When a famous Christian dies, the whole world hears about it. But what about a young person cut off in his early years before any of his hopes and dreams and aspirations are fulfilled? Joshua John-Henry Hicks died on April 6, 2012 suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 27. Joshua was a student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts who was studying to become ordained in ministry. He had a severe food allergy and this took his life. Despite his youth, his funeral service packed the church building with almost 800 people from all stages of his life.
Recently, a group of his friends got together at a meal to reminisce about his life. Here are some of the memories we shared. Joshua was unique because he would treat everyone as if he or she was the most important person in the world and he had all the time in the world to be with them. He appeared never to be in a hurry. As soon as he saw you, time stopped for him. He would look you in the eye, cock his head, and give you his gentle, inquiring, and expectant smile. Jin Sook shared, for example: “When I gardened, he would walk by, stop, and focus on me and say: ‘Hi! How are you doing, sister?’” Even if you did not see him first, he would stop and call you. Brendan explained: “I would be walking by and reading and he would drive by and say ‘Get in!’ so that we could chat, and then we would drive to lunch and we would get into a deep conversation.” Kris explained, “Joshua had the gift of pace.”
He was transparent. On campus, he had a number of “moms” and “dads” and “sisters” and “brothers” and mentors. Not only would he ask, “how are you,” but he would also share about himself. With Joshua, you could share back and forth. His priority would be to encourage and build up and not weigh down others. He was personal and also meaningful. Each person felt as if they were his only mom or dad or sister or brother or mentor. He appeared to confess to everyone he trusted. He recognized the value of the body of Christ, that we need each other to grow, as James, the Lord Jesus’ brother exhorted: “Therefore, confess to one another your sins and pray for one another so that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Aida explained: “I thought I was an important faculty mentor for him. However, when I attended his funeral service, many faculty were present, all of whom felt they were Joshua’s key mentor. He worked with a faculty member in every area of study so that he could complete, even excel, in his studies. He took three New Testament classes with me. And although he found the interpretation process challenging, he did not hesitate to come each week and show me his progress and work on one more aspect of Bible interpretation: how to study a word, how to study a sentence, how to study the Greek and Roman background, how to write an essay, etc. He made us as faculty teach him and in that manner encouraged us and exhibited his own humility. Meanwhile, he showed great insight in his Bible studies.” He persevered. For Joshua, academic success was not an end in itself, but a vehicle to preparation for ministry.
Joshua offered himself to people and expected people to offer themselves to him. He was friends with people who were real and trustworthy, as he himself was real and trustworthy. Ben shared: “I felt I was a kindred person with Joshua. He was vulnerable. He wanted to be real because he wanted to associate with other people who were real. He embodied the gospel. He expected people to reciprocate.” Joshua looked for people like himself, not similar externally, but similar internally. He did not gossip or judge or condemn. His goal was to “live in love, as also Christ loved us” (Ephesians 5:2).
He had a passion for music, church, film, and justice. He could play the guitar, keyboard, piano, drums, melodica, and sing, and write songs. The first time several of us saw Joshua, he was standing up on a chair in the cafeteria playing his guitar. Recently, he sponsored a concert to raise support for ministries against slavery. He lived in the present but loved tradition. For him, the traditions were living and full of meaning and symbolism. He met God through church forms. And though he was gentle with others, yet he was firm in his convictions.
Joshua also had a passion to serve. Bill explained: “He was an IT expert, but both the older and the younger person would seek him out because he would never condescend. He was the kindest IT person I knew.”
Joshua lived knowing his life could be cut short at any moment. If he should accidentally eat something his body could not process, he would inhale medication that would give him 10 more minutes to live. Many times an ambulance would rush him to the hospital, even though he carefully watched his diet. “The rest of us delude ourselves into thinking we could live forever,” Brendan observed. Rather, Joshua’s goal was to ask: “How can I give joy to your life?” “You felt yourself growing while you talked with him. He lived life fully each day. He got 25 hours out of every 24. He lived for the relational.” The Apostle Paul too urges us: now is “the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light…put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:11-12 NRSV).
Aida, in consultation with Bill, Ben Gambino, Kris Johnson, Jin Sook Kim, and Brendan Payne, April 22, 2012, members of Pilgrim Church, meeting at the Chinese Buffett in Beverly, MA.