Tonight I will celebrate, along with hundreds of others, the life of my friend and mentor, Gary Varner.  I told you about Gary a couple of months ago.  And my best friend, Lindesy, a girl who I grew a unique kinship with during our times in Ukraine under Gary’s leadership, wrote about him on Monday.  It was a beautiful tribute and I urge you to take the time to read it.

There are a lot of emotions to process when thinking of Gary Varner.  Laughter at the memories, heartache at the early end of his earthly life, grief when I think of his wife and kids, regret that I didn’t keep in touch better through the years, gratefulness for his faithful pouring into me, and, most of all, a challenge to live my life to the full as he always did.  Gary practiced what he preached and he lived life the way he encouraged others to do so.

“Worthy goals are rarely ever easily achieved,” is a quote from Gary that has been passed on in the days since his death.  No one understood this more than Gary did.  He was a passionate man, filled with love and he will truly, truly be missed. 

I am thankful for Gary and his ministry.  I’m thankful to him for pouring into me as a youth.  I’m grateful for the graceful way he lived his life and endured his illness.  I’m thankful for Gary Varner.

Pray for Gary’s wife, Carol, and their kids, Clayton (and Clayton’s wife, Courtney) and Jessica.  The days ahead will be filled with mourning, but also so much joy, laughter and memories.  There is nothing easy about saying good-bye to a loved one.  But we do not mourn as those who have no hope.

Gary is in the presence of the Almighty King.  He is standing before the throne.  There is no more pain, no more sorrow.  We say goodbye but for a time.  But for those left behind, especially those closest to him, the time will be filled with difficult moments.  Pray for strength, for peace and for comfort in the days ahead.

Tonight we will all listen to Gary speak one last time.  He wrote out his memorial service himself.  For those that knew him, that’s not a surprise.  It even makes you smile, probably, because…of course he did!  He’s going to get the last word.

I have no doubt it will be a good one.

Where Two Or More Are Gathered

10I was fifteen years old.  A sophomore coming out of a time of rebellion.  I was dealing with a lot of questions and deep hurts.  Some of the questions are still unanswered, some were the creation of youthful immaturity.  But the fact remains, my soul was ripe for harvest.

I was approached one Sunday afternoon about an upcoming mission trip to the former Soviet union with an organization called Student Venture.  “Would you like to come?” he asked.

I blinked.

“Let me ask my parents,” I replied.

How does one ask her parents if she can go to the former USSR for Spring Break? 

Turns out, I didn’t have to do much convincing.  My parents were not only supportive but were quite excited for me to take this trip.  I am indebted to them for their willingness to push my brother and I to experience life to the full. 

And so it came that in March of 1994, I embarked on a journey that would forever alter the course of my life.  And the man who led me on that journey was Gary Varner.  For two weeks, Gary led our team through the streets of Belarus, and on a side trip to Moscow.  Because we were not that far removed from the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, we were treated like rock stars.  It was baffling and exhilerating to be followed and clung to.  We visited schools and shared the Gospel of Christ, we put on night time events, we made friends, we traveled on public trams and buses, we visited Lenin’s tomb and stood before St. Basil’s cathedral, we played wicked April Fool’s day pranks and we laughed much but slept little.

I came home a changed young woman.  Suddenly life was no longer about me.  And I knew I would be back.  Not just because I felt an odd kinship to that area of the world, but because I couldn’t imagine a better way to serve, learn and grow than under Gary’s leadership.

Two more times, I returned to the former USSR with Gary and his wife Carol.  They became a guiding force in my life, pouring countless hours into my development as a young woman.  They prayed for me and with me.  They held me accountable and challenged me.  And they were a grand example of living out the calling of God with passion and zeal. 

I grew such a passion for that area of the world, in fact, that I decided to minor in Russian in college.  I even lived in Ukraine for a time, studying the language and reveling in a culture that has become like a second home to me.  Today, my children are learning Russian.

All of this because Gary took notice of my yearning heart and poured into me as a fifteen year old.  He didn’t have to.  He could have passed me over, assuming me too spiritually immature for such a trip.  But he didn’t.  He believed in me and he continued to encourage me throughout those very confusing years called adolescence.

Over the years, as life ebbed and flowed, I lost contact with Gary and Carol on a regular basis.  We kept up via the cyber world and through mutual friends and I learned how Gary’s ministry in Russia grew and expanded.  For some reason, the door never really opened for me to go on another trip with Gary.  Part of that was my fault – I let the business of life convince me that taking off on a mission trip for two weeks was simply too difficult.  Part of it was simply circumstances.

This past November, Gary was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.  And he has been in a fight for his life since that moment.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege to see my former mentor again – to soak up his wisdom and wit in person once more.  And I realized how much I had missed him.  And in the three hours that I spent sitting in Gary’s living room, he blessed me in a most profound way.

The cancer, and the treatment required to fight this particular brand of disease, has left him in a lot of pain and with little ability to do much other than sit, think and pray.  And, of course, pour into the hearts of those who come to see him.

When my friend Lindsey, who was with me visiting Gary, asked him what his times with the Lord have been like he stopped and thought.  “I can tell you what they haven’t been,” he said with a smile.  “I determined from the moment I heard the diagnosis that I would not ask God ‘Why.‘  It’s not my position to question the Sovereignty of the God of the Universe.  And to be quite honest, God doesn’t owe me any explanation.”

I’ve mulled over Gary’s words quite a bit in the last couple of months.  And I have fought the urge to ask the question myself.  But Gary is right.  God is Sovereign.  I don’t understand Him.  I’ll never understand Him.  For all of eternity, I will be in awe of Him.  So who am I to question His Sovereignty?

This Sunday, June 27  has been deemed an International Day of prayer for Gary Varner.  For over twenty years, Gary served overseas, working with orphans, teenagers, newlyweds, and the elderly.  He has been the hands and feet of Christ and the thousands who have directly benefited from his sacrificial love want to gather now on his behalf.

Would you consider joining with us in prayer for Gary this Sunday? 

Here are a few ways you can pray:

  • Pray for a miraculous healing of Gary’s body.  Medically speaking, the kind of cancer that Gary has doesn’t look good.  But we serve a God who is the Great Physician – the Gentle Healer.  May we pray with boldness, placing our urgent request before Him.
  • Pray for Gary and his wife Carol as they deal with the stresses of chemotherapy.  The regiment Gary is on now is brutal – pray for strength to endure.
  • Pray for Gary’s children.  His son, Lt Clayton Varner is currently stationed in Iraq.  Pray for his safety and return to the US in August.  Gary’s daughter, Jessica, is currently serving in Athens, Greece with Campus Crusade for Christ.  Pray for her safety and protection in that unstable environment.
  • Pray that Gary, who is also an accomplished writer and author, would be able to finish the second installment of his popular novel.  Outside of missions, Gary has a deep love for writing, but the chemo has left him unable to finish his book.  Pray that he would have miraculous moments of clarity throughout his days to be able to release the creative giant inside.  As a writer myself, I know and understand how desperate it feels to have pent up creativity and no way to release it.

I’m sorry this post was so long, but my urgent and desperate hope is that thousands of people would unite and lift this man up on Sunday and that together we would all be partakers in God’s unfailing miracles.

If you would like to join the thousands who will be praying for the Varners, would you do me a favor and leave a comment letting me know?  I’d like Gary and Carol to have tangible evidence of the working and moving of the Spirit through the faithful prayers of many. 

Thanks everyone!