip, and some a mixture of all three. But John…he remained true to his calling, his church, and his family. He was the consistent presence for many who remained attached at Trinity. “Apart from his gift of pastoral care, (one he had developed was hospital visitation…visit after visit), consistency is what made him such a powerful presence at Trinity,” Darleen told me with assurance. It just proves to me that even without the pulpit, the microphone, or head pastor title…an associate minister can be just as effective and influential as the preacher. Despite all the political battles for power and people’s desire to find a source of blame in every problem at Trinity, John never allowed himself to be “labeled or defined a certain way by others around him” Darleen said. “I think that is what kept him sane and level headed all through those years.” I was told once not to be worried how people define you, because when they do, they limit themselves…so it’s their problem. I think John would agree with that statement. Trinity is now becoming peaceful again. One of my favorite memories of John was when we invited Buckner Fanning back to TBC to speak to our students during Sunday School. It was a precious moment of remembrance, love, and God’s grace. A Sunday morning and learning experience this young pastor will never forget. When we live in grace and understanding…we all have the ability to come back to life. Both individually and communally.
Apart from his family and personal faith, John found solace and peace when he needed a break from life’s “busyness” through his love for country music. For years John would dabble in his own music and play for his church, friends, and family.
He loved the music of Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush (who was a member at TBC and writer of the song “Whiskey River“). John played many of the old country classics and gospel songs he grew up listening to on the radio or in church. In 1999, he hooked up with good friends Dean, Steve, and Glen and formed the “Crooked Toe Band.” They quickly became a hit around San Antonio! They would play around at local taverns, restaurants, and events…not to mention TBC’s Rodeo Sunday, year after year. I will never forget the last time John and his band sang “This Little Light of Mine” at Trinity’s Rodeo Sunday in 2012. The song was a healing moment for all who attended.
In 2008, John was diagnosed with skin cancer. It was a nerve racking time for both Darleen, himself, and the family…but they pushed though the treatment and came out okay. During that time they learned to grow both as a couple and a family. “At the time we were so focused on our careers and work that we often would neglect to find time in the present…like many of us commonly do. The irony is that both of us knew better because of our professions. I had been a Hospice Care provider for years, and we both knew about the reality of death and the fragile nature of human life,” Darleen reflected. John and Darleen had a common game plan before the cancer scare: Work hard at their jobs, serve people, take care of business, and plan to live to retirement where they can then spend quality time together. Many of us have the same life plan. “It’s human nature,” Darleen reminded me, “but cancer changed that in both John and me.” (Darleen battled with a cancer earlier in the decade and dealt with many of the same feelings…but her form was easily treated.) During this journey, they both became more dedicated to seize the day and every family opportunity. However, the reality of death seemed still so far away. In 2012, like many who face cancer, John’s cancer returned quickly and aggressively…which shocked both his family, his church, and himself. She, the doctors, and John both learned that the cancer was very aggressive and would most likely take John’s life within the year. “Being a hospice nurse and having the knowledge of a hospice care provider is both a blessing and a curse,” Darleen admitted. “I believe in God’s healing power [both through divine means and medical measures], but the nature of healing is not a special equation. God is the ultimate authority of our lives.” In his last months on this Earth, John lived out his life with dignity, peace, and the understanding of God’s will. “I have never witnesses anything like it,” Darleen said, “John had total assurance in God’s plan and was determined to make good memories until the end.” Ed Nelson, TBC’s Church Administrator, once told our pastoral staff about John’s willingness to make memories during his sickness. Ed recommended to him that “making memories that last” was the most important thing to do when faced with such daunting news and the reality of death. I love that advice. Darleen said the same thing at our lunch together.
Despite the battle cancer was having on John’s body, they made great memories by going to the Gulf Coast as a family and having a romantic couples retreat in the wine country of California. His kids were wonderful and truly cared for there father during the last few months. Even in the small ways…like when Amber would take beauty naps with John during the afternoon when he grew tired…or when JPIII would carry the family dog into the bedroom to play with John. “Those last days will stay with me [and my family] forever” Darleen said. Lasting memories do not have to be grand. They can be found in the smallest acts of love.
Darleen and John lived out their Christian witness with grace and humility, always putting others before their self interest or promotion. Darleen reminded me that John considered himself “The Backdoor Pastor” because he always was looking after those who came in from the back and usually last. That’s good news… Jesus once told his followers,
In the re-creation of the world, when the Christ will rule gloriously, you who have followed me will also rule…And not only you, but anyone who sacrifices home, family, friends..whatever—because of Me he will get it all back a hundred times over, not to mention…eternal life. This is the Great Reversal: many of the first ending up last, and the last first.”
John always desired to be last. He lived his life in the Great Reversal…Not to gain any reward, but to claim God’s presence in his life with love and consistency. Since John’s passing, Darleen is committed to living the same way in her work with Hospice and with her family. All she aims to do now is to honor her God and her husbands life by doing all she can to love those around her. Some days are good and some days are bad…and often confesses that she “cannot figure out how to take the next breath” without her love. But Darleen reminded me that True Love is eternal and not temporary. When we have faith in Christ, our loves and friendships don’t remain here on earth but find hope in eternal life.
Darleen, who had to endure the life of a pastor during church corruption and collapse, is also one of my church heroes. Her life as a Hospice care provider has been just as ministerial as any clergy on paid staff (probably even more so!). With her clients, she offers tender care full of peace, love, and honesty. She treated John the same way…regardless of the doctors instructions “not to be his nurse.” But “of course I did sometimes…he needed me.” With her church she offers the example of a living sacrifice. She, like John, never attempted to lash back at members in the congregation that caused their family so much pain. “Trust me, there are days I wanted too! But I knew John’s heart and love for his church and understood the real reason he stayed, even when he could have easily left for a less stressful position.” Through her trails and journey with cancer, Darleen has taught me that love for your family, even church family, has to be patient in suffering because you only go through life once. It will get better.
John’s ministry and care for his church will remain with me forever. We were once at a Pastoral planning retreat and stuck in meetings that lasted all day. It was terribly boring and cumbersome. I was restless and needed to take a break from the circular conversations pastors have while gathered in the same room. During a break before we left the camp, John and I decided to go cliff jumping at one of his favorite camp swimming holes at Laity Lodge. When we climbed the large cliff to jump into the water, I became nervous and froze. It took me a while to jump…to teach myself that I was nervous about nothing…John leaped off the cliff and fell into the Blue Hole. After he rose safely, he said…”you just have to jump!” So I did. And loved the fall into the water. Sometimes despite our fears, we have to jump and take a leap of faith. John was never afraid to make those leaps of faith. Even in his last days.
Two days before John passed away, he was miraculously able to get up and move around after many days of being asleep or unconscious. Despite the difficulty of movement and speech, John seemed determined to take a trip around town with his family. It was a leap of faith. They asked him where he wanted to go and decided to drive by Trinity Baptist and get milk shakes. Once they got their drinks, John became aware of the moment…looked back at his family in his car and said “Cheers!” while lifting up his drink.
Goodbye was not an option for John.
Therefore…I will end with a Cheers.
Cheers to John.
Cheers to Darleen.
Cheers to his family.
Cheers for a life well lived.
John, I leave people with this song.
“The Hammer Holds”