As a young pastor, nothing brings me more joy than when I see other young people come to know Jesus personally, jump into a church community, and share the love that they receive from God. One of our slogans at Anchor is “Find Hope, Give Hope." Edward McKinley at just 15 years old surely found hope, and gave it.
I met Edward this past August at a community softball game. At this point I had only seen him around church a couple times. That night I was impressed by how Edward jumped into a crowd of people that he didn’t know, made some new friends, and had a great time. Later that night without much provocation on my end, Edward opened up to me about his relationship with his girlfriend, his family, and some of his struggles and joys. I remember feeling excited about meeting him and hearing his story, and I told him that I would make myself available to him in the event that he would want to talk, pray, or hang out.
Shortly after, I started noticing that Edward was faithfully coming to church every Sunday night with his friends at Youth For Christ in Unadilla. He was always eager to experience God with his new church family at Anchor. I am happy to have shared in one of the pinnacle moments of his life; a moment that has been referenced several times by family and friends since his passing… In early October we had several baptisms planned to take place at an Anchor service, not including Edward. After the baptisms were over, moved by the faith of those who had been baptized (including a few very close friends) and with the support of some friends, Edward made a spontaneous decision to publicly declare his faith and love for Jesus by getting baptized. Edward eagerly jumped into the baptismal with his jeans and t-shirt, and was baptized that night by our Youth Pastor, Dennis Kropp. It was a moment that strengthened his faith, drew him further into a relationship with a loving God, and inspired many of his friends.
I had the opportunity to have a few more great conversations with Edward before he died. He talked about some of the hardships that he faced at school with being a young christian, how he wanted to share the hope that he found to his friends and family, and how much he really enjoyed helping other people. Edward’s character was evident even in the final moments of his life, as he heard the car approaching behind him and his girlfriend while on a walk, and decided to trade places with her to bring her to the outside of the road as an act of protection. I’ve heard that he often told close friends that he would die for them as an act of love if it came down to it. He lived up to his promise.
I did not get to know Edward how I would’ve liked to. His death has been painful. His life is a reminder to me of how precious our time is here on Earth, and how each moment should be used to tell people about the love of God, and perhaps more importantly, to show them, even unto death. We don’t know when our final minutes will be, but we can control how we use them. I don’t understand why this happened, but I do know that Edward is pain-free in the presence of a mighty King, who stooped down to our level, suffered, died, and defeated death. And only because of this, I will embrace Edward again in glory.