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See you later, Don…

by Bob Docter –

I am absolutely convinced that nothing –
neither death nor life,
living or dead,
angelic or demonic,
today or tomorrow,
high or low,
thinkable or unthinkable –
absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love
because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
Romans 8:38,39 (The Message)

In the shadow of the Santa Monica Mountains, the everlasting hills he loved so much, and under a warm, magnificent summer sun, nearly 800 friends, family and fellow Salvationists gathered at Camp Mt. Crags to celebrate the life of Don Ray Mowery Jr. who departed this life on July 19, 2010. He was 48.

Offering tributes were family members, a friend and colleague in the Pasadena Police Department, close personal friends, and staff members from Camps Gilmore and Crags. Each described a man who was adventuresome, fun-loving, hard working, deeply spiritual, creative, friendly, and a strong dynamic leader—a man worth knowing.

Family tributes
His three sons each spoke or wrote of their deep respect and abiding love for their dad. Corey said: “I am a man today because of my dad, and his legacy will continue to live in all of us.” A line from Casey’s poem capsulized his faith: “I am his son, and he is my dad. As long as I live, he will live in me. Not even death can erase a living soul.” Cody wrote to his father: “None of us knows what happened, but we will always love you.”

His sister, Kelly stated: “Don made a bad decision this past week, but he is not defined by that decision. His legacy is one of life. His work here is not finished. He spent 13 years sowing seeds of life and love in this place. Now, we have a choice between hopelessness and stooping down to tend those seeds.”

Don’s wife, Lisa, wrote in a letter: “Memories of our life together continue to flood me. You and my boys are everything. I just wish I had your shoulders to lean on through this.”

Friends and colleagues
Lt. Thomas Delgado of the Pasadena Police Department worked in law enforcement with Don for 12 years. He said: “Don had such passion and skill, such tenacity and a striving for excellence. He rose rapidly and achieved a major assignment to the Neighborhood Crime task force investigating homicide. He placed his own life in jeopardy many times and came to be known by his fellow officers as ‘sheepdog’ because of his protective nature. He left the force because of a ‘higher calling’ to work with young people. I will not allow this one act to dictate his life. Maybe, God just needed a ‘sheepdog.’”

Laszlo Pallai, a member of the Mt. Crags Advisory Council openly shared his feelings of deep loss. “This is a crisis of faith for me. I’m very angry and sad. I could abandon my faith, but that is irrational. Instead I will depend on a deeper understanding of God’s strength.

“Fear is the constant companion of courage,” he said, and spoke of an impulsive Peter in a boat on a very stormy day. He saw Jesus walking on the water, and immediately leapt from the boat to join him. After being successful for a moment, his human predicament became visible to him. He started slipping under the waves only to be caught by Jesus.

“Jesus reached out and caught Don’s hand as well and gathered him to his side.”

Four members of the staff from both camps spoke of Don’s amazing creativity and work style that illustrated his unique problem-solving skills as well as his willingness to put himself in difficult and dangerous situations. They fondly remembered hikes he led— always the leader—his wrangling of bees and management of wasp nests, his attacks on rattlesnakes, his unique construction of a giant trampoline and a very challenging obstacle course. They also spoke lovingly of his skills with children, his love for his work and for the people working with him.

The message
Captain Matt Madsen, Southern California divisional youth secretary, spoke of the camp’s surroundings as a beautiful place of life and renewal—a reminder of God’s goodness and grace.

“This place was not just a job for Don. It was a ministry. He spent 13 summers of his life helping change the lives of more than 6,500 young people and countless young adult staff members who worked in his shadow. This is a place of victory.

“You cannot assume that the last picture of Don’s life describes the immensity of his contribution. If works cannot earn our salvation, why would one act negate it? Look up at that cross atop that majestic peak. It powerfully reminds us and thousands of others who see it that we are covered by God’s grace. Nothing can separate us from that grace. Nothing is able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Quietly, following a prayer of benediction by Captain Dianne Madsen, the hundreds of Don’s friends concluded the celebration of his life by contributing a rock on which they had inscribed a simple thought. Slowly, they moved forward and added their tribute in memory of his life and the lives of the thousands he touched.

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