A Tribute to My Youth Pastor – And What Real Faith Looks Like

“Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” – Corrie Ten Boom

I remember the day well. We were at my parent’s house in Gainesville, Georgia, swimming at our boat dock with our youth group from church. We had a new youth pastor whose name was Dane Burk. I had really liked our previous youth pastor and was trying, in my fifteen-year-old sort of way, to prove loyalty to him by rejecting Dane. That day, my heart softened a bit towards Dane and accepted him as my new youth pastor….or at least that is the way it went, according to Dane’s journal, which he read to me months later after we were close friends.

What he read to me from his journal went something like this, “Today Laura, Jonathan, and Kristin threw me into the lake. I think they have finally accepted me!” From that point on, me and my closest girl friends (and, of course, all the guys too – but who cared about them, right?? 🙂  spent a lot of time with Dane.  We went hiking on the Appalachian Trail for days at a time, ate uncooked S’mores Poptarts and made up silly trail songs, and had vibrant faith discussions. We went spelunking and did ropes courses (did I mention Dane loved to do extreme sport/crazy competitive type stuff? I don’t remember him “letting” us win, which I think was/is a great trait of his!). When me and my friends decided we wanted to go deeper in our Bible study times, he created “Silvermine,” an in depth bible study on Saturday mornings over lots of coffee (this is when I started drinking it – 15 years old!) and danishes.

We also went on missions trips at home and abroad. Dane saw me through several boyfriends, tons of faith-oriented questions, and even some pretty devastating failures. His rock-solid faith in God helped me to trust Him, too, and the more I learned about God myself, the more I saw that I could indeed put my trust in this man called Christ. So much of my faith journey during those crucial, formative, sensitive, and impacting years (it is really   hard to over-state the impact of those adults who choose to reach out to teenagers with God’s love, imho) included Dane at my right hand as a spiritual friend and guide as I passed through the (sometimes) treacherous waters of adolescence.

Fast-forward almost two decades. While I have kept up with Dane here and there through emails primarily, we haven’t really stayed in touch the way I am sure we both would have liked to ideally – its all part of that understanding that comes with maturity that some people are meant to be in our lives primarily for a “season.” But this week, I got an email from someone in my youth group growing up. Dane had been diagnosed with a serious brain tumor. He would be going through surgery today (Friday, September 6th, 8am).

While some people hang in with youth for awhile in a pastoral role (and I don’t blame those people – its challenging, for sure!), Dane has made pastoring youth a life-long career and journey. I don’t know those kids who he is working with now, but I do know that he is having a wonderful impact in their lives. Why? Because I know Dane.

This week, I got some emails from Dane with updates on his surgery and how he is doing. I also kept up with him on Facebook and was able to see where he was at with the idea of having brain surgery.

From one of his emails: “Our faith is strong. We trust in God completely. We have no regrets. We feel that God will be glorified in this and can think of no better place to be….I have full confidence in my God. No doubts. Full trust. It is a wonderful place to be.

He has also mentioned how he has been carried through this trial by the prayers of all those who have surrounded him and stood with him in this in a personal interview he did.

On Facebook, just 11 hours before surgery, Dane shared, “up, ready, praying, resting in The Lord. Knowing I’ve got more prayer backing me than anyone in the world. Isn’t God good, no matter what?”

Its often been said that its easy to trust God when everything is going well in your life. But, when life throws you a curveball, when a very hard test comes your way, it shows, or proves, rather, what you really believe….

As 1 Peter 1:6-7 states, “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” Or as The Message version translates so beautifully, “Pure gold put in the fire comes out of it proved pure; genuine faith put through this suffering comes out proved genuine.

My friend Dane Burk reminds me today that faith is not about an outcome or a prognosis. Faith isn’t about circumstances going our way. Faith is about trusting in the goodness and character of an unseen but known God. For Dane, Jesus Christ is his best friend. He has walked with Him through ups and downs and highs and lows of life. And now, at a moment of great trial, when his faith is being held over a “hot fire” for all to watch, all I see is gold. And I give thanks, and remind myself and my kids,”this is what real faith looks like,” and give glory to God.

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Laura M. Thomas is writer and editor at This Eternal Moment. A homeschooling mom to three little girls, she loves writing, reading, the great outdoors, and afternoon nap times.

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