In the space of six days last month, I spoke at two memorial services: one east (Philadelphia) and the other west (Chico). On the surface, the gatherings had little in common — different families with distinct narratives. But for me, the two services intertwined in significant ways.
An extraordinary woman, Yvonne lived robustly for 98 years. Widow of InterVarsity’s founder, Stacey Woods, I first met her seven years ago. The sharpness of her mind, the graciousness of her demeanor, and the regal bearing of her countenance were striking. She co-labored with Stacey in serving Inter-Varsity of Canada (1934-41), founding and leading InterVarsity/USA (1941-60), and then leading the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (1960-72).
It was a delight to meet two of Yvonne’s sons – Stephen and Geoffrey – pictured with Geri Rodman of Inter-Varsity Canada and myself. Their stories about their parents transported me back to another era: a time of flat-out entrepreneurship; a time of few staff and resources; a time of incredible faith in challenging circumstances.
Though we had different mothers, were born 17 years apart, and never lived under the same roof, my brother Dwight had a huge impact on my life. But for him, my brother Grant wouldn’t have come to Jesus. And, but for Grant, neither would have I.
Dwight’s early life was full of pain. But things changed irrevocably when he came to faith. He served with The Navigators in Asia, Europe, and the USA for nearly half a century focusing on evangelizing and discipling men.
I recall giving a talk in Singapore 14 years ago and briefly mentioning my connection with Dwight. A dozen men lined up afterwards, not to discuss my subject matter, but to let me know the impact that my brother had on their lives. I was touched when three of them — on short notice of Dwight’s passing from a brain tumor — flew to the service in California. Dwight leaves behind his lovely wife, Ruth, two wonderful children (Julie and Wes) and five grandchildren. I miss him already.
Though Yvonne and Dwight lived worlds — and a generation — apart, three common themes emerge.
First, each lived with missional passion. Yvonne sacrificed a great deal to see God’s kingdom advance on campuses around the world. Stacey traveled incessantly in a time before cell phones and email. She was as committed to the ministry as her husband was.
Likewise, Dwight was hyper-zealous about impacting men’s faith, marriages, parenting, and careers. I continue to marvel at his incredible focus. He knew what he was called to do and did it.
Second, both displayed missional fidelity over the long haul. Yvonne was in her twenties when she joined Stacey in leading the Canadian Inter-Varsity movement. Six decades later, she served as honorary vice president for IFES. Over the decades, she deeply impacted countless lives with her piety and fortitude.
Likewise, Dwight never wavered in his desire to reach men with the Gospel. Wherever Ruth and he lived – and they moved several times – he remained on topic for five decades. Remarkable.
Finally, Yvonne and Dwight embodied the spiritual discipline of radical submission. In neither life was there any question about who was Master. Early on, each decided to die to self and follow Jesus.
This practice of self-emptying — done repeatedly over long periods of time — produced two great saints. What a privilege to know and honor them.