An open letter to a Jonathan in my life. A friend from Kansas who walked with me through a faith crisis and refused to leave; and one who walked with me through the darkest season of my life.
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity”
1 Timothy 4:12 (NIV)
“If I went west, I think I would go to Kansas”
To read about James you must read my story. James is an individual who crossed paths with me in Washington, D.C. He hails from Kansas, attended Bethel in St. Paul, Minnesota and was a missionary in Kenya with his wife for a year. He was the only person in my faith crisis that I personally interacted with in DC who knew me beforehand, watch me walk away, pursued me, and saw me emerge in the end. He’s a guy I Iove, and I’m thankful to God for his friendship. This is a letter of thanks to him for all he has taught me and being involved in my life.
I just want to spend a few minutes and reflect back on the friendship I have had with you. I can’t believe I have known you for 9 years. You have been a blessing beyond words and I have so much to say to you. I still remember that first email I got from you in 2006 right before Thanksgiving. We met through a guy’s purity program with you coaching me, however in the end I have to state that I don’t think that’s why the Lord engineered your path into mine. Remember that first time we formally met? You introduced yourself to me at the Capital Hill South Metro stop. You challenged me to be a man, “man up”, and encouraged me on. I have to confess James when I first interacted with you I was about 31 and you 22, 23. I struggled with that because you were so much younger than me. I thought to myself what could I learn from someone so much younger? It was during this time that the verse 1 Timothy 4:12 popped up in my mind. And I realized there was much I could learn from you. I’m grateful that I agreed and thankful that I got to know you. I had no idea how much you would teach me over the years. As I recall you and your wife spent your first Christmas season in Washington, D.C. Then there was the small Christmas tree in your cramped apartment, and I think I got you guys one of your first Christmas tree ornaments. I remember watching you brew beer. Remember that pumpkin ale that you made that one time? Man that was delicious!! In the process of getting to know you I also got to know your wife as well in time.
Then there was the meeting with you and your wife. You both made plans and were leaving for Kenya to be missionaries. My faith crisis was brewing (pun intended since you love beer!) in 2008 and I remember that brief falling out and that time we yelled at each other outside Ebeneezer’s Coffee House. I had no idea what was happening to me. All these doubts, faith challenges and problems started to erupt. They were overwhelming me. Then for a brief time I patched together a faith system and hobbled to church. Against all this you pursued me. You were thrilled that I reconciled with you, and you wanted to stay in touch from Kenya. Man I went crazy with care packages…remember that? Beef jerky for you and craisons for your wife! I was stunned when you were leaving Kenya later on and you told that I sent you more care packages than your family. My jaw dropped upon hearing that news. While you were in Kenya your texts and messages just kept coming. I remember when you dealt with that corrupt cop and were thrown in jail. You are brave James, you endured a lot in Kenya. Plus I remember the time I heard National Community Church was sending a mission team to Africa and I communicated that information to you. Remember that? You and your wife were able to fellowship with many people you love in Nairobi for a few hours from DC. Your text message to me after that just glowed, and you thanked me for being a faithful friend. Then I have to laugh at the one text message you sent me on my birthday informing me that the residential material from the nursing home was in the mail to me. Good for you I have thick skin!
It was while you were in Kenya that the bottom collapsed and my faith crisis roared. I didn’t know what was happening to me. I wish I did, but man it was so dark. While all this was transpiring I started to burn bridges as I recoiled from evangelical Christianity. I was in a lot of pain and confusion. And you bore the brunt of some of that. I was harsh in my emails and I pounded you. I still remember standing in my kitchen a couple of times with you calling me relentlessly. The Kenya country code of 254 was translated by my cell phone provider as being an area code from Texas. During this time I tried to sever the relationship with you. And you boldly told me that you were not walking away from me. Your courage and love stunned me. It was during my faith crisis that I learned how loyal you are as a friend. It is for this reason that I now think the Lord brought you into my path to show me grace and love when I so desperately needed it.
Then there was the time I traveled to Salina to visit you in 2010. I have to tell you that after being in Kansas I fell in love with Kansas. There are so many times I wish I could say I am from Kansas. It was a pleasure to see you and your wife again, and meet your parents. One of the highlights of my life was hanging off a tractor while you fed your cattle. That was memorable. As I recall Rich Mullins called Wichita home and sung about the universe over Kansas. I saw that majesty when I was standing in your living room and watched the sun rise over the Kansas plains. Watching the sky be ablaze was amazing. I’ve seen a lot in my life…I watched the Pacific Ocean pound the beach in Monterrey, California, heavy snowstorms in the Belt Mountains in Montana (the northern part of the Rockies) and drove through the Door County, Peninsula in Wisconsin when it was changing seasons and just be stunned. However, watching the sun rise over the Kansas plains was unique and unlike anything I have seen before. You have a beautiful home James!
Then there was another thing I got to witness in Kansas that was beautiful, and its this. I got to watch you be a father for the first time. You’ve grown a lot and became a man, and watching you hold your daughter, take care and interact with her was amazing. At this time I had removed myself from Christianity and saw all this from the outside. But watching you be a Father, as well as engage your wife was neat. And I would watch you do that here in Washington, D.C. as your family continued to grow. Remember that time we went grocery store shopping and I guessed the name of your daughter as we walked down the aisle? Remember going toilet paper shopping in Aldi’s? Despite the job of being a full time father with another child on the way you reached out and pursued me in my faith crisis. I have to say that many Christians are confused today on what it means to be a man. This has only become more obfuscated by celebrity pastors. That said, I have to say this…in watching you raise your family, be a devoted husband, a caring father deeply engaged with your children, and even a loyal friend to someone in a faith crisis you taught me and the church what it means to be a man. You have taught this more than anything that has ever been taught by John Piper or Mark Driscoll, and in the process you preached the Gospel boldly by your living.
I also have to say this but I think you already know this. You have an amazing wife. Very engaging, warm, intelligent, and a pleasure to know as well. Honestly when I think about her, I can’t help but think about you. You guys make quite a pair. It’s amazing to watch you guys grow as a couple. You compliment each other quite nicely. Remember that time you guys invited me over for dinner to your apartment and we spoke about the Problem of Evil? You must have been sick of hearing about the Problem of Evil from me. I often phased it like this, “What type of loving God allows a three year old to be molested?” Your wife was getting her degree in social work and over dinner we spoke about this issue. As you cleared the table your wife discussed the problem of evil, child sex crimes, and her perspective from what she was learning from social work. I enjoyed the conversation with your wife as it was deep and intelligent. I couldn’t see where she was coming from but I deeply appreciate the conversation.
James, do you remember the time you went with me to the Center for Inquiry’s event in Washington, D.C.? It was a presentation on the Evil God challenge by Stephen Law. I think you were the only Christian there, as the crowd was filled with hardcore atheists. Remember how you pulled out your Bible and laid it on the table and got an evil eye from the person sitting next to you? I liked the CFI talk, and found it intellectually stimulating. However, do you remember how you told me when we we’re leaving that it was just as fundamentalist as parts of Christianity and that a person there couldn’t deal with doubt either. I was angry and silently seethed, but in time I would see that you were right. I learned that myself in attending the Reason Rally in a couple of weeks. By attending the Center for Inquiry event James you showed me how firm you are in your faith. Many evangelical Christians would be frightened to show up at an atheist event. Not you, you showed me how secure you are in Christ. Plus as I reflect back on my entire faith crisis you were the only person I think who went with me to an atheist event.
Then there is another thing I have to thank you for…and its what you taught me about pain and suffering. When I was plowing through my faith crisis my family was faced with a deep medical crisis in early January 2012. At first they thought it was a stroke, in time we learned that my father had a stage 3 brain tumor. How ironic, and sad, that a man who spent decades treating brain tumors as a neurosurgeon would then be stricken by one. That said you stayed close to me during this time means so much to me. I remember the pain on January 12. The phone calls from my family were intense, the uncertainty, and the news going from bad to worse. Nothing prepares you for pain and suffering. Nothing does…it was during this time that you made yourself available even telling me to call you and wake you up if need be. As the news got worse you told me to come on over at about 2:30 in the morning. Someone who opens up their home in the middle of the night is a rare friend indeed. Your hug, and comforting words were a balm to my emotional pain. You taught me something James…in what you said, but more importantly what you did not say. You didn’t say flippant comments about “God is in control.” You didn’t tell me that “God has a plan,” nor “The Lord is sovereign and this is foreordained…” No you did no such thing. Instead you hugged me and walked with me through that dark valley. In what you did not say you spoke volumes about your faith. And in how you responded to my families medical crisis I need to say thank you.
Then there was another serious medical crisis later that year, however this one was mine. On July 29, 2012 I was in dire straits at an emergency clinic. I thought I had the flu. Instead I had a growing bacterial infection and sepsis and my health was disintegrating quickly. You and your wife responded by visiting me in the hospital, making some meals and visiting me in a nursing home when I was transferred there. But there is one thing I would like to write about in more detail later that you taught me during this time. You taught me a lot abut grace in how you shared your family. When many evangelical Christians start to have kids and start families they often pull back from the world. They forget that they are temporary stewards of children and in the end the children don’t belong to them, but instead belong to God. While many evangelicals disengage and pull back from the world, you and your wife do the exact opposite, you involve your children in the world. You taught me this in my condo when you visited with your daughter. I was on medical leave from work, and hooked up to an IV. Against all that I saw the most amazing and incredible act of grace that I ever witnessed. Your daughter reached into her pocket and pulled out a Princess band-aid and gave it to me. It stunned and melted my heart. To watch such innocence and grace come from a 2 year old was amazing. I know you find it funny, but I can’t throw away the band-aid your daughter gave me. It reminds me of how much you and your family love me. Instead I have it on the bulletin board at work where I see it every single day. It’s a constant reminder of love and grace that your family showed me.
Then there is another situation that tears me apart which you also witnessed as well James. While in my faith crisis I crossed paths and befriended an Air Force officer named Andrew White who tried to recruit me to Sovereign Grace. We both made mistakes and I want you to know that I made mine was well. I want to stress this point because I erred grievously in my part. However, I remember the time when Andrew was new to DC and I introduced him to you, thinking he could get to know another Christian, and a returned missionary. Over a pizza in your home Andrew tried to recruit you to Redeemer Arlington and away from National Community Church (NCC). I know how much you and your wife love NCC. It’s your spiritual home in DC. Plus it was a church that helped support you in Kenya. I know you have fond feelings of NCC. That said I was stunned when Andrew in your apartment started to ask “if you wanted to go to a real church” and told you about Redeemer Arlington. I was livid. Yes I was outside Christianity, but I also thought this behavior was uncalled for. Andrew was wrong to try and recruit you in your home. When we left Andrew and I had a sharp exchange where I called him out on it. Over at SGM Survivors they often talk about how Sovereign Grace tries to cannibalize Christians from other churches into their system. That was what I witnessed. You showed Andrew a lot of grace in how you dealt with the situation.
Then there was Wednesday May 8, 2013. That was one of the bleakest days of my life. On that day I witnessed an Air Force officer abuse his authority to pull off a false accusation. My father’s brain tumor made more sense than this, and it was so deliberate that even today I still don’t know how to deal with the pain. I believe Andrew White did this so he could eventually recruit another person to Redeemer Arlington. During this mess you stepped up to help me walk forward. James I’m still trying to figure out what happened. I made mistakes…yes but I was not what I was accused of. I think part of the problem is that Andrew White was incapable of handling criticism of reformed theology. I think my questions shook him and he was deeply insecure. The other problem is that I did the unthinkable….I criticized John Piper frequently. You know what they say, ‘touch not the Lord’s anointed.’ Plus he was fiercely loyal to Redeemer Arlington, and I pushed his buttons. But after experiencing such a horrific and painful false accusation from someone I thought was a friend I honestly didn’t know who my friends were. I became scared to contact you James because I didn’t know if you were my friend either and if you would do something similar. The false accusation turned my world upside down. The false accusation was so traumatic that I sat on my couch in my condo after it happened and physically shook in pain. Psychologically it was terrifying. The following Saturday as I sat in my condo shaking on my couch you sent me a text asking if I had any plans for the day and that you missed me. Your text message was a lifeline, a raft, a hand when I so desperately needed it. I then realized that I can contact you and that you wouldn’t do something similar to what Andrew White did. When I told you what happened you wanted to meet up right away and hear what happened. So we met on a playground on Capital Hill and you asked, “What happened?” I still remember how you did this…you had one eye on your daughter who was on some playground equipment and one eye on me listening intently. I told you what happened and you said that calling Redeemer a cult was tough language and you asked me why I was so mean at times. So I appreciate the strength you had to speak directly to me when I was wrong. In speaking with you I saw some of the mistakes I made with Andrew. That said, you were deeply perplexed as well. You were stunned that someone in a reciprocal relationship would do such a thing. And then you listened to Andrew’s voice-mails especially, the one where he invited me over to his condo to spend a couple of nights in March 2013. The false accusation didn’t make sense to you, especially in light of his voice-mail invitation. Next I told you in regards to his strong defense of Sovereign Grace with problems of child sex abuse hemorrhaging from the organization that he and his wife Gillian should jump into the Chesapeake Bay with millstones around their neck. While you told me that you don’t tell someone to commit suicide, you also said that Andrew should have been a Christian enough to understand that the Bible is filled with metaphors and that the story of Jesus with millstones and children is one of them. You responded with so much love, grace, and honesty to me that Saturday afternoon. You also told me that you had no idea how would ever deal with a similar situation in your life. You didn’t know how you could ever recover.
It was during this time James that you walked with me through the darkest season of my life. You did so while you lived in Washington, D.C. and when you moved back to Kansas. It was during this time that you saw me move out of my faith crisis and let go of agnosticism and atheism. As I walked through and sought forgiveness in mass, you told me that I needed to speak to my former Crusade director in Milwaukee. I am grateful you had the strength to say that, as you are not a “yes man” James. During this time the pain Andrew caused me was unlike anything I had experienced in my life. It was during this time that I wept in private and so wanted to redeem this mess. After all I wondered…what kind of Christian denies peace to another Christian? Especially someone who repented in mass to 140 people and put his name, reputation, and finances at risk in the process? As I worked through people one by one you encouraged me by text James. You and your wife prayed that Andrew would take back the false accusation. I do remember that one text you sent me in regards to Andrew White. Half a year had passed and and I approached 100 people for forgiveness…it was 100 lives I wanted to help heal. You reminded me that I had done more than enough to own my pain, and that Andrew needed to step up, own his false accusation, and the pain he caused me. You are right….but I continue to pray that Andrew would have the strength to do the right thing.
As I wind this down, I want to thank you for all the love, grace, and support you showed me. You shared your family with me. I got to know your daughter, your wife and yourself quite intimately. I miss you deeply. You have seen me go through so much…family illness, faith crisis, my own illness, and a false accusation. All along you have responded to me with love and grace. I don’t know how to thank you for your fellowship. True friends are hard to find, and when you find one you keep and maintain it to the best of one’s ability. Your fellowship has blessed my life considerably. I’m grateful you did something that Andrew White couldn’t do. You hung with me to the end of my faith crisis and you endured and stuck with me. You knew how lost I was, and the pain I was in. Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for not abandoning me. Andrew White also told me once that he wanted to do life together. That said, his false accusation speaks volumes about his faith. Your approach to me and the love you showed me speaks volumes about your faith.
A week or two ago we prayed for each other on the phone. You first prayed for me, and I prayed for you. A couple of days afterward I was reflecting on how amazing that was James. Why? Because there was a time in my life where I thought I’d never pray with another Christ follower again. That said, I think you know what I will ask you and your wife to pray for. In that same conversation I told you about this big, gaping, emotional wound inflicted by Andrew White. I don’t have any closure and I am trying to get closure. Emotionally it hurts a lot. That said, I was not the only one who was hurt. My mother was hurt by Andrew as well. That said, I’d ask if you and your wife can pray that we can find peace and this can be redeemed. I’d release Andrew…all he has to do is say, “Eagle I’m sorry” and ask to be forgiven for his false accusation. If he did that I’d shower him with so much grace, and if there were repercussions for Andrew I’d go to bat for him as his brother in Christ. We’re brothers now and I couldn’t say that in the context of the time I knew him. As a brother I love him also. I’m still praying for peace in this area. And I’ve prayed so hard about it that sometimes I dream at night about this being resolved. Or I’ve dreamed of Andrew and I having several long conversations where everything is laid on the table and everything is worked out. Isn’t the fruit of a Christian supposed to be peace? Why is the fruit of Andrew so much pain and conflict? That said James you are right…much of this rests with him. Andrew needs to step up and own his part of this mess. But can you and your wife please pray that he feels guilty if he does not feel guilty? Or please pray that he will take ownership of his part of this mess.
I’d love to visit you in Kansas sometime and help out in the annual family wheat harvest on your family farm. I have no problem escaping the DC lifestyle for a few days and being an indentured servant in Kansas. In closing I want to leave you with this video of your Cousins. I love watching their videos on Youtube, and do so quite frequently. The next time I am in Salina I want to go toilet paper shopping with you.
Love you brother!
BTW- If you daughter is still praying for me to get out of the hospital, you can tell her that her prayers worked!