Yogi Durbin

There isn’t a single person on this earth who loved softball more than Yogi Durbin. He often joked, even from the pulpit that we shared at Hope Church, that if he had his choice, he wanted the Lord to take him right there on the softball field. Everybody always laughed, but I think that’s what he actually hoped for. He wanted to die doing what he loved, able-bodied and of sound mind. In a tragic way, he got his wish. Yogi had a massive heart attack after a softball game, and though he lived for another two weeks, from what I understand his last living memory was of being on the softball field, playing the beautiful game with people he loved. When he finally did pass from this life into the arms of Jesus, he was surrounded by his family, who loved and admired him deeply. May God be with the whole Durbin family.

Yogi loved people. He was a pastor in the truest sense of the word. Whether it was after service on Sundays, in his home during the week, or, most importantly to him, doing hospital visitations, Yogi loved the people that God brought to him. He was always looking for ways to help people, especially those who had fallen on hard times. But he wasn’t the kind of person to just cut a check and trust that money would solve someone’s problem; he was ready to jump into the lives of people who seemed to chronically find themselves in hard times. His instinct wasn’t to judge them, but to lead them out of their often self-inflicted troubles, if he could. That takes a lot of work. And commitment. Not many people have the patience to love people that way.

Yogi wanted everybody to meet Jesus. He loved Jesus, and knew that, no matter what else is going on in your life, if you’ve got Jesus you’re going to be alright. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and Yogi was gripped by the reality that the only way to God the Father is through Jesus the Son. He didn’t want anybody to miss out on that because the consequences are eternal. What Jesus offers is better than anything that the world can offer, and he was deeply saddened by how many people choose the world over Jesus. That’s why he was in ministry – to preach the Gospel. And he did. He preached the Gospel and expounded the Scriptures faithfully, like a good servant of Jesus Christ. He did not preach as many do today, to be approved by fallen men and women who are captive to the world’s way of thinking. He taught as one approved by God, and who sought only God’s approval.

Yogi led Hope Church well. When we arrived there, the church was in a difficult place. But there were good people there, and we brought good people with us. Together, with the Lord’s help, the Spirit’s power, and Yogi leading the way, we made Hope Church work. That sort of thing isn’t supposed to happen. You’re not supposed to be able to take a church on the downswing, combine it with a church plant, and make it not just survive, but thrive. But that’s what happened. Hope wasn’t Yogi’s largest church or his most fruitful ministry, but it is a significant part of his legacy. While my time there did not end how or when I would have liked, it was an honor to serve with Yogi for those three years. He was not afraid to make hard decisions, and he always did what was best for the church. He left that church a lot better than he found it, and that is quite an accomplishment.

Finally, Yogi deeply loved his family. He was so proud of his kids and grandkids. He always spoke of them in glowing terms – especially the grandkids. He was the consummate Grandpa, a true Poppy, full of energy and life for those sweet little souls. We didn’t get to see the family together often, but I imagine the little ones swarming him at first sight, climbing all over him, and I can see his face beaming with pride and delight. My heart breaks especially for them, because in this life they have lost a good Poppy, a faithful protector, and a mutual source of joy and happiness. But I hope they know that his face toward them will never change, an eternal grin and sparkling eyes. Yogi’s body may have been taken from this world, but the love and delight he had for his family remains with them for the rest of their lives, until it is fulfilled in glory when they all meet again in the presence of Jesus Christ.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
-Romans 8:35,37-39

For Zeke, on what would have been his ninth birthday.

I once had two sons,
but now I have one.
The other, my brother;
my wife, his mother.
I lay by his side
the night that he died,
and whispered to mother,
My son, my brother.

Last Thursday we left our campsite in Flagstaff, AZ, and headed north in a rented car toward the Grand Canyon. It would be my second time to the Grand Canyon, but for Breena and the kids, it was their first. Before we arrived at the park, we drove through some beautiful country on the Arizona backroads.

Just south of the park is a little town that has benefitted greatly from the tourism the Canyon draws. I don’t remember it being there when I last visited the park in 2003, and anyway, all the buildings look as though they’ve been built in the last five years. The kids were grateful to stop someplace familiar: Wendy’s. As we waited in line, Breena spotted a brochure for a helicopter ride over the Canyon. On a normal trip this wouldn’t even be a consideration, but this is the Zekey Trip after all, and we’re here to make memories. So we booked our helicopter ride for 4:10, and we sped off toward the Canyon to get as much sight-seeing in as we could in the meantime.

The Canyon defies description. It is vast and deep and intricate and beautiful. That first glimpse into the Canyon’s depths will take your breath away, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. Photographs, obviously, cannot do it justice. The kids loved it, especially the girls. Bexley had no fear – she wanted to get as close to the edge as she could. But all Cyrus and Eisley could seem to talk about was the impending helicopter ride.

It was amazing. It was worth the cost. I almost threw up.

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We’re calling it the Zekey Trip. We had made arrangements with Make-A-Wish to take an RV trip all across the country, but when Zekey passed away in March, Make-A-Wish could no longer make the trip happen. Breena and I both felt that the trip would be an important investment in the healing of our family, so we set up a fund to help make it a reality. Many of you who read my and/or Breena’s blogs gave generously, and so the Zekey Trip has become a reality. (I’m sitting in the back of an RV in Flagstaff, AZ typing this.) To you we are so very grateful. Though many of you have never personally met us, you have poured generously into our lives, blessing us profoundly.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the first couple of days of the trip. I hope to post more soon, but as you can imagine, our days are so full that I am usually exhausted by 8:00 and ready to fall asleep, incapable of stringing even one coherent sentence together. The trip started in Denver, and we spent our first night in Cripple Creek, CO, up near Pike’s Peak. On the second day we ate lunch at Garden of the Gods before driving to Santa Fe, NM down I-25. That drive was absolutely beautiful. On day 3 we drove to Flagstaff, AZ, stopping at the Petrified Forest National Park and the Meteor Crater along the way. The American West is stunning.

Several folks have been asking if they can still donate to Zeke’s Memorial Fund. The answer to that is, “Of course!” You can click on the PayPal Donate button in the left column of this blog, which will take you to a secure donation page. Again, we are eternally grateful for all who have made this trip a reality. God bless you!

Since our son Ezekiel passed away two and a half months ago, Breena and I have been often asked: How are you doing? The truth is, we’re doing well. This fact can be difficult for some to understand. After all, our 4 1/2 year old son died of a terrible disease that slowly destroyed his brain and his body for more than two years. How could we possibly be doing well after experiencing something like that?

IMG_0158The only answer we have to that question is that we’ve found a hope that transcends death. We’re doing well because we have hope that there is something, or someone, who is greater than death. This hope, which has buried itself deep within our hearts over the past two years, is rooted in Jesus and his resurrection from the dead. We believe that Jesus conquered death once and for all; not that he has yet eradicated it and our bodies will never die, but that he has risen again from the dead, thereby destroying the power of death. If Jesus rose again, then death isn’t final, at least not for those who follow Jesus.

Nothing else on earth offers this kind of hope. No other religion or ideology offers the kind of hope that Christianity does through the resurrection of Jesus. The cross and resurrection, the “true message of the Gospel,” gives humanity a hope that no other way of life can – a hope that strips death of its power to make us afraid and replaces it with a vision of an unimaginably glorious and good life beyond death. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15,

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