Kristen Sauder's funeral and her on-going impact
The visitation was an amazing testament to her work and her influence for the Kingdom. About 3,000 people came through the line, expressing condolences and sharing her impact on them. Her non-immediate / out-of-town family was blown away, especially when they realized that not everyone at Southeast has that kind of crowd (just because we're a large church). At the funeral, there were 1,500-- a cool but rough time of grief and celebration.
In particular, I wanted to make a note of Bob Russell's remarks at the funeral. He blogged on part of it. As is common, Bob handled a difficult moment well, speaking truth graciously and compassionately, but not shying from the tough questions.
Bob built his eulogy around Isaiah 55:8-9-- God, your ways/thoughts are different/than ours: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
For his first point, Bob agreed with Isaiah, saying "if I was God", I would not have taken Kristen off the earth. From the peculiar timing of it (the day they publicly announced that they were leaving Southeast to do Further Still Ministries full-time-- to the immense pain her death has caused and will continue to cause for family and close friends-- it's difficult to make sense of it. It also seems like a missed opportunity-- from the unanswered prayers and the opportunity for a miraculous healing to the influence of a godly life that we will no longer experience in person.
Great stuff. But Bob's second point was absolute gold: "If I were God, I would have created a woman like Kristen Sauder." (It still causes me to tear up, writing this.) He described Kristen as beautiful, sensitive, talented, "an outstanding speaker, writer, wife and mother of four". He paraphrased someone in saying, "If you measure a life by longevity, Kristen lived half a life. If you measure a life by influence, then Kristen lived long and well."
At the end, Bob returned to the questions of "why" and "what's the plan?" as he pondered God's providence: "Where is the promise that, 'All things work together for good to those who love God'? Why would God permit this to happen?" We serve a benevolent God. So, we know that she has not died in vain. "Right now we can’t see how that could be possible because of our human limitations, but there will be good things. The seed of Kristen’s death will bring forth positive fruit."
From there, Bob laid out a range of examples/possibilities. Of these, I thought the reference to Elizabeth Elliot was most powerful-- that Jim's death in Equador led to such amazing work in the decades that have followed. At least for me, given my partnership with Kurt in ministry through DC: Thoroughly Equipped, the most intriguing wrestling is over God's plans for Kurt's future-- and the timing of his resignation as the lead minister of the Oldham Campus of Southeast. As Bob asked: "What if, at exactly the right time, there’s a new ministry opportunity that opens up for Kurt and the next 40 years of his life God gives him a double measure of His spirit and blessing?"
Bob closed with exhortations to trust and remain patient. We can look for (and should be aware of) elements of God's providence. "What if you could interview her in heaven today and ask, 'Kristen would you come back to earth for another 40 years and live to be 85?' I think she’d respond...'Why would I want to go back to the discomfort of a sinful earth? I trust the Lord to take care of you. I’ll just wait for you here. Time passes so quickly, a thousand years are like a day here. God’s ways are not our ways. They’re so much better. You’ll see. Just trust Him…and wait.”
A few other resources:
Kurt and his team will prayerfully consider where God would lead them with respect to whatever ministry Kristen might continue to have. The opening paragraph of this article describes some of that wrestling-- and the cool story that follows provides a glimpse into what is possible. This reminds me of an old WSJ article on J. Vernon McGee's radio ministry-- now 25 years after his death. At the time of the article, the ministry would get letters addressed to McGee as if he were still on earth!
Here's a terrific article in the Southeast Outlook on Kristen from Ruth Schenk.
And finally, here's a similar story out of Purdue-- from a professor about a student who was shot in the incident there a month ago.