Monday, April 16, 2007

Dante Venegas: A Laughing Warrior Passes


He was a Puerto Rican and proud of it, even though most folks thought he was African American. His laugh came from deep within and making him laugh felt so good I found myself saying crazy things just to get him going. A long time ago he lived in the mean streets of New York, and talked it, but settled down in suburbs of Grand Rapids, and I think endured it. As a pastor, he confused and vexed some of the very white, upper middle class members of his audience with a directness that cut through the crap of American Evangelicalism and made living with Christ gritty and in your face. As a counselor, he brought reality and hope to the broken and lost and searching. He loved God passionately, and reveled in every minute of life as if it was God’s very breath. He spoke with passion, taught with passion, complained (and sometimes swore) with passion, dispensed wisdom with passion, and with passion changed the hearts of thousands. Dante Venegas was as real as humans get.

A few years ago, he was diagnosed with cancer, and a few days ago, he died. During the last year he suffered enormous pain and refused to bow before it. His wife Jackie and family passed along updates regularly, and it was clear the man was embracing life even in midst of incredible agony. I could not visit him of course, but I wonder if he would have thought of himself as dying— it was as if he was living the reality of his cancer as he lived everything else—in our faces.

In the mid nineties, Pope John Paul II issued a brilliant encyclical called “The Culture of Death,” in which he blasted the West for avoiding suffering even at the expense of life—God’s greatest gift. Suffering, John Paul said, was viewed by the West only as an evil, possessing no value. Abortion, euthanasia, drug abuse, escapism, and the American obsession with security and comfort, are all products of the Culture of Death. When John Paul died after a long and painful illness, he showed the world that life is greater than suffering, that suffering is an important part of living, and both ought to be lived fully. Dante Venegas did that too. He loved life, lived passionately, and I think he died passionately. He fought with life and he fought with suffering and in doing so, he showed us a better way.

Hold on now in your suffering, dear Jackie. You—and the rest of us who loved him-- will hear his laugh again soon.

He is as wise and good and faithful as the setting African sun, and His promises as are as endless as the sky.

4 comments:

Venegas- Rook said...

My mother found this blog somehow last night. She shared it with my sister and I this morning. Even the title made me cry. Thank you so much for your beautiful tribute to my dad. I want you to know that he died exactly as he lived. Your guess was right. He died fighting, until the end. I know it was not because he was afraid of death, but because he loved to live so much. He fiercely loved my mother, my sister, myself and our children, my husband, with a passion so deep, now as I think about it, it makes me cry. He knew we would hurt when he was gone. A laughing warrior. That he was. While he was dying, I kept hearing the words -- sheep for the slaughter -- so many people talked about how he paved the way for them, built bridges, connected racial divides. That he did but as you know very well as I remember him sharing with you, he did pay a price at times. He did so -- sometimes begrudgingly, sadly, sometimes gladly, but he did. A true Warrior for Jesus. In his death, one thing did happen. He in the midst of death, inspired me to live in a way that he would be proud. In his death, he inspired me to live! Crazy. Live fully, with a passion and love for Christ and others. That simple. So thank you again. We are now grieving. Grieving tremendously and I think we all know we need to do that now. One thing for sure, Dante Venegas was the real deal. I as his daughter could not have felt more blessed that the Lord gave me him as my dad.
Thank you Bob Reed for beautifully and respectfully loving and remembering my father.
Andrea

The Reeds in Liberia said...

Thank you, Andrea.

I would say more, but my words would only detract from yours.

We remain with you with our hearts and tears.

Bob, Renita, Hannah, and Noah Reed

Leeann said...

My name is Leeann Klein, and I am a Spiritual daughter of Dante Venegas. Seventeen years ago this August, I went to a CRC youth convention in Colorado and then to a small group on "interracial dating" that Rev. Dante was teaching. I was so drawn to the love of Jesus in him that I went to his next small group on "spiritual warfare." It was during his teaching that I learned about forgiveness, something that I knew that I needed but didn't think I could have. I prayed with Rev. Dante afterwards, and although I don't remember the words... I do remember several things. First, I felt a physical weight come off of my heart. Second, I remember him saying that he was going to ask me how I felt afterwards. I also remember his huge hugs, and the "ooooh" that accompanied it. Although I tried to stay in touch with him over the years, I lost touch about 8 years ago, shortly after my son was born. I was very saddened to hear that he had gone to be with the Lord only because I didn't have a chance to say "good-bye." I know, though, that because of his passion for the truth, his love for the lost, and his seeing me as someone in desperate need of the Lord's love and forgiveness... I will see him again when I go home to be with the Lord, too someday. I am so thankful to him, for allowing the Lord to use him in my life. Looking at the facts here about his life, I am sad that I never took the opportunity to ask him about where the Lord had taken him, where he'd come from. He was always so interested in what was going on with me... I desire to have that passion for the Lord, for the lost, for the broken as He had.

Leeann said...

My name is Leeann Klein, and I am a Spiritual daughter of Dante Venegas. Seventeen years ago this August, I went to a CRC youth convention in Colorado and then to a small group on "interracial dating" that Rev. Dante was teaching. I was so drawn to the love of Jesus in him that I went to his next small group on "spiritual warfare." It was during his teaching that I learned about forgiveness, something that I knew that I needed but didn't think I could have. I prayed with Rev. Dante afterwards, and although I don't remember the words... I do remember several things. First, I felt a physical weight come off of my heart. Second, I remember him saying that he was going to ask me how I felt afterwards. I also remember his huge hugs, and the "ooooh" that accompanied it. Although I tried to stay in touch with him over the years, I lost touch about 8 years ago, shortly after my son was born. I was very saddened to hear that he had gone to be with the Lord only because I didn't have a chance to say "good-bye." I know, though, that because of his passion for the truth, his love for the lost, and his seeing me as someone in desperate need of the Lord's love and forgiveness... I will see him again when I go home to be with the Lord, too someday. I am so thankful to him, for allowing the Lord to use him in my life. Looking at the facts here about his life, I am sad that I never took the opportunity to ask him about where the Lord had taken him, where he'd come from. He was always so interested in what was going on with me... I desire to have that passion for the Lord, for the lost, for the broken as He had.