A year ago I sat in a cold classroom, early for my first class. In the half light of the dawn, I lay my head down on the desk and cried. I felt if one more thing thwacked my heart I was going to shattered and then Gary Troyer died and part of the floor felt like it dropped out of my world.
And for a long, long time I never wrote about how much his life meant, or how much I was changed, or how deep I grieved him leaving. I was afraid no one would understand, or think it just a surface response to his death.
In reality, if it wouldn’t have been for the life of Gary Troyer, much of me would still be hiding in the corner I used to always run to.
He saw the awkward 18 year old mission kid that I was and convinced me that I had something to offer, despite the fact that I felt like a hippo in a butterfly conservatory.
He became so much more than just a mentor to me—more like a friend.
And once, while we sat and talked late into the evening, I felt my frustration understood through his blinked back tears, and two cups of tea got cold, and I never guessed that would be the last time I would see him.
He watched his young people, and knew more, I think, about ourselves than we did sometimes.
Mr Gary, as his students called him, had this uncanny way of sticking his finger right at the spot where your anger boiled the deepest, making it come. As I learned to know him more, I realized that he did it with full intentions, hoping you would notice, and look deeper. Sometimes it was almost uncanny.
Yes, Mr Gary made me angry. Once, a few months before he died, he made me so furious I felt like throwing things, until I realized he was right, and then had to let the anger go in place of overflowing gratitude. He cared enough, I realized, to step in places other people where afraid too, and point out the canyon that I didn’t yet see.
In that way, Mr Gary was a rare man.
He was passionate enough to step on toes and brilliant ideas and petty little beliefs.
One of my friends, and a fellow student of Mr Gary, describes this in her memories of his life.
I don’t think that I can, or have, properly put into words the impact Mr. Gary had on my life. I don’t think I even realized it until a year ago.
My first memory of Mr. Gary is probably one of my favorite as well, although it left me quite rattled at first. I remember sitting the cafeteria … one of the guys called Gary over to our table. ..he sat down and talked with us. I remember Gary just asking us questions, hard questions… The questions kept getting more and more personal until, what I considered ‘out of the blue’, he turned to me and said “So what are you doing with your life?” I filled him in on my school plans and life plans and he just looked at me and said “what are you doing NOW with your life?”……he got me thinking, and that is what Gary did best—he made me think. And I remember coming away from class or discussions with him frustrated. But not frustrated at him, frustrated at his questions. Questions I didn’t want to face or even think about, even though those questions needed answers.
Yes he made us frustrated, he made us think, and he taught us well.
As she says at the end….
Overall, I think Gary was successful in inspiring us to expect more of ourselves and of those around us. And, best of all, he put all these aspects to practice in his own life. I incorporated the following quote into my first ever assignment for Gary—I applied it to a high school teacher, BUT I think that it more aptly is applicable to Gary: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” (William Arthur Ward) And Gary was a great teacher. ~Lara W.
I miss him. We miss him. Us who felt the impact of his life and sometimes wonder what we will do without his wisdom and encouraging hand. But we will be okay, as this–another testimony, from another good friend and fellow student of our Mr Gary–gives evidence.
When I think of Mr. Gary, I always think of heaven. I will never forget the chapel service he held one morning at EBI. He talked about how we so often underestimate God, and that we have not because we ask not. He then asked us to imagine what it would be like when we stand in heaven and see Jesus for the first time, while he played the song “I can only imagine” by MercyMe. At the same time, he placed an artists’ rendition of what heaven might be like on the overhead. I have never seen a group of restless kids so quiet and reverent, as we all thought of how big our God is, and tried to imagine what it would be like. That day, Mr. Gary created a moment that will forever stay with me, and today made all the more special because I know he is experiencing what he could only imagine before.
Mr. Gary changed my life, and the lives of many others. He had a heart of love and compassion, an intimacy with Jesus, and a passion for the lost that was inspiring to everyone he met…I know that he would not want us to mourn him. If he could speak to us now, I believe he would say to us to keep on, that it is all worth it; the sorrow and heartache, loneliness and tears, pain and sadness.
It will all be worth it when we get our first glimpse of home. Home, where the sorrows of this world will melt away into an unspeakable joy. Where we will once again be reunited with friends and loved ones. Home, where we can finally see Jesus, face to face, too live forever more in worship of our savior. And with this knowledge, I can let go, because I have a vibrant, living hope that death is not the end. And somehow, when I think of heaven, just like Mr. Gary asked us to, it seems even sweeter than before.
And I echo his words,
“with this knowledge I can let go”.
(photo credits : various EBI staff and students)