Yesterday I had the horrible privilege of speaking at the memorial service of a former student and friend. Richard Ryan Heyroth (the one in the hat) died in a canoeing accident on August 5th. He was only 30 years old and leaves a wife and 18 month old son behind. I had the honor of knowing Rich for four years while he was a student at K-State involved in the campus ministry that I lead. He is one of those people that I am blessed for having known.
I think the hardest part of the day was talking to his father after the service. What do you say to a man who has lost his son – and a wonderful one at that? I can only hope that my presence and kind words were of some comfort to him. Personally, I’m probably still a little in shock over the whole thing, and still very sad. As a tribute to Rich, I am posting the words I shared yesterday.
From the time that I first met Rich as a sophomore who had just transferred to K-State, I knew that I was going to like the guy. Not only did Rich share a love for the guitar and the music of Bon Jovi, but he had a desire to grow in his relationship with God and to love people and point them towards Jesus. He was one of those transfer students that every campus minister dreams of meeting.
We spent many hours during the years that I mentored Rich praying for his friends and talking about how he could help them experience Jesus. One of his regular concerns was for his roommate in the dorm who was a new or young follower of Jesus. Rich spent many hours talking, praying and living life with that young man, even after they moved out of the dorm after their sophomore year into separate residences. And I have to think that Rich is one of the main reasons that young man is following Jesus today and serving as a youth pastor in his local church.
In the Bible, the apostle Peter tells us that those who follow Jesus should always be ready to make a defense to anyone who asks for a reason for the hope that is within them. And he says that they should do so with gentleness and respect. I think that is a great description of Rich. He was never the kind of guy who would beat people over the head with his faith. Instead, he loved people where they were and treated them like he thought Jesus would. And when the time was right, he would tell them why he lived like he did.
For those of you who knew him, you know that it made him a wonderful person to be around. You always felt safe with Rich. He was such an inviting person who always seemed to have room in his heart for new people. And it didn’t matter if you didn’t share his faith in Jesus yet. I never once saw Rich refuse someone his friendship just because they didn’t believe what he did. He was a friend in the truest sense of the word.
And he wasn’t just that way some of the time. He was like that all of the time. Whether he was relating to Liz & Ethan, or his friends and family or his co-workers or the students that he taught and coached, Rich was always Rich. What you saw was what you got. And what you got was pretty wonderful. And I think that is why we will miss him so much.
Rich lived his life loving God, loving others and pointing them towards Jesus. And he died doing the same. The writer of Hebrews tells us to remember those who lead us and imitate their faith. Rich’s faith was worth imitating. Well done, my friend.
13 August, 2007