By Dave Runkel
November of 2016 the entire Runkel family went to a beautiful Fort Myers beach resort to celebrate the happy event of Marcia's and my 50thwedding anniversary. This meant our two children, our son-in-law, plus the five grandchildren gathered to enjoy fun and sun for five days in this wonderful location. However, some very dark storm clouds were beginning to form during this long-awaited celebration. Our 16-year-old grandson Jack Kelleher began to have some painful headaches during our time together. Then December 20, 2016, he was diagnosed with a glioma of the thalamus, or a deadly brain tumor. January 17, 2018, Jack was called to his heavenly home with his Lord and Savior.
This is only the beginning of the story. As I continue, I’m not going to name names but talk about how special the Pilgrim community of Christians is and how it went beyond the call of duty showing Christian love for Jack’s family. During Jack’s earthly struggle so many people in this special Pilgrim Church community were so caring, loving and helpful in these 13 months of a losing life battle. It is my hope this Elder’s Corner illustrates the gifts of the Spirit discussed by St. Paul in the Book of 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12. “4 Now God gives us many kinds of special abilities, but it is the same Holy Spirit who is the source of them all. 5 There are different kinds of service to God, but it is the same Lord we are serving. 6 There are many ways in which God works in our lives, but it is the same God who does the work in and through all of us who are his. 7 The Holy Spirit displays God’s power through each of us as a means of helping the entire church.”
Jack was convinced he was going to beat the disease so he was driven to stay current with his high school studies. During this fight Jack was forced to miss classes due to doctor appointments, radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Numerous members of Pilgrim were there to assist with French and algebra class assignments. Those assisting Jack had that same drive to ensure that he was well prepared to meet his class requirements. This type of love and caring allowed Jack’s family to focus on his health and welfare.
Jack was totally embraced by his Christian friends in Pilgrim’s youth group, senior mentor and church community. Jack wanted to go and participate in Pilgrim’s youth group activities because he was totally accepted even as his health diminished. The youth group initiated the idea for the congregation to say prayers for Jack’s health every evening at 8:30 p.m. This idea grew within the Pilgrim family to the point during meetings at Pilgrim when iPhones signaled 8:30 p.m. prayer time. Meetings would pause to say a prayer for Jack’s health. What a special feeling of love and support for a family that was struggling through this disease. When his health would allow, his one special mentor would visit or take him to lunch. Even when his health was not good many in the Pilgrim community were there to pray with him and send cards, notes and words of encouragement.
As the disease progressed, chemotherapy effects changed Jack’s looks. His ability to keep up with his friends changed but the Christian love demonstrated by the Pilgrim young people was outstanding. Beyond the young people in the youth group, his leaders were more than just leaders. They were delivering Christ’s love. The youth group leaders were providing loving and caring communications for our family. For Jack, these leaders were so special for earthly comfort but more important the reinforcement for Christ’s love for him. The positive attitudes of the youth group leaders supported both Jack and Jack’s family. Even after Jack’s death and in preparation of the memorial service at Pilgrim the leadership of the youth group, staff and Pilgrim friends were so supportive for Jack’s family and friends.
It must be said God is always in control and we humans do not understand. The Pilgrim community was without pastoral leadership because Pastor Al Goetermiller retired in April of 2016 after 19 years of splendid service. Pilgrim was being served by an interim pastor, Rudy Mueller, during Jack’s struggle for life. Pastor Rudy was so important to Jack and the entire family. His care and Christian concern provided support and love for the entire family. As stated before, God was in control with less than two weeks prior to Pastor Rudy’s retirement Jack passed on to his heavenly home.
January 20, 2018, Jack’s memorial service at Pilgrim was a true celebration of a young person’s life, and the Pilgrim community wrapped our family and friends in Christian love. So many of our Pilgrim brothers and sisters made this memorial celebration of Jack’s life such a loving and caring remembrance. Helping the Kelleher and Runkel families through this devastating situation was truly the comforting work of the Holy Spirit. The Christian community love stated in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 12, illustrates the love, power and comfort of the Holy Spirit. Heavenly Father, thank you for the Pilgrim community, its Christian love and the willingness to open their hearts to the Holy Spirit demonstrating Christ’s love for all, Amen.
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