On The Loss of Bishop David Huskins, Reflections from His Sons and Family

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It was 6:30 on a warm Thursday evening. I stood in a basement hallway in Cedartown, Georgia talking to Aaron Huskins, son of the late Bishop David Huskins. Many 24 year olds in his position would barely be able to stand, knowing that their father had taken his final breath just days before in the room two floors above. However, he and his brothers were not only standing, but were hard at work digging through years and years of photos and videos of their father and his life’s work. They’d gotten little sleep over the past three days, instead opting to huddle around a computer and work feverishly to prepare a video to honor their father at his upcoming funeral.

As I spoke with Aaron, I was amazed by the poise that he showed. He spoke with confidence, dignity, and tears in his eyes about the incredible man he had the honor of calling father. David Huskins died on Monday, August 25 of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Why a man of David’s stature would choose to end his life in such a way is a question that could haunt many. However, Aaron has a simple answer to that question. He explained that he and his brothers were in complete agreement about the circumstances of his father’s death, and he wanted those concerned to know their feelings on the matter. The following was written and released with their approval.

On July 10, Bishop Huskins sent out an email explaining how his health had been in decline. The transcript of that email is as follows:

It has been almost 20 years ago since I had open-heart surgery to repair a hole in my heart that had become critical. That started a series of mostly ignored warnings to take care of my heart health. Then in November, I had a mild heart attack (if there is such a thing) and that put me on a path to great introspection of all the areas of my life I had not properly dealt with. …

While I am grateful for all the Lord has allowed me to do, I knew sometimes I had let ministry be a substitute for God. I felt Him dealing with me to let go of areas and delegate and release and spend more time with Him and with people not just always in a pulpit. I had started that process much earlier with seeking to place others in charge of the church and daily duties but still had not relinquished the active roles.

“Then over the past few weeks I experienced congestive heart failure twice, which forced the cancellation of our annual conference, and now I have been told medically I am at the point of complete exhaustion while still dealing with chronic congestive heart failure. After three nights in I C U and another two-night regular hospital stay along with several follow-up heart procedures and this past week a Transient Ischemic Attack (minor stroke) and the adaptations of all the medicines … and the on-going recovery process and having been admitted to bed rest, I am now forced to make some significant and important changes immediately.

Even though I have been feeling it and talking about it for a couple of years. The next 90 days minimal will be intensive times of physical therapy and monitoring both heart and neck arteries and avoiding the threat of another heart attack or stroke. … I am submitting to the precaution.

As most of you know I wrote over a year ago about the need for many of us to take a break, get counsel, seek a sabbatical or otherwise make changes. We even held a January conference around that concept. I put a plan in place for a sabbatical or even a succession plan. We discussed many of these subjects, but I then returned quickly to the rigors of ministry. Now it is medically required and physically necessary for me to adapt. … The truth is however the need for a real sabbatical is long over due. The effects of this mini-stroke and the medicines along with the energy lost from the congestive heart failures keep me very confused, often times unable to articulate my thoughts clearly and then also all the physical limits and battles. I am thankful that they say all that is temporary and will be over in time.

For those who never had the honor of meeting Bishop Huskins, he was a man full of life, energy, and excitement. However, as I spoke with Aaron, it became clear just how fragile his father’s health had become in just the past month. He informed me that his father was very aware that a full stroke could be coming, and that it would likely leave him seriously disabled. He told me that his father had stated multiple times that he would rather be dead than be disabled due to the burden that it would place on loved ones. With all of his four boys at college or just beginning their careers, that concern was quite justified.

The last conversation David was known to have had was with his oldest son Michael on the morning of his death, in which he complained of many symptoms consistent with an oncoming stroke, including dizziness and confusion. With that in mind, Aaron and his brothers are in agreement that the last moments of their father’s life was most likely one of panic. Feeling a stroke coming on, under the influence of multiple medications, he chose to end his own life instead of leaving his boys with the burden of his continued care.

It is relatively common for individuals to react to news of a suicide with feelings of resentment, stating that it is a selfish act. Aaron is aware of this, but is firm in his belief that his father’s last act was entirely selfless, a means of protecting his boys and allowing them to continue to follow their dreams and callings, unhindered by his health situation. This narrative is entirely consistent with Bishop Huskins’ focus in recent years of leaving a legacy. Indeed, as I spoke with Aaron, audio of one of his father’s sermons played in the background, in which David spoke of how he knew he would not live forever and how that fact motivated him to invest in the next generation.

Aaron is aware of the negative reactions that this story could bring, and was quite clear that neither he nor the family condone suicide. That said, he emphasized that without the extensive health care treatment and medication that his father has received in recent years, he would not have lived nearly as long as he did. Indeed, without going through open-heart surgery in his late twenties, Bishop Huskins may have never been known as Bishop at all, as he may not have have lived past 30. As was clear from the email above, his body was simply breaking down. If he was indeed facing a stroke that Monday morning, given the fragility of his health, he likely would not have lived through the day regardless.

Above all, Aaron emphasized how incredible of a man his father was, how hugely blessed he was to have grown up under his leadership, and that he and his siblings are at peace with his passing. As I sit and write this story in their living room, I myself have similar feelings. You see, Bishop Huskins was my second cousin (once-removed), and I spent many wonderful weeks with David and his wife Michelle when I was younger. David was very much a father figure to me, and as I walked into the house today, I was introduced humorously by Michelle to those gathered as she and David’s “First attempt at parenting.” David Huskins invested significantly in my life, and I also am incredibly thankful for that. If you would like to read more about my feelings on this, you can read my blog post here: http://www.corydwatson.com/blog/2014/08/second-cousin-in-law-once-removed/

For now, as the sun sinks low in Cedartown, I feel peace knowing that Bishop David Huskins lived a full life despite that it was only 47 years short. Aaron and I smile and wipe away tears as we discuss how his father loved most everyone he ever met, and most everyone he ever met knew he loved them. Aaron summed his father’s legacy up with the statement that David Huskins “loved unconditionally and forgave infinitely.” Truly the world has lost an incredible man, but hope lies in the fact that David is now free of pain, free of sickness, and we eagerly await the joy of seeing him once again.

The funeral and memorial service for Bishop David Huskins will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, August 31, 2014 at Cedar Lake Christian Center in Cedartown, Georgia.

Second-Cousin In-Law (Once-removed)

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Pastor is an odd word. I hear it on a near-daily basis in the Christian world, but I rarely stop and think about what it actually means. Wikipedia tells me that pastor comes from pascere, a Latin word for shepherd, and I’ve surely heard it equated as such many times. That said, I feel many modern pastors never get the chance to truly walk out the life of a shepherd. With live video-casts, online sermons, and e-Bibles…with many churches boasting hundreds or thousands of members…our modern-day shepherds often have their hands full.

In that vein, I know of few pastors who had their hands as full as David Huskins. As the presiding bishop of the International Communion of Charismatic Churches, he oversaw a flock spanning dozens of countries, thousands of ministries, and millions of members, all from his relatively humble church in rural Cedartown, Georgia.

Tragically, David Huskins was found dead in his home on Monday, August 25, 2014. Four incredible children and a loving family, of which I have been honored to be a part of, survive him.  As of now, I know little of the circumstances. I’m sure details will be forthcoming in the days that follow, as will countless stories, articles, and testimonies to David’s public ministry. However, I feel moved to share a little of the private ministry that many never saw, as a means of honoring this man who had more impact on my life than most could ever know.

The top priority of a shepherd, as I see it, is to protect his sheep. He is to ensure the safety of creatures that are, as Robert Robinson put it so eloquently, prone to wander. Thousands…perhaps millions…could attest to David’s knowledge of scripture, his strong teaching, and his willingness to say what needed to be said. These are all strong pastoral giftings, and his congregation was blessed to have them. However, I had the privilege of seeing beyond that…of directly witnessing the protective, fatherly heart that drove David…even at a relatively young age…to pursue me.

It still amazes me that this father?…no…uncle?…no…close cousin?…nope…try second-cousin in-law once-removed…there it is…could care for me and invest in me like he did. David and his wife Michelle hosted me at their home for multiple weeks over my childhood summers, and I have vague but wonderful memories from those days. I remember the tiny shofar (ram’s horn trumpet) that was reserved for me to sound. I remember spending time at the Victory 91.5 offices (David was on the air there for a while), listening to their vast collection of Adventures in Odyssey tapes when I got bored. I remember falling asleep to the sound of my shoes bumping around in the dryer (are you even supposed to dry shoes…and what was I doing that got them so wet anyway?). I remember feeling left out when I didn’t get a gum ball for using the toilet while their oldest son was potty-training (I was probably 5 or 6 at the time and definitely didn’t deserve it)…and then feeling awesome when I was given one anyway. My family tells me of others I’ve forgotten (I was apparently wont to follow David pace for pace as he walked around the room preparing sermons).

I was a very shy child…a restrained child. I was quiet and tended to stick to myself. However, when I was around David Huskins, that all changed. I ran all over Cedar Lake Christian Center…hid behind the altar kneelers, climbed up in the chairs on stage, and ran down the long staircase to the backstage bathroom (and it was a loooong staircase). Thinking back, it was all pretty irreverent. However, even if I had understood that at the time, I don’t think I would have cared. When David was near…I felt really, truly safe. I think it was because I was loved…perhaps as near perfectly as a boy can be on this earth. It was living proof of I John 4:18…perfect love truly does cast out all fear.

I think my clearest memories are from the day of my mother’s wedding…or my aunt’s wedding…or any other family wedding…or any other family gathering for that matter. Despite the long drive from west Georgia and his busy schedule, David took part in most every family gathering and significant event…and he was a treasure to have around. He could easily dominate a room, but tended to just speak when necessary, which was fine as his wit was sharp enough for two…or three. That said, he was often still near the center of attention, given that he officiated most every wedding, prayer, baptism, or game of pass-the-blessing that arose. David truly was a mainstay of my childhood.

The most important investment David ever made in me was in my spiritual development. David Huskins read me scripture…David Huskins prayed with me and for me…and after I accepted Jesus, David Huskins baptized me. Even in the latter years when I saw him less and less, I still was blessed by the insights on living a covenant life from his books and the process of discipleship from sermons like “A Diamond in the Rough.” I truly believe, like his namesake, that David Huskins was a man after God’s heart. Years before prayer rooms began springing up across the U.S. thanks to the work of international organizations like 24/7, David Huskins had a prayer tower at his church, and David Huskins frequented that prayer tower.

As often befits a man of his influence and calling, David’s life and ministry were, regrettably, not without controversy, and I suspect that his passing may bring its own brand. My hope and prayer is that in the coming days, any such controversy would take a back seat in light of the hope and faith that God brought to so many through David’s life. In 2008, David spoke powerfully about the desire to leave a legacy (http://bit.ly/1p7MT8J – starting at about the 1:20 mark). While I cannot speak to the legacy of his children or his church, I can truly say from personal experience that David loved one of the least of these…me…a shy second-cousin in-law once-removed…about as well as a child could be loved. Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 that when we do that, we are really loving Him. Had he never preached even a single sermon, David Huskins would have still been counted as the best pastor I ever had the privilege of being shepherded by due to the love that he showed me and the feeling of hope and safety that it provided. If that’s not a legacy, I don’t know what is.

My heart breaks with his loss, but my heart is filled with hope as well, for John 12:24  says “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” The Christian life is a path to death, that in and through death we may find life in Christ.