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Don’t ask for just a few

November 9, 2010

– For David L. Wylie, who gave all he had.

There’s this photo of me, circa 1991, and I’m standing on the floor of the Georgia House of Representatives with a politician and Miss Ethiopia. I had just been recognized by Governor Zell Miller with some sort of proclamation for the work I was doing as a high school student to help eradicate poverty around the world. I lost that piece of paper long ago, but I still have the picture. What brings it to mind is the man standing there with me. We’re all wearing purple ribbons, and he is holding a little boy about the age my own son is today – a foster child he had rescued, one of so many in his life – and he’s smiling so big his eyes are closed.

A few months back I reconnected on Facebook with David Wylie, onetime children’s minister at the church I attended as a kid. Among his more than 2,000 friends was a friend of mine, and I just happened to see a comment he made on a post of hers one morning and clicked on his name. I had that moment I always have when I’m not sure I trust my memory and the profile picture, so I clicked through his photos and found one of him standing with Evander Holyfield. I think I had a picture like that once, too.

When I reached out with a friend request and an invitation to get together, he was surprised and pleased, but quick to let me know a lot had changed. This was only a few weeks before I left Miami, and with him in Broward and me in Coral Gables, lunch never happened. I regret that now more than I can say. Over the last few months, I’ve followed David’s work on behalf of LGBT rights through his status updates and photos: arm in arm with Kendrick Meek, whom he campaigned for in Florida’s Senate race; news articles; and interaction with friends offering advice, ideas and support. In his posts I saw the same David I had known as a teenager, a man serving and leading a community of people and taking a stand for issues of substance just as he had taught me to do.

I first met David when I was 14, an eighth-grader in the middle of a series of six moves over four years and a family in the midst just the type of emotional turmoil you might imagine that would bring. I had begun to find a sense of belonging, stability and purpose in the youth group at my church just as David, then in his late twenties, joined the ministry team in a newly created position: children’s minister. His brief talks during the regular Sunday worship service were magical in the most literal sense; he captured the imagination of the kids, the parents, well, all of us by juggling fire, stuffing scarves in his sleeves and flipping coins up in the air.

Soon he had started a special children’s worship in the church gymnasium, and I was volunteering with him to help set up chairs, bring the kids over from Sunday School and lead songs. One morning he set up a table in front of the several dozen kids kids assembled in metal folding chairs underneath the basketball net. The lesson that day was on 2 Kings 4:1-7, the story of Elisha and the widow.

In that story, a widow and her sons are about to starve in a famine, and all they have left is a little oil. He instructs her to go throughout her community and ask for empty jars – “Don’t ask for just a few,” he says – and then take them home and begin pouring her few drops of oil into them. She filled them up one by one until there was enough for she and her family to survive.

As he told the story, David poured oil endlessly from one container into another, mesmerizing his audience until the very end, when told us about famine that was going on right then, all over the world. He said there was something we could do that was like what happened with that widow and her oil. He showed us a photo of a boy in South America and told us about an organization called World Vision that helped little boys like that one who needed food, clothing, medicine and money to attend school. He said we could help, even though we were young. That day, our small group of children began sponsoring that little South American boy through our weekly offering. The kids began exchanging letters with this boy their own age, and started to see how much they could do – and how easily – to make the world a better place.

Soon, David introduced World Vision to the teenagers in the youth group and told us about the 30 Hour Famine. Primed by the pull of David’s magical advocacy during children’s worship, I was the first to raise my hand and volunteer to go without eating for a little over a day to raise money to alleviate poverty and stop hunger around the world. This was the first year the 30 Hour Famine came to the United States officially, and in the months and years to come, I continued to volunteer, raising funds and awareness for a cause I came to care about deeply through David’s leadership. Along the way, I became a staff member and the official spokesperson. I met celebrities and did countless media interviews, including one from the pay phone in the back hallway of the Hard Rock Cafe Atlanta with the AP that was syndicated across the country. They sent me a clipbook after that year’s Famine was done – and while I had no idea what it was at the time, that three-inch-thick stack of clips would be the impetus for a career in Public Relations and a life of passionate support for international causes that continues to this day.

I posted about this a few months back, around the time I reconnected with David on Facebook, but recent events have given me cause to think about it all again, and more deeply. In that post, I reflected on how life comes full circle, and how despite our changes in station and circumstance, some essential elements of who we are remain the same.

Less than a month ago, David Wylie passed away from cancer at age 44. This I learned, just as I had learned of his recent life and work so near where I had been living, on Facebook. There, I saw photos of David leaning against a house in mid-construction with a crowbar in his hand and a shirt tied around his waist. In links posted by friends and colleagues, I saw pictures of him in front of a table of gifts dressed up as Santa to the delight of kids in need.

I had known David was making a huge difference in the South Florida GLBT community and in the lives of so many people in it, including changing the life of another boy who had no one to turn to and nowhere to go. I had assumed his coming out and departure from the church had not been easy. I hadn’t known he’d been married to a woman and had a teenage son he was no longer allowed to see. I hadn’t known this man who gave so much to so many people had himself been abandoned by his own parents at age three.

I read through the dozens of posts to his Facebook wall, which has become a virtual obituary, and then I found the literal one. At first, one line made me want to cry: “He died broke on Oct. 19 and didn’t leave enough money to pay for his $895 cremation.”

Last night, after reading that enough money had been raised for his services and David will finally be laid to rest this Saturday, I told my husband about it all at the dinner table. In the process, I ended up explaining the sadness and loss of death for the first time to our three-year-old son, Elisio – whose name is derived from that biblical prophet David had taught us about, Elisha. I thought again of the miracle of the widow’s oil jar, and I saw it differently this time.

The miracle, I realize now, was not that God or Elisha made oil continue pouring in a steady stream from a jar that had held only drops. The miracle was the woman, who went from door to door in her community boldly asking for what seemed to most people like hopelessly empty jars. Given with such trust in a time of such need, her faith and perseverance transformed them into plenty that would provide for those she loved.

“When all the jars were full, the widow said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.” But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing.” 2 Kings 4:6

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anna permalink
    November 9, 2010 9:20 am

    Angie, thank you for your beautiful words about David. I, too, knew him while I was a member of his church ministry. He moved away when I was 6, and I’m assuming that is when he went to the church that you attended. Although a lot has changed in his life since we lost touch, it is evident that his giving spirit was still the same. I stumbled across your blog while searching to find out more about his untimely death, which I also learned about on Facebook. Thank you for reminding me of the David that I knew and loved.
    P.S. Did you ever attend his camp in Millen, GA?

    • Angie Henderson Moncada permalink
      November 9, 2010 9:24 am

      Anna – He came to our church right after Millen. He was a very special man, and I’m glad my post has helped you reconnect with his spirit.

  2. November 9, 2010 8:46 pm

    Thank you for posting, Angie. I remember his time at PLBC. I too remember the 30 hour Famine you organized. Such light shining from a young life. He will be missed but remembered by those lives he touched.

  3. November 9, 2010 11:04 pm

    Angie,

    Thanks for the touching tribute. It has caused me to remember great memories of a great man. I still remember the 30-hour famine and how it opened so many eyes for our youth group at the time.

    God bless you.

    Dennis

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