My friendship with Don and Kay has always seemed to me to be somewhat of an anomaly–not because they aren’t great people (because they are–otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about them!), but because I guess I’ve never really understood what drew them to get involved with us in the first place. When I first met Don, he was an older, well-established pastor of a larger Assembly of God church here town, and was involved with his denomination on the regional level. I was pastoring a church in my home, and fostering a progressive worship style that probably wouldn’t have gone over well in his circles. He was a friendly acquaintance, and I always liked him; I just didn’t see that we shared very much in common. And our paths didn’t cross all that frequently.
I’d known Don as an acquaintance for a couple of years when The Wild One and I were looking for a way to start up a weekly public worship event, and looking for a cheap venue to rent. That’s when I got an email from Kay, Don’s wife, whom I’d never met. A mutual friend had told her of our intentions, and she was stirred to help, even though she really knew nothing of us. Their church building had a chapel, which had been their original sanctuary. Don and Kay offered to let us use it, and all the equipment in it–free of charge.
So every Friday night for a year, we worshiped in that room. Don and Kay came on occasion to worship with us, and even invited the folks in their church to participate and support the event. In a few conversations I had with Don that year–especially when he would refer to our worship style as “radical”–I picked up a vibe that possibly even our presence there was ruffling a few feathers among the main church group. And yet, week after week, differences acknowledged, this couple embraced us, supported us (even financially), cheered us on, and made room for us to find our way.
And from that point on, through the changing of several seasons, this has defined how they’ve treated us. Like the proud older siblings, always cheering us on, encouraging us, telling us they believed in us, and making room for us whenever they were able.
Things changed pretty drastically for Don and Kay after that year. Don resigned his post at the church to work for a large ministry in town, and within 6 months, budget cuts at the ministry eliminated his job. Don and Kay started a new ministry geared toward encouraging people with ministry vision, and ironically found themselves in a very similar position to where we had been–holding weekly public meetings in rented or borrowed facilities. And according to Kay, that’s when they began to experience the same resistance we had been experiencing all along. Even though they had a long history and good reputation in Tulsa, starting that new work apparently made them a threat among other local churches, even within their own denomination.
Yet, all the while, even with their own struggles, Don and Kay continued to show their support for us whenever they could. Kay would come to our worship events when she was free. Every time they heard we were trying something new, they were among the first (few) voices to speak up with encouragement and tangible support. When we attempted to launch a ministry for 24-7 worship, they invited us to share the vision with their group, had me in to lead worship several times at their meetings, and blessed us financially. When they heard that The Wild One was preparing to be a professional photographer, they booked her to photograph their wedding anniversary party.
And when they heard we were moving to Denver, they invited me to come lead worship one last time for their group, to say good-bye–the only church group in town that did so. And they continue to encourage us and cheer us into the new season.
What has confounded me (in a good way) about Don and Kay over the years is how, when there are so many other churches and ministries in town among whom they can relate, they have seen fit to pour both time and interest in our tiny efforts. In a church culture where people tend to gravitate toward others who think and act exactly as they do–and where church leaders tend to ignore folks like us who are considered “fringe” among the status quo–this couple has defied those trends. In a town where we’ve sort of gotten used to feeling invisible (or seen and treated as a threat when we are visible), Don and Kay saw us. And not only have they seen us, but for some strange reason, they like us.
And not only do they like us…but they genuinely believe in us. And what’s even more poignant is that they believed in us even as part of the “establishment,” before they began experiencing the same kind of resistance we felt.
Don and Kay are lifetime heroes to me because they have been a shining example to me of what true encouragement looks like. True encouragement isn’t trite phrases spoken in moments of crisis, phrases that only make the “encourager” feel better. True encouragement isn’t a passing glance or pat on the back, saying, “It’ll all work out.” True encouragement is when you believe in the other person enough to act on it. True encouragement backs the words with actions, and (sometimes quite literally) puts its money where its mouth is. True encouragement happens when the other person comes away feeling like you really saw them, heard them, and empathized with them.
And sometimes true encouragement means actively encouraging someone else when you could really use a dose of encouragement yourself.
Thank you, Don and Kay, for being among the few pastors in this area who always made us feel like we had a place at your table. Thank you for the ways you made room for us without attaching any other agenda to it. And thank you for seeing us when we were invisible. Please know that you won’t be forgotten with the changing of the seasons, and that your example will be remembered when comes our turn to pay it forward.