In the year 2000, my family showed up at Westside Church pretty much wondering: what the heck are we doing here? It was very different than our former church and it was – to say the least – a little hard to find our fit. It was especially difficult for our 13-year-old. In a youth ministry that was literally built around a giant skateboard park, Oneighty attracted a lot of colorful kids with a lot of interesting issues like addictions and cutting and depression. Oneighty was awesome at loving those kids and helping them find hope and home. They weren’t, however, quite as sure what to do with the really tough ones: the home schooled kids. Steve and I quickly grew to love Westside, but Whitney was miserable. You know the saying, “You’re only as happy as your saddest child?” Well, it pretty much defined our first few months in our new spiritual home. We prayed, cried, reassessed and believed for breakthrough.
I remember the day things changed. Whitney came home and told me about a couple that helped lead the group – Jon and Corina Burgess. They had reached out to her and asked if she was willing to lead worship for a missions trip that they were planning. She was shocked to be asked, scared to death to say yes, but completely in love with Team Burgess. Jon pushed and prodded and made her stretch spiritually in ways that she had never needed to before. He believed in her when others didn’t. He yelled at her when others wouldn’t. And he never let her believe less about herself than he felt Jesus did. The seeds he planted in her life remain today and will find their way to the next generation.
Over and over, I saw Jon do the same thing with kid after kid after kid. He just refused to let go. He prayed and taught them how to pray. He contended with the plans of the evil one and taught them to do the same thing. He stirred up the gifts inside himself every day and then he stirred everyone else. “Stir” is actually a good word for it because he definitely stirred things up. Sometimes kids were frustrated, sometimes parents were angry, sometimes people didn’t like the constant pushing…but Jon believed in the eternal impact of what he was doing. Looking back, I feel like Jon – without even realizing it – was living double time.
One of the interesting markers of Jon’s life is that he had only one eye. An accident had cost him the other one and consequently he dealt with lots of issues with infection and had several surgeries related to it. After a surgery last week, he was recovering but in a lot of pain and one morning he just didn’t wake up. Jon was 37 years old and leaves behind his wife, Corina, sons Lance and Taylor and daughter Riley. In addition, he leaves behind countless spiritual sons and daughters who will run hard to pursue the prize of the high calling of Jesus as they hear Jon’s voice in the background saying, “Come on! You can do this!”
I can say without any reservation: no one besides Steve & I has ever believed in our daughter the way Jon and Corina have. I’m awed and humbled that someone would care about her potential so deeply. Just a month or so before his death, Jon and Corina were still speaking into Whit’s life…even though they live far away and we hadn’t seen them in several years, and now they lead a huge ministry of their own – they still hadn’t let go of Whitney and their belief in her destiny.
Bottom line, Jon Burgess was a rare gift. A Believer with a capital B. In Jesus. In people. In the next generation. When I heard he had gone onto heaven, I first felt punched in the gut…and then I started to think about that stupid thing we say about people who die: Rest in Peace. Man, I hate that. RIP. Yuck. Jon doesn’t want to rest in peace and neither do I. So, in memory of Jon Burgess, I’m proposing DFJ for our new saying.
Here is the video they played at his celebration service.
Dance for Joy, Jon Burgess. Dance for Joy. We will see you soon.