We received the news today (August 9, 2013) of a terrible car accident that claimed the life of Ryan Roach. It’s overwhelming to hear of his untimely and tragic death.
Ryan is from Benld, IL. Over the years, on different occasions, I have met his mom, dad, and his two brothers. At the time of his death, he was living in Collinsville, IL. He was 26 years old.
I first met Ryan back in the late 1990s. My brother Jackson and I and another girl from Harvest Ministry (Angie) went to his church to sing for a Sunday worship service. That evening, an 11 or 12-year-old Ryan Roach helped us with a sound set up. He was a rascal from the very beginning.
Over the next few years, I ran into him in other settings – lock-ins, youth retreats, and worship services. As he finished High School, he began traveling with Harvest Ministry here and there. He officially served on the Harvest Summer Team for three summers – 2006, 2007, and 2008. During those times, we spent lots of hours in the van and in ministry.
I could tell a million stories. From the time he tried to one-up everyone with an order at McDonald’s. I can’t remember what he got, but it cost $14.51. I remember several nights sleeping in a tent in Wisconsin. I remember he bought an air mattress so large it wouldn’t even fit in his tent. He asked if we could switch tents and we did. I remember a sunburn he got after swimming all day at Camp Dooley in GA. He had asked another Harvest guy to apply sunscreen, but Josh just ran his fingers down his back. He was totally burnt except for 8 white stripes. He loved singing the cartoon song. He was a master at the Banana’s United Song and led it every chance he got. One night in Indiana, when the wipers broke on the van, he was hanging out the window in a rain/ice storm cleaning the window as we drove. On one of our first trips together, we were traveling through southern Missouri and after stopping at a gas station, he complained that the Slim Jims and Gatorade were priced higher there than most other places. Later I came to find out he knew how much Slim Jims and Gatorade cost at almost every gas station. I also saw him speak to kids, share his testimony, and struggles, and pray with students and adults. He was a listener and had empathy for people’s problems.
We served in ministry together in the name of Jesus with many, many people, in several states and for several years.
The past two or three years Ryan walked some tough roads. I had breakfast with him at Denny’s about a year ago. I met him on a whim as I was coming home early one morning. I asked him how his faith was. He said, “Things have really been tough, but that he would never let go of Jesus.”
I think he lived that out. And if there’s one thing I can learn from Ryan Roach it is that he was the poster child for transparent living and authentic faith. At times, like all of us, his life was a mess. The choices may not always have been the wisest. But at the same time, he was seeking to figure out how to walk with Jesus and follow his steps. I think we are all that way, it’s just that we often don’t allow others to see the struggle. Ryan lived out what most may hide. It brings to mind the verse where God says, I’m interested in a broken spirit and a contrite heart. The prayer of desperation is more meaningful to me than the polished prayer of the self-righteous.
Ryan’s transparency is what helped him connect on so many levels in so many circles. In addition to being a part of Harvest, he has over the course of several years, served in other ministries, had lots of unique jobs, was trained as an EMT and Firefighter, worked in churches, worked DJ gigs, and was able to play several different instruments – guitar, bass, drums, keyboard – all of which he did in Harvest at one time or another. I watched his musical gift grow before my eyes. He was always seeking to improve. He was always on time (usually early) and was for the most part chipper and happy about things.
He was also teachable. He was always loyal to me and I trusted him. Ryan was able to build relationships with people. He remembered names, smiled a lot, was loud, and made memories. He loved to lead and was willing to serve. And he could talk to people about lots of subjects – especially food. I remember sitting in Clay, KY while three grown women listened intently as Ryan described how to make something or other. I watched the whole interaction in complete amazement.
The Harvest connection has been hit or miss over the last three years. After our impromptu Denny’s breakfast, I was able to rope him into being the “entertainment” at Fire-Up 2013 where he did improv comedy after dinner. People loved it. I knew he could do it since I’d seen him crank out two hours worth during our ministry at Christian Disciple Farm up in Sullivan, WI the previous year. This summer, I also called on him to pinch hit and serve as a worship leader for one of the kids’ camps. He did so very willingly and graciously. He took on the load and I was proud for him to wear a Harvest T-shirt nearly every day that week. In fact, his Facebook profile photo is two things he loved – wearing a maroon Harvest T-shirt while serving bacon at Beulah Camp.
Speaking of Harvest T-Shirts, I’ll never forget, after leading worship for a Baptist event in Springfield, back in 2006, he began calling XXL t-shirts “double fat”. He always loved free t-shirts. A man after my own heart.
Just two days ago, Ryan was in my office running through music to prepare for playing bass at the Christian Disciple Festival this week. We were scheduled to leave this Sunday, August 11, 2013. We went through the music and he was into it. We talked for a while and we got everything printed and ready. He showed me the Ring of Fire video he planned to do for the talent show next week. He talked about how he’s been loving being a part of the worship team at his church in Maryville. And we walked around the church looking for a ladder someone needed.
As we walked to the parking lot, I said, “I’ll see you Sunday”.
Ryan called back, “Sounds great. I’ll be here”.
I’ve been talking with different people all day today in light of the word getting out about Ryan’s death. But just this evening, my wife snapped a screenshot from Ryan’s Facebook. I became so choked up with emotion, I was a mess.
The two most inspirational people in his life – at least according to his Facebook profile – me and Jesus. Me and Jesus? The only two? I’m honored. Humbled.
I don’t deserve it. But, Lord have mercy, that he might use me in someone else’s life and soul. I’m grateful.
I’m praying for Ryan’s family and friends tonight. We find hope in God alone.
2 Corinthians 5:6-8 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
John 14:1-4 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”
LORD, you know the hopes of the helpless. Surely you will hear their cries and comfort them.
For this God is our God forever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.
Ryan, you’re my buddy. From my perspective, you’ve finished well.