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?