There was a man—Heno Head. He ran a summer camp for boys, Camp Soaring Hawk, in Purdy, Missouri. It was a two week camp, filled with every outdoor activity a young man could want—archery, canoeing, backpacking, rappelling (my favorite!)—mixed in with some Bible reading and learning about Jesus.
Each year, my parents invited Heno and his son, Heno, Jr., to our house to give a presentation and recruit campers. I remember Heno as a slight-of-build man, but also very powerful. Not a brute force kind of a power; more like an inward sort, the sort that announced to everyone who met him: This man’s the real deal. Heno lived what he preached, and people like that usually get the most respect, even from those who don’t hold the same beliefs.
Interestingly enough, my most vivid memory of Camp Soaring Hawk is a simple one. It’s not white water rafting or swinging upside-down on the ropes course, or shooting a bow and arrow. It’s sitting in the main lodge, singing, while Heno, Jr. played the guitar and taught us a new song, its words taken from the book of 1 John:
Beloved, let us love one another
For love is of God, and everyone that loves is born of God…and knows God
He who does not love does not know God, for God is love
Beloved, let us love one another…1 John 4:7-8
Amazing how some memories stick with us forever. I still sing that melody when reading those verses. I’ve always had a special fondness for the book of 1 John, and I’m sure it’s in large part due to Heno and Heno, Jr.
We decided to study the book in our community group. John, the author, was one of the original disciples, the first people to know Jesus, at least intimately. He and his brother James were nicknamed the Sons of Thunder—a name given to them by Jesus, perhaps for their fiery and impetuous personalities. The Bible records a story where Jesus and the disciples enter a Samaritan village and are rejected by the people there. James and John ask, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Thankfully, Jesus says no (“The Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them”) and they move on to another village.
It’s a striking contrast: the young man who wanted to rain destruction upon an entire village and the one who authored the book of 1 John—an epistle to love. Most scholars believe John was the last living apostle (as all had died, or been killed, some rather tortuously) and wrote this book at the end of his life. That’s what struck me: Here was a man who was close to dying, writing a book of love and peace and acceptance. The Son of Thunder had become the Son of Hugs and Whispers.
How rare is it to see a person at that age speak with gentility and humility? With age often comes a stubborn resistance to change (You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, right?); yet here was a man, John, who ended his life more loving, more accepting of change, more believing in the power of the one he worshiped, than he had been. How did that happen?
I asked those in the group, “What is the one thing that will keep you from being loving, or smiling, at the end of your life?”
Would it be the death of a loved one? Tragedy? Physical impairment? All of these were said. But I was shocked at the answer most given—unanswered prayer. One man had been praying for his parents’ health for ten years. They both suffer from debilitating health conditions. They are Christians and have given their lives in service to God. A decade of praying, but nothing’s changed, and he’s losing heart.
That was my answer, as well. With me, I’m either all in or not in at all. Whether it’s a dating relationship or my relationship with God—I can’t be lukewarm. Prayer seems to be the thermometer of my spiritual life: When I’m let down with God, I pray less than usual. I may offer a few “help my friends” type prayers, but none for my own life. I realize that unanswered prayer could easily bring the death of my spiritual fervor. Year after year of earnestly praying, of seeking God, but not seeing those prayers answered, until I finally give up and accept a sterile relationship, one in which two people don’t talk to each other and go to bed without saying goodnight; inwardly, one doesn’t trust the other.
How did John do it? How did he end his life with a smile on his face, rather than a frown? I searched online for news about Heno Head. I learned he passed away in 2008, still living in Missouri and doing what he loved, teaching kids about God. It seems he ended the same way as the apostle John.
God, I hope I can.