Back in the 1980s several fine men in Lake Havasu, Arizona, got in touch with me after they had begun to listen to sermons of mine on tape. (This was pre-Internet so tapes were made and mailed by my local church, some even going overseas and to many small groups around the country.) These men, and their families, soon became friends. At first they were part of a small group who listened to my sermons on cassette tape for group study. One of these brothers, who drove about three hours to finally meet me in person, was David Stopke. David then drove me back to the Phoenix Airport. We became good friends over time. David would write me and we would also talk more and more on the telephone. Eventually I made the journey to Lake Havasu in 1992 to speak to this small group in person. I can still recall driving across the desert to meet the group for the first time. I especially recall the time I had in David's home with his family one Sunday after we had a meeting as a group. David expressed profound love for me in asking why I had come. I knew then that we would be friends for life. This has been the case. David, and his wife Eva, would then visit Chicago and come to see us in our home. David, and his son Jesse, would never miss a major fall conference that our ministry sponsored each October. David and Jesse were often in our home. David even went along with me on several area ministry trips just to "hang out" with his good friend John. David always had a load of questions for me (almost wearing me out with all he had saved up to ask me when he could see me again). But he always loved me, listened well, and sought my prayer and counsel. We developed a real bond as brothers. I became, to some extent I think, his pastor from afar.

Last Saturday evening, around 11:30 p.m., I was awakened by a persistent knocking on my front door. When I went to see who it was and saw a policeman my heart skipped a few beats. What tragedy has happened I asked myself? The officer informed me that a policeman from Arizona wanted me to contact him because of some news related to my friend David. This man in Arizona did not have my number and could not reach me so he knew how to go through the police department to get the message to me to call. I knew, as you instinctively do on such occasions, that this was not good news I was about to hear when I phoned the policeman in Arizona Saturday evening.

Here was the story I heard. On Friday evening David and Jesse were collecting money from their various bottled water units around the city and taking the cash to the bank. It was their practice to have a handgun for personal protection. Somehow Jesse accidentally shot his father. The bullet entered David's neck and hit his vertebrae and carotid artery. Jesse's quick action stopped the bleeding long enough to save David's life. He was then airlifted to a trauma center in Las Vegas where he has been near death now for several days. If he survives he will be paralyzed from the neck down. After I got the message I called late Saturday and spoke to Jesse, assuring him that he must not allow the evil one to destroy his life. I prayed with him and promised to come out as soon as possible.

On very little sleep I had to preach yesterday, reminding me of what the pastor faces many times in the course of local church ministry. Today I completed my plans to fly to Las Vegas tomorrow to be with the Stopke family. I ask that all who read this blog will pray for me and for this precious family. David still needs surgery on the vertebrae to correct neck issues but his spine is so damaged that there is nothing to be done. He will be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of his life on earth. The resurrection will bring his new body when David walks again on the new earth (cf. Romans 8).

Of the many friends I know all over the world few would be as prepared for this tragedy as my friend David. He has a firm and deep conviction of the sovereignty of God and has walked with God in deep faith for many years. David has had many struggles but he has always had the honesty to admit them. David is not perfect, not at all. He would often tell me, with tears, about his sin and his serious attempts to overcome his battle with pride and temper as he walked with Christ. But David was always teachable and unusually courageous. And he really believed in a God of grace who worked in his personal trials and the deepest tragedies for the good of those who loved him (cf. Romans 8:38).

I am now praying for David, in life or in death, but especially for Jesse. His life will never be the same. He is a warm and loving Christian man. Pray for him as he carries on the family business and serves his dad and mom. I cannot imagine the trials that he will face in the years ahead.

Pray that my visit will be empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring Christ's love to this precious family as they sit in the ICU at a hospital in Las Vegas. The road ahead seems dark and the questions are surely many. God alone will comfort them but I pray that he uses me in some small way as their friend. Would you intercede for me to this end?

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  1. Grant April 20, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    I will be praying John. I will bring this up to our group that meets on Monday nights.

  2. Mindy McCracken April 20, 2009 at 1:22 pm

    John – Know that I am praying for your friend, his family and for you as you go to comfort and minister to them.

  3. Ed Holm April 20, 2009 at 1:48 pm

    I am so sorry for David, Jesse, their family, you and your family. This is a terrible tragedy and leaves us all to wonder where God is in such events. May He reveal himself in love, compassion and healing to you, David and all who are affected by such a horrific event.

  4. Kathy Allen April 20, 2009 at 7:23 pm

    John, I will be praying for David, Jesse, and you, as well as all the families involved. I’ll pray especially for the great power of the Lord’s Resurrection to show itself in this grim time.

  5. Rich April 20, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    You got it, John. May God use you as a prism to reflect the light, hope, comfort, and strength of Christ to David and his family.

  6. ColtsFan April 21, 2009 at 3:32 am

    This really broke my heart.
    My initial reading of this terrible tragedy led me to believe that the relationship between J.A. and David was a solid, biblical one, similar to Jonathan and David.
    My thoughts are centered on what Jesse may be experiencing right now…..
    I hope no-one questions the wisdom of carrying a weapon in Arizona today. After all, Phoenix has become the 2nd worst city in the entire world for kidnappings and violent crime. Phoenix, despite having a much, much smaller population, now only trails Mexico City in the entire world for kidnappings. The capital of Arizona has surpassed other violent world cities (San Paolo, Brazil; Johannesburg, South Africa), for it had over 370 kidnappings LAST YEAR alone.
    This sad statistic probably motivates citizens of Arizona to be armed, considering the likely crime wave spillover from Phoenix.
    I cannot imagine what I were to say to Jesse, if I was in J.A.’s shoes.
    The pain, grief, and turmoil in Jesse’s heart is unimaginable.
    I pray that Jesse (and David) cling to Jesus ever so securely.

  7. Nick Morgan April 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    You got it John, I’ll be praying for David, Jesse, you and their family. May God’s grace, love, and mercy be with you all.

  8. Ivonne April 26, 2009 at 5:28 am

    This is hardly the platform to preach about the necessity of firearms!!! Whether you think they are critical or not, this is about my cousin and his family and not about the statistics and mess that Phoenix is in that makes you feel EVERYONE SHOULD CARRY A FIREARM ANYWAY!!!! Keep your prayers for my cousin and not for the hope that people keep themselves armed.

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