Friday, December 21, 2007

Church Family, Adopted Dad

Shortly after I came back from a year at I.U. School of Music I became disenchanted with the church I had attended since grade school.

A friend of mine, Sue Nichols, had changed churches too and suggested that I try East 49th Street Christian Church. The Sunday after President Kennedy was shot was my first Sunday. That first Sunday I felt for the first time that God was present in church. I had never felt that at the other church. I came back the next Sunday and Russ remembered my name. That shocked me. I had only met him the once going through his famous greeting line outside.

I wanted to start choir right away but I didn't have transportation. Members of the choir would pick me up for rehearsals and church and take me home. This was miles out of their way. I had trouble getting a four block ride at the other church.

Russ was always interested in what I was doing and how I was getting along. I used to wonder what it was like to have two parents who really loved each other like Russ and Marian. I envied Phil and Paul but I looked on them like my "adopted little brothers." (They were little then and I could swing them around on my shoulders.)

Later, I got married, had two boys, Patrick and Michael and eventually my marriage failed. My mother's marriage fell apart when I was seven, and my grandfather left a week before my tenth birthday. I didn't want to be the third one to fail and swore I'd never get a divorce.

Russ and Marian were always there encouraging me and making me feel I wasn't a failure after all. They encouraged me, counseled me, and talked to the boys when I needed extra help. Russ helped me see a lot of things differently and I looked up to him like an adopted dad. He did more for me than my own dad ever did. I also looked at God differently. I always believed in Him from the time I could remember, but he was always like one dumb song says "From a Distance" (pretty tune, but lame on the reality of God). I thought: if Russ as a human could seem so good and as perfect as a human could be, then how much more compassionate, forgiving, kind and loving were God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit?

Thank you Russ for being you. I'm sure God had a hand in bringing me to East 49th in my teen years. I and my boys will greatly miss you.

Sharon-Glee Gerth / December 20, 2007

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Courage - Wasem

While a student at Emmanuel in the mid 1970’s, I attended my first North American Christian Convention at Cobo Hall in Detroit. I was a fairly new Christian and very new to the world of vocational ministry. I observed with keen interest the President of that convention. I was awed by his humility, hospitable attitude, relational ease, and authentic faith. To me, he was the consummate gentleman and ambassador for Christ. From my vantage point, he made all people in that auditorium feel as though they were meeting one-on-one with him over coffee in a corner booth as he spoke from the main platform. I leaned over to my wife during the final session and said, “I’d give anything to serve Christ with that man and learn from him.” A few years later, I was given that opportunity and had the privilege to serve as an associate of Russ Blowers during the 80’s. Thousands of people have described RFB as an encourager. I commented to a fellow pall bearer at the November 15 memorial service in Indianapolis that for me, Russ was the one person who didn’t just encourage me … he gave me courage. The courage to attempt things for God well beyond my comfort zone. The courage to “let my yes be yes and my no be no.” The courage to love, forgive, and give extravagantly when my human logic would hold me back. I learned more about being a minister of the gospel, a pastor of souls, and a human being from Russ Blowers than any other person I have known. God bless you Russell Fredrick Blowers and the global Church of the Lord Jesus Christ you loved and led so well.
John E. Wasem / November 30, 2007

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Going to the Mat

I had always respected Russ as the closest thing to a father figure that I had. He gave my brother, Patrick, and I our first jobs cleaning the brochures up in the sanctuary after second service (That's when there were only two services). We each got a dollar for doing it and I couldn't wait for him to finish his sermon so we could race up to the front and start grabbing them up. We would sit with Bob Hindman during the service and clean up after. This kept us out of mischief like trying to reach up the "new" Coke machine in Fellowship Hall with our little arms to get free pops.

One story that I have told about Russ more times than I can count, is how he convinced my mom to let me start on the wrestling team in high school. I had wanted to be on the wrestling team in school since there was a team I could join in 8th grade. I told my mom I had band, or orchestra or something so that I could go to practice. That never lasted more than a week before she would come into practice and pull me out. I was embarressed, but I never stopped trying. Freshman year, then sophomore year ... no luck. My junior year I thought "I bet mom would listen to Russ" so during one of our sit downs with him in his office when I was in my rebellious stage, I asked him to tell her to let me wrestle. He looked at her and said "Sharon, let the boy wrestle." She replied with "O.K., but NO FOOTBALL!" I could of kissed him. Thanks Dad, I needed that.

Russ, I hope you knew how much of an impact you had on my life. I love you, and I will miss you.

Michael D. Gerth / November 27, 2007
Now of Rolling Meadows, Ill.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Inspiring and Inspired

My husband and I have been away from E91 (which we still consider our church home) for about 10 years now. We met there while working together on the old Jericho Road Ministries Radio Ministry Team. Russ and E91 were a big part of our maturing and growing in our faith in those years. I can't begin to count or even estimate the ways his ministry impacted our lives. His was the first solid, consistent, mature, encouraging, inspiring and inspired Christian preaching we had ever received. There are so many brief vignette type memories that come to mind. here are a few:

Russ baptized me shortly after I joined E91. Mark Wesner related the story of the first baptism in the new East 91st Street location. My experience was similar - I slipped on the steps on the way down and nearly dunked myself. But Russ caught my arm. I don't remember what he said - I sure wish I did - but I was told there was serious discussion of no-slip strips at the next staff meeting!

Brian and I had been "dating" for a bit when this next brief moment now memory occurred. It was some special event, because we were both pretty dressed up and Russ was in a tux. Perhaps a wedding reception? We were in the old fellowship hall where the singles ministry used to meet (not sure what's it called now!) and about to exit via the doors that used to lead directly out to the parking lot to the south. We had slipped arms around each other as we were leaving. Russ spotted us and just had to hang out the door with that trademark grin and twinkle in his eye as his black bow tie hung untied around his neck to tell us what a good looking couple we made.

Brian tells a story about the first service in which he was asked to do a reading. It was Christmas Eve 1988. Jackie Long had recruited both Brian and Steve Brooke (then high school/college student now senior minister at Our Place Christian Church in Portland Oregon) to each read one of the scripture passages for the service. At that time in Steve's young life he had a very 80s hairstyle part of which was died green - he was probably dressed in jeans and something colorful in the way of a shirt (I seem to remember a vest). Brian on the other hand was ten years older and balding in khakis and a sport coat. Russ had the same advice for both of them prior to the service starting: "When you're up there on the platform, don't put your hands in your pockets."

I wish my memories were more spiritual, deep and thought-provoking... but the kind of believer I am today is in large part due to the spiritual, deep and thought-provoking life of Russ Blowers. We rejoice that he is reunited with Marian - and finally face to face with his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We look forward to that day when we will all be reunited around the throne of Grace. "For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." - Philippians 1:21

Sue & Brian Stevens / November 21, 2007
(now of Dayton, Ohio)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Quick On or Off His Feet - Wesner

How fitting it was that Russ "graduated into Glory" on Veteran's Day weekend. Another of God's great soldiers got a pass to go home.

What an honor it was for me to serve on Russ' staff from 1987 until he retired. Everyone who knew Russ realized what a great visionary, pastor, husband and father he was.

After God called me on from E. 91st, I was blessed to stay in contact with this great man of God over the years via email. My journal is spiced with memories and little quips and insights of Russ.

As the lead pastor of the large church staff, the scripture that he continued to keep before us was Phil. 2:1-4. He not only preached it, he lived it. I felt that no one was more excited about my ministry area than Russ. He was constantly encouraging me and rejoicing over God's work in my ministry and family. Something tells me that every one of his staff members felt the same way.

He was a man of integrity. When I think of him I am reminded of a statement that Phil or Paul said of his father at one of Russ' anniversary celebrations... "How do I describe my dad? Perhaps with this simple phrase… 'What you see is what you get.'"

I think the thing that impressed me the most about him was his unquenchable zest for life. He was always so "young for his age." And he had such a spontaneous, wonderful sense of humor.

He was always so quick to think on his feet... or off his feet, for that matter. There was the time when Russ was going down the steps to enter the new baptistery when the church first moved to the E. 91st campus. His feet suddenly shot out from the slippery steps under him and he splashed all the way under the water! Russ popped up out of the water and, without missing a beat, spit out some water and said to the startled congregation, "Well, folks, you've just witnessed our first baptism!"

With Russ and my father awaiting me in Glory, heaven continues to become even more of that destination for which I long.

After Dad left this old world behind in 2003, Russ heard about his departure and sent me the following scripture...

"Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life." Rev. 2:10b

Now it's your turn, Russ. I know you're wearing it with joy.
Mark Wesner / November 20, 2007

God's Telephone Number

Denny and I have known Russ since we joined East 49th Street in 1976, just before we moved up to the present location on 91st Street. Denny was saved after only two weeks' of Russ' preaching. The first week was on the sin of neutrality. The second week, Russ read and explained the Four Spiritual Laws. The third week, Denny grabbed my hand and said, "We're going forward!" He was one of the first ones baptized in the new baptistry.

Anyone who has ever heard Russ pray knew that he knew God--personally. He encouraged us all to be bold in approaching God by saying that God's "telephone number" was Jeremiah 33:3: "Call to Me, and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know." Every time I see a 333 (on a clock, license plate, address--whatever) I hear his encouragement and push my faith a little further to pray more boldly. That legacy will live as long as I do.
Posie Neidigh / November 20, 2007

Monday, November 19, 2007

A Great Deal

I am one who came late to the cloud of admirers of Russ, although I discovered that he had known me much longer. He is a graduate of Christian Theological Seminary, where I now serve as Vice President of External Relations. Right after I came to work at CTS, I visited Russ to hear his views on the seminary. Although I of course knew about him, and he knew of my husband Randy’s work at Geist Christian Church, I didn’t think he knew me. But the first thing he said to me was “I remember the day you were born.” It seems he and my father knew each other back in Ohio. What a great capacity he had for making everyone feel precious.

This particular Russ story also involves CTS. Many of you know that Christian Theological Seminary presented Russ with an honorary doctorate this past spring. It was a great day, and we were so glad that he allowed us to honor him. I gathered together all the pictures of Russ that had been taken by various people during the ceremony to put into a small album. I spent the whole summer trying to see him to present them to him, but of course he was in Europe and then not well after coming home. I finally managed to see him briefly during one of those interludes when he was feeling a little better. I went to Brenner Luggage to get a small leather album and have it engraved with his name and the date of Commencement 2007. They told me it would be 50 cents a letter to have it engraved. I said that was fine, and wrote out what I wanted printed on the album. The store manager took the paper from me and said “Oh, this is for Dr. Blowers? What an honor for us. No charge.” I told Russ that story when I gave him the album. He said “Hey, I got you a great deal!”

He did indeed. A great deal of joy to know such a man of faith. My prayers and blessings are with you all.
Ann Updegraff Spleth / November 19, 2007