Dressed in my standard blue jeans, T-shirt, and sneakers with a puffy mauve winter jacket, I walked up to the dimly lit camper in the middle of the Christmas tree lot where PD worked to raise money for his ministry. I could hear the loud cheerful laughter of the guy in charge, who also happened to be my youth leader. “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo! Don’t NEEDLE me,” I could hear PD cry as I opened the little camper door. “You’re BARKING up the wrong TREE!” another kid responded with similar Christmas-tree-lot humor. Their laughter lit up the somberness that pervaded my little world.
Most of PD's jokes weren't necessarily funny, but he still had a way of making us all laugh. He had a twinkle in his eye, a tall and skinny dark-haired old St. Nick, and he wore his joyful spirit on the outside while most of us spent a great deal of time trying our best to hide our heaviness. We were kids on the fringes. PD was our lifeline.
It was the late '70s. Drugs were easy to get and a common thread in our precarious teen lives. PD knew our stories because he was once in our shoes; he knew the direction our lives were headed, and he valued us. He had wild stories to tell, but the one that held my attention most was the one of transformation. Somehow, PD had changed directions.
I met PD and his girlfriend (now wife) Rose when I was 13. He was a college student interning at Timber Bay Camp. Rose was a volunteer and my camp counselor. I'd heard about the camp in junior high, but I didn't know I would begin a relationship with mentors there that would lay a foundation of truth and profoundly shape my life. Rose was instrumental in helping me to decide to follow Jesus that first summer in 1978, and PD discipled me for many years after that.
PD chauffeured us to camp in the hollowed-out Timber Bay van. Some of the most meaningful conversations took place before we even got to camp. We played silly car games like “Silo” (which I think PD made up), sang songs, and shared our hearts. I remember PD singing hymns in the van. My favorite had to do with a starry sky. I don't remember the words now, but PD would sing it every time I asked.
When we were home from camp, we attended weekly Bible studies. PD would cruise around our suburban neighborhoods, picking us up and bringing us to the Genesis House, an old rambler-turned-coffeehouse in a church parking lot near my home. My friends and I would often smoke pot one day and attend a Bible study with PD the next. I was a divided soul in those early years of faith. I saw the positivity, joy, and authenticity of a man who was once a wild risk-taking teen. He seemed whole and healthy and had purpose. I was timid and aimless.
PD was patient and hopeful for us. He spoke truth and encouraged us to draw near to God. One night after Bible study on my way home in the van, I confessed to PD that I'd been high every night for the past month. He listened to my heart and then asked me what I wanted to do. No lecture. No shame. I told him I wanted to quit. He encouraged me to do just that and checked in to see how that plan was going for me. I never went back to smoking pot.
I attended camp every season, went to Bible studies weekly, and grew in my faith because of a man willing to pour into a bunch of teenagers on the fringe of suburban life. When I was in high school, he married Rose, and they invited a few of us to spend the weekend at their rented townhouse at Northwestern College. We went with them to classes, walked around the campus together and ate in the cafeteria. PD said to us, “If I can do this, surely you can.” Had he and Rose not been in my life at that time, I am sure I would never have gone to college.
Over the course of the next six years, PD was one of the men who laid a foundation of faith for me, and his example helped me to remain steadfast when the world around me felt loud, especially when I felt sad, lonely, or afraid. I learned that we are not meant to walk independently, but alongside each other day by day.
PD and other Timber Bay mentors showed me passages in the Bible about how God knew my name when I felt invisible, and how He would be the Father to the fatherless when my father abandoned me and my brothers and sisters. I learned how concerned God was for me and that He was interested in what I was thinking when I often felt alone and afraid. I grew to know that bad things or difficult circumstances in life are the result of a fallen world, and we are all fallen people. But God made a way of escape for us through His son Jesus. James 1:2-4 was the first passage of Scripture I memorized after camp: “Dear brothers (and sisters), is your life filled with various trials and temptations? Then be happy, for you know that the testing of your faith will develop perseverance making you mature and complete lacking nothing.” How often have I returned to these verses!
After finishing college, I moved from Minnesota to California, fell in love, and left for West Africa with my husband, who was then a Bible translation consultant for the United Bible Society. I lost touch with PD and Rose, but then found them on Facebook over 25 years later! I learned PD's family had also moved to California and were now working with the homeless. I was going to be in California for a conference, still four hours away from them, but I really wanted to see PD and Rose. I messaged PD and we arranged everything.
After driving through the mountains, I found their house. I heard that booming laugh, saw that twinkle in PD's eye, and basked for just a short time in their presence. I told them how much they meant to me as a young girl and thanked them for what a difference they had made in my life.
I am forever changed because of PD and Rose. They brought the joy-filled Kingdom of God to me. They showed me mercy, grace, and kindness. They have touched the lives of many people during their lives. I am glad to be among them.