In memory of a mentor

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My family moved to Arlington, VA from Montgomery, AL when I was 15. We’d been in Montgomery for a year and a half because my Dad’s job in Southern California had gone the way that so many of those engineering jobs had in the early 90’s. We scraped by for a couple years, but then he was offered a chance to go active duty again (in the Air Force), and so we moved. Montgomery was hard for me. I felt ostracized and weird, but it was there that I discovered the theological, spiritual, and intellectual sides of myself.

When we found out we were relocating again, this time to Arlington, I started to look for churches that were attending a youth event taking place in DC that I had heard about the previous year. I contacted the organizer to see if they knew of any churches in the Arlington area that were attending the conference. They gave me a list of two: a Baptist church in Arlington and an EV Free church in Annandale, VA. We tried both and eventually settled on the Baptist church. A big reason for this decision was my experience of the youth group.

This youth group met every wednesday night for small group meetings. The leader of the senior high boys’ small group was a guy named Dave Deforest. Dave had an uncanny ability to create a space of intense and focused discussion with boys that in any other situation would have been bouncing off the walls. Our group talked about theological doctrines, evaluated the roll of music in faith, and studied the Bible. Dave was confident enough in his role as teacher and mentor to open any issue up to conversation. I still remember listening to and then discussing musicians like Larry Norman with Dave.

It didn’t really strike me at the time how important this was for me… not because I didn’t enjoy it—I went every week. Rather, my intellect was being fed at the time. I think it felt so natural to me and I was soaking so much of it up that I didn’t have the time or interest to reflect on the second order aspect of it all. Looking back now, I see that the intentional community of intellect and faith that Dave fostered shaped so much of how I think about, feel about, and approach formation in faith.

Of course, there were dudes who were less fed by Dave’s approach, but looking back on it now, I’m grateful that he worked with me in the ways that he did. I remember Dave taking me to lunch while I was in college. We talked about what I was reading, we talked about Baptist ordinances vs. sacraments (a contentious topic!), we talked about ministry and the direction that the church was going. Dave respected my ideas and intellect, just as he had when I was in that high school small group. His respect and intentionality, both in high school and then later in college, made me want to rise to the occasion. Even though I didn’t do a great job staying in touch with Dave in later years, the relationship we had developed and his own model of integrating faith and understanding continues to make an impression on me, continues to influence the way that I thought about interacting with students of all ages.

Dave died last week. It was sudden to many of us. His memorial service was yesterday. I wasn’t able to attend, but I wanted to write this reflection on him as a way of honoring his memory and intellect, and as a way of saying good bye. Dave was a faith minister of Christ. He loved Jesus, and he loved the people of God. His witness to students throughout the years is evident from a quick glance at his facebook page—so many of the students that he worked with over the last couple decades wrote touching tributes to him. I would have expected nothing less. Dave helped so many of us find the substance and meat of the faith during vulnerable times in our lives. There’s a special calling for this, although we don’t always do the best job of recognizing these people in action. Sometimes they’re ordained. Sometimes they’re not. Sometimes they’re paid, and other times they’re volunteers. But the work they’re doing is of the utmost importance: they’re making disciples, and forming them in lasting ways.

So here’s to Dave.

Remember, O Lord, your good and faithful servant, Dave, who has gone before us with the sight of faith, and now rests in the sleep of peace. According to your promises, grant to him and to all who rest in Christ, refreshment, light, and peace; through the same Christ our Lord.

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