More Than a Youth Pastor

December 16, 2009
His picture sits framed above my desk just like it has for the past year and a half, with not a speck of dust upon it. In it, a young American Legion baseball player, who just beat cancer, poses for his senior picture at Lawrence High School in 2000. While other boys just wanted to get their senior pics over with, he was happy he even lived to be a senior. Within the next eight years, he would marry his high school sweetheart, struggle with is wife’s infertility- followed by a yearlong adoption process, become the youth pastor of Heartland Community Church, then have it all put at risk by coming out of remission in June 2008.

It was a normal Sunday morning at Heartland Community Church. We sang three worship songs to start off the service. Those who trickled in and hovered in the foyer saw hands raised high and loud out-of-sync voices from the congregation. We were asked to be seated as we waited for the announcements to be read while Pastor Paul Gray prepared to give the sermon.

All of the elders stood at the front, looking at each other with incomprehensible expressions.

Usually only one person reads the announcements, maybe it’s someone’s birthday, I thought to myself as I flipped through the bulletin to find out whom but was unable to find anything. We all knew something was going on.

The congregation sat restlessly for what seemed like ten minutes until finally Pastor Paul walked up and got the courage to speak. Shifting from foot to foot, he slowly told us that a young member of the church has just found out he has cancer, again.

Please God, not Brandon, I begged, though I knew it was no use. Who else did I know that had actually escaped from cancer’s grip?

“Many of you know that our youth pastor, Brandon White beat cancer when he was in high school, and we praise the Lord for that. However, over the weekend, he had an appointment to go get some pain checked out that he’s been having in his hip. After numerous hours at the hospital, the doctors confirmed their suspicions- Brandon has a cancerous tumor on his hip.”

While the church joined in prayer, thoughts and questions circled in my head.

Will he live? Why is God putting him through this again? Surely he will be okay. God wouldn’t put him through it once and have him survive if he’s just going to die of it later. Does God want to see him suffer?

I eventually told myself, out of denial I suppose, that the doctors had probably caught it in time and that he was going to be okay- big mistake on my part.

The following July, Brandon had his right leg amputated and part of his hip removed to stop the spread of the cancer. We saw him at church on occasion, but because of the chemotherapy and all the pain medications he was on, he was really only there in body. The hair he had left had turned from the vibrant blonde to a dark orange. But his occasional bodily visits became less often, and soon we stopped expecting him at all. We then found out he had a tumor in his adrenal gland, which leads to the heart, and it was going to break off at any time meaning sure death.

That night, I was told he was saying his goodbyes and it was hands down the worst night of my life. I was stuck at home hearing from many other people about how they were in his hospital room with him, how terrible he looked, how this would surely be his last night. It finally set in that Brandon was going to die, and I had not gone to see him in the hospital even once in the past year.

However, and I believe this was the work of God, I was able to go visit him a week later on a Saturday morning before the week of finals. Needless to say, I knew that would be the last time I would ever see him. I was so disappointed in myself that I waited so long to go see him. I kept asking, and continue to ask myself, why I waited so long to go see him. I know it was because I thought I would break down in front of him, and I didn’t know how that would make him feel. I should have done it and just tried my best to be strong, and the regret that I didn’t is always in the back of my mind and probably always will be.

It was the week of finals, and I was at school early to meet a friend for bagels when I got a text telling me Brandon passed away at 6:43 that morning. I was hysterical. His fight with cancer and his funeral were the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with in my life and nothing could be worse. I would have gladly gone through the pain and suffering that he went through if it meant he could have lived. What hurt the most was knowing that there was nothing I could do, that he was helpless and so was everyone else on this earth- that nothing could be done about it.

Over the last year and a half, the meaning of that framed photograph has changed numerous times. First, it was a sign of hope- his young, smiling face so bright just ready to get out and play some baseball. But each day that I received more news on his worsening condition, the picture became more and more a sign of suffering. After all, the last year of his life was spent in the KU Medical Center, passing out while trying to play with his son that he so patiently waited to adopt, trying to get him to call him Daddy just one more time, throwing up constantly from the chemotherapy, and praying to God for his family and friends that his fight with cancer would bring glory to God. I am so inspired that he remained so faithful during that year. I wish I could say that if I was in the position he was in that I would be so selfless, but it would not be true. Brandon was the most amazing person I have ever known.

After he died, his picture became a symbol of what could have and should have been. I could have gone to see him more than once, but I didn’t because of my own fear of weakness. I should have raised more money when we held the Brandon White Classic. I should have prayed for him more. I should have told him I loved him the last time I saw him, and tell him all the things he helped me with throughout my years at Heartland Community Church. He was more than my youth pastor. Brandon White was my best friend, my confidant and my hero.





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