“Hi Jeff, my name is Steve Gumaer. Yesterday I was a drug-dealing loser. Last night I dedicated my life to Christ and I need to figure out what’s next.”
Jeff sat pensively in a hand me down office chair at his office on Airport Way. It was an old log cabin next to First Assembly of God’s sanctuary that had been converted into shag-carpeted workspace for the men who ran the church. It smelled like day old coffee. The Secretary’s name was Dixie.
As he stood and gestured with his hands, he said. “Steve, I have been in Fairbanks for a year praying that God would radically save someone in this valley from the drug scene. You are that guy.”
This conversation led to a run around Alaska Land, coffee and cake with his wife Sheri, and daily meetings where we prayed, studied, and wrestled with the big issues of life and faith. I even learned how to change diapers on their tank-like toddler, Aaron.
Jeff didn’t act like a pastor. He never told me what I needed to do but rather helped me come to terms with the decision on my own. Even an issue as straight forward as smoking pot, Jeff didn’t come out saying, “You need to cut that out” but rather calmly asked me what it was like, how it made me feel, why smoking was such and important part of my daily routine.
He was a wise dude for 22.
About 6 weeks into our friendship, meeting together daily, I told Jeff that I had decided to stop smoking pot. “Why?” he asked. I told him that I felt it crippled my contact with God, that it was an imposter for the real thing. It felt good for a time, but drifted off and demanded renewal, while peace with God was mine always whether I earned it or not. Pot, I decided, was a distraction, not a bridge to peace.
Peace with God wasn’t like a bong hit. It didn’t come from space like an alien, causing rapture, then emptiness. It was just there, available for my hungry soul, waiting to be picked like a ripe peach. So I picked it and left behind my rolling papers, bongs, and paraphernalia collected over the past 6 years.
Jeff helped me wrestle with God so that I owned my decisions. To this day when I call him he doesn’t offer easy solutions to complex problems. He still goes back to the basic posture of seeking first Christ and His kingdom, expecting His will to be revealed to the honest soul. And so far, it always is revealed. Jeff isn’t in the guru seat.
I watched Jeff fail at church planting, husbanding, fathering, and leading. I have been disappointed in him many times. And exactly this is the great thing about my friend: he is a broken person like me who has the humility to live out his struggles in front of others. And as I watch him, I learn to grapple with the obscure truths and the subtleties of things that are supremely important. While he learns, because he learns out loud, I also learn.
Jeff’s church, Friends Church, in Fairbanks AK, is the place I identify with as my church home. On stage in front of a couple thousand people each Sunday he reminds me of Jesus in Matthew 23. He talks, like Jesus did, right from his gut. He deals with street level issues and hits them with raw passion. He occasionally uses obscene vernacular when he gets pumped up about something important to the community, like internet porn or who you are when no one’s looking. He talks like he lives: real, genuine, generous, merciful, and dedicated to Jesus.
Jeff and his wife Sheri share deeply with the ones they love. He is a pastor that also appreciates a good cigar and a cold ale after taking down a moose during hunting season. Jeff likes guns.
His congregation is peppered with recovering people; they are recovering from alcohol and drug abuse, broken relationships and dreams, a toxic church experience or boredom. Jeff encourages coffee addiction and getting real. I am at home in Friends Church. Jeff is the real thing.
I stopped smoking pot sometime in May, 1986. Peace with God is so much better than a bong hit.