The Man Who Was Don
In the summer of 95, my life changed forever in the back seat of a Campus Life bus headed for Ocean City New Jersey, the day I met Don Nonnenman. I was sitting in the back with my buddy Bill being DJ to the entire bus, whether they liked it or not. Don asked us what we were playing and proceeded to go through our bag of CDs, yes this was before MP3s and CD burners, we actually had to carry around stacks of CDs that took up an entire suitcase themselves.
Don then began the speech we had anticipated, after looking through Metallica, Zombie Anthrax, GNR and who knows what else he told us the music was ungodly and we should find some better music in much grander words. Bill and I were prepared for this as the token sinners on this bus full of wannabe saints; we received similar speeches on almost every trip we took. However, Don did not condemn us and walk away, like so many gospel drive-by shooters before him. He sat there in the back of the bus for the rest of the 8 hours listening to our early 90s metal and getting to know us, making some jokes and making some friends. No, Don was different.
If truth be told, Don did not do anything the same way as the other Christians I had encountered. He was unique, although unique hardly does him justice. I can now see Gods hand was moving that week, he and I sat and talked a lot that week, even though teenage girls surrounded me. I choose to sit on the porch of a shabby hotel and hear about Jesus from this man, who was old enough to be my father. Don was not even trying to be young and cool like some of the other youth leaders of the day. He was just himself with his jagged edges and his soft heart, and I was there sitting with him asking question after question of this man who talked of Jesus like none I had ever heard before.
I would like to tell you that week after talking to Don I gave my life to Christ and never looked back but that is to much Hollywood and not enough truth. I answered the altar call laced with emotional pressure that week and returned to my life as if nothing had changed. Still the token sinner in the bus full of wannabe saints.
I spent many hours on the phone with Don and even a few weekends at his house. The following year at that same summer camp, I spent hours talking to Don. I think it helped that he seemed out of favor with some of the establishment because of his hard line stances on some issues and anyone who is an outsider with the establishment was ok with me. He told me about the things God has done in the past and what he wanted to do with anyone who was willing to listen to him and follow God for all they were worth. I was interested in the idea of power he spoke of; I had never heard anyone talk of raising the dead before. It was as if he spoke of an entirely different Jesus than I had heard of at the churches I had attended with my friends, a Jesus that wanted to be deeply involved in my life in more ways than just crushing my fun.
It would not be until next year at that same camp, after hours of sleepless nights caused by hours of great conversation that I went by myself to my hotel room. I did not know what to do or how to pray so I just talked:
God, I dont know if you really exist or not, but if you do then you must know me and you know I dont do any thing half assed. (half fast, for you religious folks) so I am going to give you a year, one hard core year of my life, but if you are false or no fun I am out. And I will be your worst enemy.
Yes, not the most sanctimonious or prayers, but it worked for me and it worked for God although I am sure he laughed at the thought of me threatening him.
When I told Don what I had done, he was overjoyed and began to tell me more about what I should be doing in life. Some times, I agreed but sometimes I did not and he did not really force the issues with me. We spent a lot of that camp week talking over the gifts of the Spirit and many other topics, honestly the topics were not as important as the man who took me under his wing and guided me on my journey toward Jesus. He took me into his home weekend after weekend and gave me more books and tapes than any teenage boy should read. He answered my questions and loved me as no one outside of my family had ever done, although that was probably because he was my family. He had taken me into the family of God and made me a part. It is amazing how beautiful it is to be blindsided by discipleship.
Last Friday I got a call that I will never forget it came at 4:00. It was Vanessa, Dons daughter, on the phone. She called to tell me that Don had gone home to be with Jesus; I was shocked. I did not know what to say or to do, I felt relieved and sad all at the same time. I had leave work and go home to see my wife, knowing that the man who was Don forever changed my life. The world is worse off for having lost him but heaven, I think just became a livelier place.