“Show me your five friends, and I’ll show you where you’re going to be in five years.” Pastor Carl Lentz, Jesus Culture Conference, August 2012
This week Hong Kong said good-bye to two phenomenal leaders: Kristin and Grant Franke. For the past five years Kristin has been the Youth Director at Union Church. During those five years the Youth Group grew at a tremendous pace and expanded in extraordinary quality. By Kristin’s side was her husband, Grant. They were newlyweds when first arriving in Hong Kong. Grant taught at an international Christian school and then moved on to be one of the youth leaders at another Hong Kong Church. Together they touched hundreds, if not thousands of lives. Their world wasn’t just hanging out at church: Grant and Kristin were out in the community in multiple ways. For example, they were into Ultimate Frisbee in a big way, traveling all over Asia to participate in tournaments with other Hong Kong teammates. (Grant and Kristin with Mike and Sheri Witthoft.)
Despite their very humble, unassuming style and how they operated in the world, Grant and Kristin were noticed by many: they were leaders even to people they didn’t lead, such as our kids. While Sebastian and the triplets knew and interacted with Kristin and Grant, it was more sporadic: going on the occasional junks together (thank you Mike and Sheri), seeing each other at a distance at church, occasional horsing around. But even these experiences made a significant impression on the kids. When Sebastian, Jasper, Sela and Carys saw Kristin and Grant, they saw a positive force to be reckoned with. Two examples come to mind. (At left: about to have some fun on a banana boat.)
First and I am sure you’ll all think Tess and I are crazy, but we’ve made it a family ritual to watch Little House on the Prairie once a week with the kids. In one of the recent episodes we viewed a mother died, and “Pa” helped to find a new home for the three orphaned kids. A few days later while walking to school, Tess talked to the kids about the episode, guardians, and so on. The kids asked about whom they would live with if something happened to Tess and me. (At left: Sebastian, completely delighted, hangs on for his life as Olin and Grant decide it's time to shake things up and tip over.)
Tess asked, "Who do you think would do a good job raising you so that you believed in Father God, yet so that you would also laugh a lot and have fun?"
That’s when Carys said, "Kristin and Grant! (Actually she said, “Kwistin and Gwant!”) and the other three exclaimed, "Yeah! They have fun with God!" Tess and I thought this was a huge compliment to Kristin and Grant. The conversation was also a testament that it is not just the teens Kristin and Grant impacted during their time in Hong Kong.
Second, in a few weeks Sebastian will start Youth Group at Union Church. Seb has been waiting for this occasion for one to two years as he watched the Youth Group do really cool stuff with envy. Late June he officially graduated from Sunday School, receiving a brand new youth Bible. Around about the same time, Kristin arranged for an introductory night to the Youth Group, for all those entering Youth Group in September. Sebastian attended along with two friends who don’t go to Union Church. Everyone had a blast – imagine church at night with no adults. (Well, when I say no adults I mean maybe only ten adults compared to 500 hundred on Sundays!) The evening consisted of games, a short sermon by Kristin, music and snacks. I looked after one of the discussion groups that, coincidentally, largely consisted of the rugby team I used to coach a year earlier. The boys were pretty happy to be back together again. Afterwards I described the evening to another parent as “organised chaos with the Bible sprinkled on top.” Sebastian and his friends loved it. (Kristin, wakeboarder extrordinaire, prepares to go for a ride.)
The point of this second story I didn’t know anything about until last week when I was able to spend some farewell time with Kristin and Grant. Grant relayed to me that not long after the introductory Youth Group, Sebastian and Kristin found each other sitting next to each other in Union Church’s U-Cafe – an even cooler, more contemporary and laid back version of the 11 AM service. The leader of the service instructed, “Turn to the person next to you, and tell them something you appreciate about them.” Kristin turned to Sebastian and shared, “I am really glad you came to Youth Group the other night, brought two friends and had such a good time.” Sebastian, hmmm not following the leader’s instructions, replied with, “I’m just sorry you won’t be here to lead the Youth Group when I start in September.” (Up, up and away!)
When Grant posted to Facebook “good-bye and thank you Hong Kong” about an hour before their flight departed, his friends list responded with 40+ well wishing comments and over 200 “likes.” Seriously: 15% of Grant’s almost 2000 Facebook friends responded. That’s epic, that’s a couple that made a difference, that’s leadership. I can’t wait to see what God has in store for them.
Meanwhile it was hard to say good-bye. When I last saw Grant the day before he left we skirted the whole emotional thing by resting on C.S. Lewis. Sheldon Vanauken, wrote about saying good-bye to C.S. Lewis in his book "A Severe Mercy":
"When we emerged onto the busy High with the traffic streaming past, we shook hands, and he said: “I shan’t say good-bye. We’ll meet again.” Then he plunged into the traffic. I stood there watching him. When he reached the pavement on the other side, he turned around as though he knew somehow that I would still be standing there in front of the Eastgate. Then he raised his voice in a great roar that easily overcame the noise of the cars and buses. Heads turned and at least one car swerved, “Besides,” he [C.S. Lewis] bellowed with a great grin, “Christians NEVER say goodbye!” (At left: Sela and Jasper symbolically watch, while Kyle, Olin, Kristin and Grant enjoy the setting sun aboard the Witthoft's junk.)
Thank you Kristin and Grant, for making a huge difference in the lives of many, many people – scores of whom you probably didn’t even know were watching. Good-bye for now.