Thursday, March 26, 2009

Afghanistan on the way to Eternity

The internet is probably not big enough to include all that one could say about Brett Hershey, who died 4 years ago today by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. One awesome site is a good start. After 4 years one of the more difficult, or strange, things to come to grips with is the fact that Brett hasn’t aged with us these last 4 years. We have now experienced the time equivalent of college since he died, and Hersh has been somewhere else. I worry that it will be harder to remember him as we get older because our memories with him will be longer ago, and at a time before we had experienced much of life. There will be less to relate with him, it seems.

But then, I retreat from that line of thinking as God flips my worry on its side and reminds me that the life Brett exemplified is the life we will never leave behind. In his loyalty, love, commitment, and passion he demonstrated not only what we should be like as we interact with friends in college, but also what we should be like as we experience marriage, and a family of our own. In his energy and humor and joy he demonstrated not only the way we should have fun as kids, but also the way we should trust Jesus above worry even in the midst of serious circumstances, and be prepared to do it with a giggle. In his boldness and consistent friendship, we see not only how we should witness to fraternity brothers who prioritize sex and alcohol over relationships with people and with God, but also how we should live and share our faith among our co-workers, family, and friends into our old age who prioritize the American dream over everything.

In his craziness, we see the unpredictable but wonderful sovereignty of God; in his consistency, we see the unchanging character and love of our Lord and Savior; in his death, we see one who would lay down his life for his friends. We will always see Jesus, and that will always be more than enough to relate with, no matter how old we are or how different our experiences become. So somehow, miraculously, Brett will always be the same age and place as us, and his example will transcend circumstance and become simply a relevant, biblical, profound representation of Jesus Christ. That’s pretty cool.


I tried to articulate to his parents the impact he had on me in the following letter written a month or so after his death:

“I am a fraternity brother of Brett, graduated in 2003, and good friends with a lot of the people, I’m sure, whom you’ve met and from whom heard so much about what an example and friend Brett was in the Sigma Chi house at IU. When I became a Christian, as a junior, Brett was an instrumental person who encouraged me in my early struggles of balancing new life in Christ with the fraternity world. I never could believe how lucky I was to have, as a young Christian, the solid and unbreakable fellowship of four other guys right down the hall in my fraternity: Bob and Dave Ravensberg, Matt Jackson, and Brett. Brett challenged me in my faith, listened to me, laughed with me, and talked with me about eternal things at a time and place that so many college students would consider unthinkable.

My senior year, Brett’s sophomore year, we would alternate leading bible studies in the house. I didn’t tell him enough, but it is plainly true that so many guys would come to the study simply because Brett asked them. He just asked them! I would internally be disappointed when not many guys came but never considered what might happen if I’d ask, if I’d invest the time and potential awkwardness. Brett was as cool as the other side of the pillow when he’d speak the Gospel, and he would back it up with Godly living and solid friendship. Brett simplified but also magnified Christ-centered evangelism in the fraternity. He knew that our brothers are incurably spiritual, he invested in them, and they responded because he showed them the person of Jesus Christ, and the person of Jesus Christ is irresistibly desirable. Brett’s example and friendship is so powerfully convicting for me because I see how strong his faith was that God would bless his time, and his efforts in reaching out to the guys. And He did, and many now know, and many still will know, Jesus through Brett’s example.

I can’t imagine how hard it still must be to think about, and to experience, life without Brett. The night I heard that Brett was called home, I was alone at my parents’ house, and the first two hours after the news was very hard, but also an unbelievably significant point in my Christian walk. And I hope it can be to you, as encouraging as it was for me, that God clearly and plainly led me to a specific passage of Scripture that is now both my personal charge and my most apparent articulation of Brett’s example in my life. I love you guys, even though we’ve never met, and I pray that God will continue to comfort you and bring you joy in the gigantic impact that He has brought through Brett for His glory and His kingdom. And He has so much more to do.”


This passage I refer to is amazing, and I will never forget the comfort, shock, and Holy Spirit power I experienced when God specifically revealed it to me through tears hours after I learned of Brett’s passing. The first part of it is the most apparent articulation of Brett’s example in my life:

“Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

For Brett, he gained. He gained! What a miracle. For us, and specifically for me, a personal charge then jumps off the page in the verses that follow, especially in light of Brett’s example:

“If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I do? I do not know! I am torn between the two. I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far, but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, so that through my being with you again your joy in Christ will overflow on account of me.”

It is more necessary for you.

It is for others, that we remain. Not for ourselves. Our gain is to come.

That is what Brett left with me, and I will labor not to forget it. No Natalie Grant song, though sung perfectly by his sister at his memorial service and still a comfort today, nor this tribute blog post, though hopefully a blessing to some, could ever do justice to the example he left or the Christ he gained. Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!

For my part, I will continue to rejoice.


Nathan said...

Joey - Very nice and articulate post. I am happy to see that Brett's presence is still remembered and honored.

Julie McInnis said...

I don't know if you remember me, but I am Vraciu's little sister. I too was touch by Brett and often think of him. One wonders why someone doing such amazing work for God would leave this earth so young. I take comfort in the fact that I know he is at home, that is in perfect union with the Lord. I think that it is important for us to carry on what Brett was doing and Share the Lord's message. We can continue his memory but sharing his JOY, his joy in the Lord. I hope that you are doing well, and I appreciate you continuing to remember and love our friend Brett.

Julie Vraciu McInnis

Samuel said...

Thanks for the reminder Joey.