Be careful what you name your children–they might live up to their name in ways you could not imagine. Aaron, his middle name was more of a hope, a prayer that he might be able to speak for others unable to speak for themselves, just like Moses’ brother did. Be careful what you name your children.
As a little boy Josh’s endless curiosity about how things worked was only surpassed by his endless energy. I got him a little set of kid’s tools which turned into a big mistake as he began to take things apart just to see how they worked. I came to dislike the word "Why" as the endless stream flowed from his lips...My favorite answer of course, " Go ask mommy." We were glad to have a large family and friends who wanted to "share the joy," which we freely and often did to rest. You should know however that his first word was not "why", but the word, "Damn." A word which did not refer to the structures of mud and branches made by those loveable furry builders in nature , but rather it was a kind part of the sentence structure that appears when you are behind some knot head in rush hour traffic. I suppose right then and there we should have know this boy was no ordinary child.
Josh jumped into pre-school without a whimper and never looked back, much to the sorrow of his mom and the joy of his exhausted dad. From the first day he began a long history of breaking the hearts of little girls those tear dropped shaped blue eyes and his always entertaining antics. His teachers loved him, but they couldn’t get him to sit still. His attention was short and his energy was expansive. The reports began to flow in, "If Joshua could apply himself to his studies the way he applies himself to his social life, he would be a straight A student." If I had a nickel for every time I heard those words over those years through high school Josh would never have had to worry about his school debts.
He began to fall behind very early on in school with his ability to focus on reading and written tasks extremely difficult. Yet his ability to recall complex facts and tasks both astounded and confused us. A little boy that would ask, "Dad what’s beyond infinity? Does God live there?" certainly could not be having problems learning at school. He was smart, he was outgoing, but it was becoming very clear that he could not fit into the structure of Eden Christian Academy. They loved him, but they couldn’t handle him. The professionals told us he had Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) perhaps then a catchall diagnosis for kids that just don’t fit, yet the diagnosis brought both resources and challenges we had never faced before.
When people describe your child as "different" it is first of may "D" words that tend to follow like disability, disorder, and deficit. But no kid really wants to be different and no parent wants the attention that comes with being different. Frustration and anger began to build in Joshua because he was different. He could learn by listening in ways other people could never imagine but school tends to focus’ on reading and writing not on hearing and remembering. He was different, remembering, and challenging what he heard. Even as a child he saw the world from a view point that other people didn’t take the time to look for. We try to help those who are different by telling them they are special. Special classrooms. Special teachers. Special Education. Gee who really wants to be special!
Children can be incredible cruel to those who are different. Kids who are different are sometimes taunted, isolated, embarrassed, and made the butt end of jokes and pranks. Such pain, anger and frustration molds and forms a persons life or it shatters it. Kids handle it in different ways, they withdraw, they act up and act out, and they over compensate. Josh couldn’t decide so he did all. If I had a nickel for every time Josh was sent to the principle’s office or I was called about him, Josh would never have had to worry about his school debts. Josh got in fights–a lot of them. He once told the principal of the school she was "demon possessed" which made for an interesting conversation about my theological views. And he become the class clown, chief prankster, and became the organizer of many events of dubious value. Even in grade school the teachers were amazed at the complexity of his social skills and his ability to gather along the innocent to organize mischief.
The tears, struggles and conflict of those days were made bearable because a team of loving and caring people who invested themselves in our lives and in Josh. Teachers, Teachers Aids, Tutors, Doctors, Programs, Universities, Prayer Warriors, Babysitters, Huggers, Listeners, Advocates, Sunday School Teachers, Youth Pastors, Family and Friends. People offered what they had and we saw a change occurring in Joshua. We made a very reasoned and difficult choice to refuse the quick fix offered by medications and opt for the less traveled road of discipline, consistency, hard fought progress, and lots and lots of tears. It was a joint effort, a battle plan with many fresh reinforcements and we needed them.
When Josh was a little boy the experts talked about how his brain could rewire itself and as he grew up it did in exceptional ways, except the "spelling part." That part he inherited from me, so we didn’t work on it so much. He excelled, he pursued, and he grew. Our despair turned into cautious hope. He was making great progress and he refused to ever accept the label that he had ADD. In reality, that label mattered little, because we were amazed at who he was becoming. Somewhere along the way he agreed that God had made him different not to frustrate him but to make him a gift
In February of 1996, age 15 Josh, my mother, my cousin Michele joined me on a short term missions trip to the Dominican Republic. If you have the opportunity to take your kids do so. If you don’t want to go and they do, send them. It’s cheaper that either bail or attorneys fees. And for some of them, like Josh it changed his view of the world and the people in it. He saw how people with little earthly possessions were content and filled with a fiery passion for God.
While there Josh got ill one morning after working the previous day in the 100+ degree heat of the Carribean sun and had to be left behind at the home we were staying in. He was very sick, feverous, and vomiting and I had to be at the job site to lead the team. Our Dominican host, a mother of two kids insisted that she would be his mother and I must go. Little did I know that she would call together the women of the church who would gathered around his bed lay hands on his body and prayed fervently for the Lord to heal him – and God did. When I got back home I heard him laughing in the court yard with the son of our host, a young man his age who was also struggling with his own walk with God. Josh and Patricio had hit it off, two young rebels talking about life and the struggle to follow Jesus. He later told me that Patricio’s mom said that God allowed him to be sick so that he could stay home and talk to Patricio. Patricio cried when Josh left. Josh left all of his clothes including his brand new expensive Nike shoes for Patricio and I cried! But he also left part of himself in the Dominican Republic that change him.
When he arrived home he was filled with a new passion to do something for God but he felt confined and maybe even defined, as the Pastor’s kid in our little church. His still loved driving the Cornerstone youth leaders crazy, but getting him up for church each Sunday became more and more difficult. One Sunday morning he announced, "Our Church is stupid, I’m not going there anymore." I responded, "Ok, fine, so where are you going to live?" "Everybody gets up and goes to church, so get your but out of bed and find someplace else to go or find someplace else to live." His mother cried on the way to church and when we came home he was gone!
Much to my relief he had gone to church. His rebellion took him to Allison Park Church, a place where his high school friends had invited him at a critical point in his life. There he didn’t have to deal with his Dad as Pastor. But Pastor Cal, Pastor Jeff and dozens of people whose names I never knew saw possibilities in Josh. Soon the rebel was given a cause. And God’s people at Allison Park discipled him, trained him, and set him to leading and eventually multiplying teen small groups. God used this church to see his possibilities, direct his energy, and point him toward Jesus and the kingdom. I admit, it was a hard thing in those days feeling rejected by my son and yet proud of him at the same time. But Cathy and I made the hard choice to trust him in the hands of Jesus and Allison Park Church, it was one of the hardest and best decisions we ever made.
His passion to serve God was growing, but he rejected out of hand any notion that he might be called to a life dedicated to full time ministry. He wanted to serve God, but he saw serving Jesus as something people should be doing no matter what their job or profession. He believed God had set other people aside for full-time ministry, but he saw himself as one who would support himself and others. And so he left for Roberts Wesleyan College to pursue engineering and while he took practical jokes and pranks to levels that resulted in numerous calls and letters from the administration of the college. If I had a nickel, "O well you get the point." One call pointed out that Josh had orchestrated a group to create a social networking site for Roberts students to express themselves about everything. If only he had called it Myspace or Facebook! The website was so popular that it came up 1st in search engines horrifying the college staff when students would rate how interesting a professor’s class was or describe their view of today’s special in the cafeteria. It was a hard fought negotiated settlement when I convinced Josh to give up the website and Roberts agreed to give up the idea of expelling him.
In the midst of imaginative and outrageous pranks that usually went way, way too far God continued to speak to Joshua. He began to see that engineering while a good profession was not the place that God was tugging. Mildred Uhler gave Josh a book called "Jungle Pilot, The Life and Witness of Nate Saint" which then led Josh to read "Through the Gates of Splendor" by Elizabeth Elliot. That story is the account of a group of young missionaries attempting to take the Gospel to an unreached tribe in Equator known for violence and murder. In 1956 five of those missionaries, husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons were martyred. Their story was the story of selfless abandonment for the Good News of God’s Forgiveness and Hope. The story of these 5 martyred men captured Joshua and he began to send Jim Elliots words to me "He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose." Josh would re-read that story many, many times during the difficulties of his journey. On November 25, 2002 Josh wrote " I finished reading a few chapters of Jim Elliot’s book. This man who died almost 50 years ago could be a close friend! Bringing new light to my life and value of Jesus Christ." God used that story to place an outrageous dream in his heart, he was going to be a missionary pilot and use these skills help take the Gospel to far away places.
In 2002 Josh left Roberts and jumped into Geneva College and Beaver County Community College’s Flight program with abandoned. He had never even been on either campus. It wasn’t easy for him but it was good. He had a determination both to ground his faith and to get his wings. He worked hard, played hard, prayed hard and shared his outrageous dream to anyone who would listen. And along the way he organized may a prank or two or three. At Geneva he built friendships and was fortunate to be mentored by wonderful men and women of God. He became a son in the home of so many great christian families, he soaked up great counsel and relished in the life long relationships he created. He was hopeful and had his goals in mind, but he wasn’t always as focused as he wanted to be. Still things were progressing in both his flying and in his studies.
In December 2004 after a number of months of having weakness in his left hand he finally went to see the Doctor. That visit was to change our family in ways we could never imagine. The symptoms greatly alarmed his physicians and at first pointed menacingly toward the possibility that he might have ALS, a merciless killer of the young. You who have entered into such a long nightmare understand the darkness and terror we felt. Our lives become shards of glass shattered from the windows of our dreams and hope. For over a year day after day we braced for the worse and clung desperately to God. We ate the bread of sorrow and drank the cup of tears. Then in January of 2006, after 12 months of battling the Insurance company, dozens of trips to the top Doctors in the nation, and prayer around the world, Josh had neurosurgery in the upper quadrant of his shoulder. There were no guarantees and our options were exhausted. After the surgery we held our breath and waited as the time ticked off the clock and things began to improve in his left hand. The best medical minds could not really say why the surgery worked but we knew that God had touched Josh from whatever had effected him. We accepted that Joshua had been given back to us from the very door of death. It changed our view and his forever.
The intensity of his passion to serve God and the focus of his vision took on new urgency for Josh and he was impatient to get to the field of service. He had been given the second chance so many people talk about but never act upon–he was not about to mess it up. But his challenges were far from over. His illness had pushed his flight training to the background and the Flight School he had been training with went out of business. It was a set back as he tried to finish his flight ratings with new instructors in a new school. Battered but not broken in September of 2006 he left Geneva College so that he could complete his aircraft mechanics A & P training at Missionary Aviation Institute at Piedmont Baptist College. Then in September of 2007 he returned to Geneva College and completed his Bachelors degree in 2008–though he actually graduated in 2006–it’s a Josh thing—to difficult to explain. After returning in 2008 he worked for Moore Aviation as an aircraft mechanic and eventually the parts manager. There he gained on the job experience and continued to get his flight training.
Josh was 7 years into his Call to Missions and he was willing go. But Missions Organizations all made it clear, you can’t have the burden of school debt and financially survive on the field. Their reasons are valid and grounded in the reality that missionaries seldom have the means to pay debt and pay their day to day living cost. And so Josh’s school debt became a nemesis to him, an enemy, a road block from his dreams, a threat to his drive and passion to serve Jesus. He lived frugally pummeling his debt with near every cent he made. He went dumpster diving to retrieve books to sell on ebay, mowed lawns, flew across country to inspect airplanes, sold hotdogs at Geneva’s homecoming, went to garage sales, and more recently become the world sales leader in Obama Bobblehead dolls, selling as many as 10 a month. Sure wish those dolls had come along back when the opinion polls were at 80% ! He was passionate to serve and sacrificed comfort to press on to his goal. He wanted so badly to get on to the field but was frustrated that like so many of his friends his delay was because of he had spent his money and accumulated debt preparing to go and fulfill his passion to serve. In the meantime he waited on God, built friendships, served others and prayed for God to help him to get to the fields white with harvest.
It was in early April of 2009 that a fellow flew in to the airport where Josh worked. Josh gassed up his plane and did what Josh always did, he made a new friend. The story of what happened next is amazing, an still unfolding in God’s plan. Divine moments come in unexpected ways when your open to God, even when you are just doing your job to gas up the airplane. It was indeed a divine moment when God took two people seeking his will and caused them to meet each other just at the right time. That friendship opened hearts and doors. As a result on on January 2, 2010 Josh left Pittsburgh for Florida to work in the Missions organization founded by the son of Nate Saint, one of his heros from that very story in nine years earlier that spoke to Joshua. His years of outrageous dreams had been given a boost by Walter, a most unlikely acquaintance in a most unlikely place. For that Walt our gratitude is large and we praise God for what he did for both of you.
A few weeks ago, in early April 2010, Josh and I spoke on the phone about how he hoped to be in South America by this time next year or maybe Africa. He didn’t care where, just that he could go. He spoke of how his banner towing was paying down his school debts. We spoke about his friends who just like him longed to serve God but were blocked by the realities of finance. We spoke of his dreams for the people around him. We talked about the people he was meeting along the way. We talked about marriage, love, sacrifice and the amazing journey God had privileged him to be on. He was thankful, passionate and focused about his Call to Missions.
As his dad I worried about the intensity of his future focus with so much drive and determination. "Josh, you need to enjoy the journey," I told him. "Remember that God has done one unexpected thing after another in your life and it’s never been quite as you planned." " Josh, realize that where you expect to be is not where God may ultimately send you." "I know Dad," I just want to be serve God and I need to get over there." I continued, "God likes to do the unexpected, maybe your already where your supposed to be and don’t know it yet. After all, Josh did you ever imagine your Dad would be the Pastor of an African Church in the middle of North Hills of Pittsburgh?" We both laughed and talked about the crazy divine detour that God had brought to Cornerstone Church with more than 100 Africans now calling me their Pastor. "Enjoy the journey son, that’s part of God’s plan too." I love you Josh." "I love you Dad." "See ya in a couple of weeks for vacation." "Later Dad."
Joshua was not perfect, it is a fact most of you would attest to. He challenged authority, let practical jokes go far, and loved junk food. But Joshua knew God. He had a real relationship with Jesus that he penned often in closing his letters, "In his grip," and "Undeserving of His Grace." His life demonstrated that Christians can have fun and wake up in the morning remembering what they did (but perhaps wondering why in the world Josh convinced them to do it!) Of course, there were things in life he regretted and repented from. Yet he lived for Jesus with passion for hurting people, stood up for the oppressed and was always hopeful for those who were straying. Because he had experienced God’s forgiveness, his healing touch and the warmth of the Holy Spirit he felt he needed to share that gift with others by actions and by words. His dreams were outrageous, but they also included the dreams of many of the people around him. At times I would send him money to help him only to have him in turn send it to someone else to help their ministries. It made me both angry, crazy and caused me to love him for his generosity even more. In one of his favorite books, The Dream Giver Bruce Wilkinson writes, "One thing I know: God is not intentionally hiding your Dream from you. It’s already in you. It’s already who you are. Your opportunity is to discover it. Josh wrote in the margin " God has a Big dream he has put inside each one of us. Find out what it is he has for you & pursue it with everything you have." What is the dream that God had put in your heart and how might it be used for His Glory?
People call the plane crash in Florida an "accident." Is it? Or is it part of God’s loving plan used in the larger view of eternity to shock us to determine ourselves to come to the life that is "really life." The truth is that Joshua might have died in any of dozen close calls he had in the normal everyday course of his adventurous life. Josh could have chosen to live his life only for himself and one day lay dying from pneumonia in a nursery home full of regret for the better choice he might have made. Instead at the height of his passion for God and pursuing his dream with all his strength he had the high privilege of meeting Jesus face to face. What about you?
The final entry in Josh’s surviving journal is from January 1, 2010 as he prepared to depart the pattern for Florida rushing headlong in the center of his dreams and God’s will for his life. Josh writes:
I look to much to the past and maybe too far towards the future! I Dwell on these things often, but I shouldn’t. They Bond & Enslave Me! I hold too much. Instead I should give to God. I pray this year that I do not hold on to the past but rather learn from my mistakes and move forward.
May my burdens be lifted. May Jesus fill its space. I am a wretched person when blow comes to blow! Living lukewarm does nothing to satisfy my soul. May my warmth be heated up. May I boil and spill heating others lives. For now may I just focus on having an internal flame that grows. May I find freedom in Jesus, May sin fall under my feet. (Joshua’s Journal: January 1, 2010)
His prayer is also our prayer for you.
Mike, Cathy, Bekah, Joshua
This site was last updated 10/05/10