How do you say goodbye to one of your best friends? Every time the Overboard blog hits a 50, we like to feature someone who is really out there living the Overboard Life. On blog 50, I did a piece on my wife and her sacrificial, life-saving gift of a kidney donation. To this day, it is still one of the top most popular posts on this site.
Today, I want to talk to you about one of my dearest, and closest friends -- Andy. Although we still have a few more posts to go before we hit 100, Andy and his family are about to cross the pond and won’t have much internet access for at least three years; I wanted him to have a chance to read this before they leave from Atlanta.
I’ve known Andy for close to 15 years. Shortly after I started as a full-time youth pastor near Seattle, Andy was doing youth work on the other side of Puget Sound, in Silverdale WA. Our paths would cross at various youth events and summer camps, and we quickly began forming a strong friendship.
By the time Traci and I Moved back to Salem in 2001, Andy and I, along with another buddy of mine, were starting to talk regularly, exchange emails and make intentional connections at several different annual events connected to our fellowship of churches. When we would get together at these events, it was not uncommon for us to duck out of meetings and make midnight runs to Muchas Gracias. Nothing builds close friendships like heartburn-enducing Mexican food that makes your whole body smell like cilantro, and makes your wife tell you to sleep on the couch. Ahhhhhh, male bonding!
Through these things Andy I became close friends, and for over a decade, I have considered him as one of my best friends. On several occasions, Traci and I have enjoyed vacationing with Andy and his wife and both he and I have travelled out of our way to make connections with each other. I talk to Andy 4 or 5 days a week, even though we haven’t lived in the same state for the past 12 years.
But that all changes in two days. On Wednesday afternoon, Andy and his family will load a plane with 18 crates containing all of their earthly possessions, then they’ll buckle themselves in and take off on a flight that will eventually land them half way around the world. By Friday morning, his family will be living with a tribal family in a rural village. They will be learning a foreign language and adjusting to life without indoor plumbing, electricity or internet. When it’s time to send an update to supporters back here, Andy will hike 30 minutes one-way to reach a hilltop from where he can get a cell signal. With that little cell signal, he’ll be able to tether his laptop, and send short emails about the work God is doing in their village.
I will miss Andy. I will miss our daily conversations, the regular emails that make me, literally, L-O-L in my office at church and I will miss the times we’ve connected over a burrito, a cup of coffee or a youth conference.
But what I will miss most from my friend is this: his constant challenge to me, to live the Overboard Life. Andy is a trail blazer. He has never been content with the status quo and is always questioning the norm -- wanting life to be better than average. When he was a youth pastor, we would have hour long conversations about the nuts-and-bolts of ministry. At times he was playing devil’s advocate, at times he was arguing both sides of the point, and at times he was wrestling with the core issues of the faith. But always he was challenging me to push boundaries and to rethink how ministry should be done.
I call him my hippie Christian friend, because of how he thinks about things. He’s a true Oregonian (thus…a true hippie), and always trying to get things back to their organic roots. He wants to strip away the programs that so easily become the tail that wags the dog, and get back to helping people. So it was no surprise to me that Andy was leading his last church in the same way he’s been leading me. He busted out of the “traditional” short-term mission trip model, and started organizing trips with serious intention and purpose. On several occasions he led groups to help drill wells in third world countries, bringing God’s love through the provision of life-saving water.
At the same time, he was rocking the boat at Christmas. While most of us talk about Jesus being the reason for the season, Andy was trying to find ways to really live that out in December. He led his church through a significant paradigm shift by using the “Advent Conspiracy” program as a back drop to their annual Christmas giving, and radically changed the way gifts were exchanged in his own family.
When they leave on Wednesday, they’ll be moving in with an unknown host family and learning to live with a people who have never heard of Jesus. They will learn how to function in a village, they’ll learn how to farm and trade in the community and most of all -- they will share in life as villagers. Andy, his family and the small team they are a part of, are going to share life, so they can share Jesus. It’s not about bringing American money or American ways to “save” this village, it’s about living as villagers so that they can earn the right to share God’s hope.
And that is what my friend Andy has taught me most. The world doesn’t need any more professional pastors or ministers. We certainly don’t need any more hair-slick-backed tele-evangelists offering prayers for dollars, or books promising an easy life for people who follow God. What we do need is more people like Andy and his wife; people willing to give it all up in order to follow God. People willing to live out the Gospel with an organic faith, not by having all the answers, but by sharing what they do know through life-on-life experiences, with a willingness to grow and learn more.
Come Wednesday, my heart will be heavy as my best friend takes flight for another land. Thankfully, God-willing, I will receive weekly (at least monthly) updates from Andy and his family as they get opportunities to send emails and share about God’s work in their village. While it won’t be the same as talking on the phone each day, it will least keep us connected until (if) they return from this journey in life. Although, knowing my hippie Christian friend like I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if this part of their journey becomes permanent. After all, when you step out of the boat and start living the Overboard Life, it’s impossible to ever climb back in and find the same joy and energy for life that you had while walking on the water.
I want to live like Andy does. I want to get back to the fundamentals of what it means to know and love God, and to know and love others. I want to live in such a way that people are more important than programs, and that my faith finds a natural, organic expression in my every day living.
Thanks Andy for leading the way. I look forward to the updates and stories you will share, of how people have been changed by meeting Jesus, because you (and your amazing family!), have been living the Overboard Life. And I hope when (if) you come back, you’ll find more hippie-Christians running around, filling the void you have left behind.
Go ahead friends, take the plunge -- life is always better on the water!