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In Memory of a Friend Who Taught Me Courage

[EDITOR’S NOTE: My friend Kevin Tan lost his life while saving one of his clients from drowining. Kevin was part of an adventure company that took teams and individuals out to be challenged and to grow togther. Kevin succeeded in saving his client, but was unable to escape the swirling currents of the river himself. He is survived by his wife and their two young children, pictured at the bottom with my parents.

Kevin was a big part of my teenage years in Malaysia, and was a de facto member of our family, eating/praying/laughing/playing often in our home. We were part of an extraordinary student ministry in Malaysia, where young people from 15-30– or maybe even a wider range than that!– were like a group of brothers and sisters, who cared for one another and helped each other grow. It often spilled over to include parents, making it a truly multi-generational ‘youth group.’ Kevin came into that group alone but quickly became a central part the family. The picture below is of him speaking at second wedding reception my parents had for us in Malaysia in the Fall of 2001. I wrote this to process my own grief and to honor his life. It will be read at his wake this week.] I woke up on Saturday morning to the tragic news of Kevin’s passing.

Kevin Tan played a huge role in my life during my teen years. He was like a big brother to me in so many ways. We were in Bible studies together, worship teams together…We played football together—and I mean both kinds of football: the kind the rest of world calls football and the kind only Americans call football! He often went with me to play drums as we led worship at various small churches and mini-seminars.

Why he let me drag him to some of these things, I’ll never know!

But then again, that was Kevin. He was always up for an adventure. A new town, a new church, a new song, a new challenge—he never shied away from any of it. And that courage was contagious. When I say that Kevin was an encouragement to me, I mean it as the word literally means: he put courage into me. He challenged me to find the edges of my comfort and to take at least one tiny step beyond it—which in my case was riding behind him on his motorcycle!

Though it has been over a decade since I’ve seen him last, and more than that since we’ve spent any real quality time together, I carry around with me the impact of Kevin’s friendship. The confidence I gained as a young man was sparked by Kevin’s influence on me. Whatever fears I let slip off of me were loosened first by Kevin’s admonishment.

Kevin lost his life the way he lived it: with courage. He put his own life in danger in order to save someone else’s. Kevin died because he took a leap—the physical embodiment of risk—to lift someone else up. This is, in his death, precisely what he has done in his life.

I know because I am one of those who has been lifted up by Kevin Tan. I am one who has had courage breathed into him because of Kevin Tan.

We will weep today. And for many more days. We will mourn because mourning is the good and proper protest to death. We know deep down inside that life was not meant to be this way. Our bodies were not made to break down. Love was not given so that it could be lost. And yet, this is how it is in a world breaking under the weight of sin.

But this is not how the world shall always be.

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

One day, Death will be defeated; every tear will be wiped away. The world itself will be made new and we will be given bodies fit for such a world.

This is what inspires our hope. And this hope is what leads us to live now with courage—the unshakable belief that for those who are in Christ, Death will not have the last say. We cannot be taken down.

I know this. And Kevin knew it too.

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