Today is my friend’s birthday. I believe he would be 49 today. It’s been almost 32 years since I knelt by his grave and said “so long” to my friend. Kenneth Booher was a friend to many.
He was the quarterback on the high school football team, played baseball, and was active in our church youth group. I remember him as the life of our youth group. Everyone loved him. Though he was popular, he remained humble and sought after Jesus with all he had. Kenneth had the brightest future of all of us when he was taken from us.
The summer before the accident in 1983, my father took a job in another state and my parents and I moved away. I had grown up in the church and in recent years had become deeply involved in our youth program. We went to youth rallies, camp, an annual convention, and I was actively involved in just about every church activity that was available. Moving away was hard for me because I was forced to walk away from a central part of my life, one where Kenneth was an integral part.
I had known Kenneth since our earliest days in Sunday School. However, we didn’t really get to know one another until we started our teens and friendships began to develop. As a young person I was often mocked because I have a moderate to severe hearing loss. It was always difficult for me to understand conversations and it was an easy thing for cruel peers to use this to score. It hurt, but I remember Kenneth taking special care to get to know me. He accepted me as I was. It was largely because of him that I became active in our youth group.
During those subsequent years, we grew to become friends, though he had a very large circle of friends. He always included me and made me feel like a part of the group. He had that ability with everyone he met. As our friendship grew, Kenneth and I became close on a spiritual level. We prayed together and when I moved away we became pen pals. I wrote many of my friends from the youth group, but Kenneth kept up with me when many of the others didn’t.
During that time we had been talking about attending and rooming together at Milligan College. I was on the fence, but I knew God had great plans for us. I just wasn’t sure what I was going to do or where I was going. Though I had considered it, I didn’t feel a calling into the ministry. I had a gift with computers and thought my contributions would be made in Computer Science. Milligan didn’t have a Computer Science program and I didn’t have the funds set aside to pay for a private school. So, I’m not sure if things had been different if it would have worked out, but I know I would have remained a part of his life.
Kenneth wanted to go into youth ministry and because of his charisma I believe he would have made some amazing impact on our generation to follow. Even so, Kenneth shared with me his thoughts about giving all to Jesus. As he put it, “All is a mighty big word for just 3 letters”. Even in his last days I’ve always felt that he would have sacrifice his life for a complete stranger if it would have shown them a way to Jesus. He just had that kind of heart.
Many of us lost our innocent view of the world that year, but because of Kenneth’s witness and friendships at least 5 people came to Jesus.
Kenneth shared with me some his challenges during this time of his life. He had a lot of pressures on him, expectations, and was struggling to do the right thing. Nevertheless, he was determined to do the right thing no matter the cost and he told me as much in his letters. Those same letters contained words of encouragement that will stay with me for the rest of my days.
I’ve read Kenneth’s last letter many times over, and the way it’s written it’s as if he was giving me a lifetime of advice. It was as if he knew, but didn’t know of the events that would shortly follow. How he knew I would need these words of wisdom over the course of all these years is a mystery that only the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life can explain. He allowed God to work through him to prepare and minister to me for a lifetime. Even after 32 years his life and words are still impacting me, still encouraging me, and still helping me focus on Jesus.
It hasn’t been easy for many of us, his close friends. I know I wasn’t the only one who took his passing hard. I’ve shed a lot of tears and some even as recently as the past year when these old wounds were reopened by the sudden passing of one of the youth in my church youth group. I serve as a middle school guys group leader in my church. CJ was one of my students and I got to know him from our Wednesday nights and the 180 weekend retreat.
During that weekend, we were doing a service project with the kids and I was walking with CJ back to our starting point after having collected food for the Mount Holly CRO. CJ sprained his foot and was limping so I picked him up and was carrying him up the hill. It was at that moment that I remembered Kenneth and the Holy Spirit revealed to me that our group was to experience something similar to what I had experienced then. I didn’t know who or what at the time, but I sensed that we’d be dealing with death. I began praying for our team and seeking God’s will to work through this. I don’t know why God revealed this to me and I can not explain it other than to say that it was very real and it happened. That night CJ committed his life to Jesus. A few weeks later he was in his arms.
Because of my experience with loosing Kenneth, I have a deeper understanding what my group of kids are still going through. Some of them will be dealing with this 32 years from now. It makes me see that even this was part of God’s plan all along. Even after 32 years God is still working through Kenneth’s life.
For that, I am eternally grateful and when my days come to an end, I’ll be looking for Kenneth along side my Lord and I’m sure CJ won’t be far either.
Happy Birthday Kenneth! Wishing you a joyous day in Heaven and praying that you see how much you are loved and how your life even now continues to impact others here on this side of eternity.