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In Memoriam: Ben Larson

January 18, 2010

The news from Haiti is overwhelming.  Nearly 50,000 known dead with predictions of multiples of that as more bodies are discovered.  Our family knew one. (My wife Debra writes about is on her Key Voices Blog.)

His name is Ben Larson.  He was in his senior year at Wartburg Seminary in Dubuque, Iowa, a seminary of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He was in Haiti with his wife, Renee.  They were married just two short years ago.  We were at their wedding.  His cousin Jonathan Larson was also with him in Haiti. They were helping the fledging ELCA church in Haiti, there to share their talent, their wisdom and their love for Christ. (For more details go to this CNN.com report).

Ben was our daughter Miriam's first friend.  His little 4-year old arms held our infant son when Isaac was just hours old.  Our families have spent nearly every summer together at a lake in Northern Minnesota where we have cabins within walking distance from one another.  Ben was like a son.

What set Ben apart was his joy.  His joy emanated from deep within him.  Its source was the love of God in Christ Jesus.  It was as if he took Jesus at his absolute word in John 15:11: "I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete." He lived joyfully, loved joyfully, sang joyfully and served joyfully.

The joy Ben had was Christ's. One of the enduring images I have of Ben is the impish grin he wore and the twinkle in his eye he had that seemed to say "Isn't this fun?"  His joy embraced all around him.  He was a generous friend to our children (and to us). You can hear Ben's joy in his singing.  He was a gifted songwriter as well.  His songs give full-throated expression to that joy that Christ had planted deep within him (See my wife Debra's blog for more on his music and a link to listen).

Ben expressed his joy most profoundly in serving others. He was a friend of the suffering, the sorrowful, the hurting and the helpless. Jesus continues in John 15:12 "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." Ben died serving others.  Ben was a friend of Jesus.

I came across a quote by Indian Seer Poet -Rabindranath Tagore sent in an email from a friend.

"I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy."

This could be an epitaph for Ben's life.

Christ spoke to his disciples so that his joy could be in them in the midst of their grief over his impending death and departure. I wonder: what is that quality of joy that Christ gives that can be sustained in the midst of the grief we are experiencing at Ben's death?  Because at this point I am not feeling it.  Grief, not joy, is winning the day. I wish I could talk to Ben about it.  He would have some insights.  He was an expert at joy.

And if I am feeling this depth of grief at one, and I multiply it by the current estimate of 45,000 dead, I cannot bear it.  We have to leave that grief to God and to live by the hope of the resurrection - that the dead are raised to eternal life and that Haiti and all those touched by this devastating event will find new life.


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