How many of you have met someone and it felt like you had known them all of your life? That you could sit down with them and talk about things like you were talking with a favorite friend? Don R. was that man for me. I had been hearing about the new minister at the Pretty Prairie Mennonite church but had yet to meet him. Mom, her sister-in-law, and brother, and her cousins all seemed impressed by him. I didn't meet Don until the morning of mom's knee replacement surgery in December of 2014. After they took her back for surgery, Don and I sat and talked for a few hours. It seemed like we'd known each other forever. Just two friends "shootin' the bull". And was he ornery! I love telling jokes and stories that make most people groan and roll their eyes. Well, Don was the same way! Then I got to meet his wife Deb when they came over to the house one Saturday at lunchtime. She is a joy to know, and my life was just doubly blessed! At one point, Don and Deb felt they had to move back home to Illinois to get some family matters taken care of. Little did I know that they would come back to pastor that little church in Pretty Prairie a couple of years later. Our talks and trading those "groaners" took off from where we had left them. Every time I’d see him and talk to him, he’s always smiling and happy to see you. He could talk with you and have you feel you’re the most important person to him in that moment. Our talks were spiritually based, but he never came across as what I would call “preachy”. You knew his thoughts and where he stood. He truly loved his fellow man. He was always interested in how school was going for me. He made me feel that I am entering a profession that is needed in the world and he made me feel that it’s a worthy and important pursuit. It’s said some people brighten a room when they enter it, that was Don! You knew you’d get a least a joke or two, but then you’d get something insightful also.
His faith. Wow. He has “faith like a child”. He really wants people to walk with Christ. You can tell that trusting Christ is the most important decision he ever made in his life and he is so grateful for it that he wants to share it with as many people as possible so they can know the love and joy he feels. The hymn “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less”- On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand” takes on an even more profound meaning for me since I’ve met Don. Christ is his “solid rock” and nothing can deter that or sway him. Death is insignificant for Don. He knows that when he leaves this earth, he will see his God face to face. Philippians 1:21-“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” Don embodied this completely. Knowing Don has bolstered my own faith.
Don was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer just a few weeks ago. He was diagnosed on a Saturday and was in the pulpit the next day. He told his church family and he preached his sermon. He stated he wanted to be the preacher for as long as he could. He wanted to serve Christ as long as possible. Little did anyone know that would be one of the last times he would be able to minister to his church family from the pulpit. This beautiful, gentle giant who has led so many to Christ and bolstered their relationship with God met his savior for the first time face to face this past Sunday on Father's Day. Pretty appropriate in my opinion.
This is a bittersweet time for his wife Deb, their children, family and friends. They have lost a husband, father, brother. While they grieve, they can also rejoice in knowing that Don has won his race and he is healed and lives in the presence of his Savior.
Don, thank you for your friendship. Thank you for your lovingkindness. My life is richer for having known you. Till we meet again…