I have lost another important man in my life to prostate cancer. Damn.
In 1992, I was 20 something and my spirit was broken. My dream of being a teacher was no longer my desire, and I just wanted to find somewhere to finish my college degree. Eastern Mennonite College (University today) was my answer. I only needed three classes to complete my major, and a few required freshman classes to meet their graduation requirements. That is how my path crossed with Ray Gingerich.
From the first moment of the first class I felt my spirit stir. I was in a class full of 18 year olds and Ray was asking questions like “How do you know there is a God?” and “Are there really angels? Are they in this room right now?” The shock and horror was palpable. But for me, his questions were lifegiving. Ray was animate and energetic, with a beautiful smile and quick wit. I can see him standing there, rocking back and forth, deep in a theological conundrum-- pushing those young people to get out of the theological boxes they had been raised in and to really own their faith.
This is the most meaningful class I have ever taken.
One of our assignments from the first day of class, was the fill out a chart about different faith traditions. Down the rows on the left were labels including “Person and Nature of Jesus” and “The Human Being and Evil.” The columns included “Orthodoxy,” “Liberalism” and “Anabaptism.” We were to use our many textbooks and other resources to fill in the corresponding boxes with that faith traditions views on those topics. The first day of class was in September, and the assignment was due just before Thanksgiving.
At some point in early November the due date was extended to after Thanksgiving. I remember thinking, “Oh, I guess I better get started on that assignment.” On the day before Thanksgiving, I climbed into a car with three other students and we began a trek from Harrisonburg, VA toward Indiana where I was going to spend the holiday with my parents and my mom’s family. With the deadline looming, I spent those three days visiting with family, and frantically filling in those boxes.
The next week I turned that project in and forgot about it. The projects were returned to us just before finals in December, and mine said, “A fine piece of work- a bit skimpy at points. Ever thought about going into Theology & religion, Juel? You have excellent insights & understanding. 47/50 RG”
That comment ignited a spark which grew into a Master’s Degree from Eastern Mennonite Seminary and shaped the next 25 years of my life.
Ray, I know that there are hundreds more stories like this one out there, you were a blessing, an inspiration and a positive influence on each of us. Thank you.