When Chris suffered a debilitating attack of viral encephalitis, he had been my friend, youth pastor, and then pastor for over ten years. I’d met him shortly after moving to the Orlando area when I attended a youth service he was leading. I liked him. Chris was an intellectual and a poet (and still is), and most of all, people were drawn to him and then, through him, to Christ. He was a young, charismatic pastor who used mnemonic devices to memorize the names of every parishioner, spouse, and their children in every congregation with which he associated, and his number one message—a message that he reinforced with his own deacon board and church later on—was the message of God’s unconditional love and acceptance. Because of his commitment to that message, I witnessed many broken people over the years receive healing under his ministry, and I saw unconditional commitment extended to so many of us despite our failures and sin. It was unsurprising, then, that when his illness took away his ability to speak coherently that his congregation unconditionally rallied behind him. There wasn’t any talk about replacing our pastor even though the prognosis was bleak. And six weeks later, miraculously, he was back in the pulpit. He struggled, but his message was clear. And years later—many years later—he is still writing, speaking, and preaching. I have no doubt that he carries the burden of his illness every day, as does his wife Debbie and his children, but he is now, more than ever, like the high priest of Hebrews who is not unfamiliar with our sufferings. When he writes about faith, suffering, and perseverance, it is because of his own intimate struggle with all three. What you are reading in his words aren’t platitudes, but blood and bone and flesh and suffering and the ways that God’s love comes to us through all of these.
Dr. James Rovira
Chair and Associate Professor of English // Mississippi College