Joel B. Ntwatwa: A Short Life of Legacy

It is morning here, and I am at church. I know I shouldn’t be checking my phone. But I did. Ninno Jack Junior has just sent me a WhatsApp message, one that I usually should not have opened. But I did. The text was short: “Nevender has passed on.”

At first, I disbelieve, ‘this cannot be true,’ I thought. But I do not conceive my mind playing tricks on me, it never did. I do not get nightmares, and this was not night time. The objective reality is that message on my phone screen, and I can reread it. Which I did. It is so, Nevender has passed on.

I am severely saddened. It is painful for me, but I am at church. What do I do? Burst into tears, sob and wet my handkerchief in the presence of everyone who has no idea what’s going on? So I take a deep breath, and tears drop.

My wife and I are supposed to have a meeting with two of the church elders as we think about church membership. How will this go? I am not so skilled at suppressing crying. I rarely cry, but when tears come, I rarely hold them back. My wife is holding my hand as I bow down to let the tears roll. The sad reality of living this side of heaven.

‘How can this be,’ I ask myself. Just last Sunday, merely seven days ago I had an extended conversation with Nevender. It was about Divine Election, and God’s choosing a people for Himself. It stemmed from an article I had written about John 3:16. He wanted some clarity on some of the things I wrote.

As usual, Joel is calm, collected, and inquisitive. He does not want to argue merely, but to learn, then to share. And, Ironically, his first twitter message that started our last conversation came while I was at church. Last Sunday. In the space of one week, my friend and brother is dead.

I remember that as we begun the conversation, I asked him how he was doing. ‘I’m doing much better’ he said. That was his short reply, a response those who know Joel well do understand. He felt pain. I know. But with him, it never was his agony that defined the conversations.

‘I tire of posting “I am not well.” So even though I’m not well, I remember the joys I’ve squeezed out of life when well,’ reads one of his tweets.

Joel Nevender lived the Christian life, not as a philosopher, but as a disciple. He experienced the sorrows of living this side of heaven without complaining or murmuring. He was a soldier, one who looked beyond his agony and embraced the cross with its promise of pain. And, he was a brother whose mind I admired.

My first conversation with him was five years ago when my doctrinal disagreements with one of the churches I belonged to caused me to have discussions with those who have been through the same. I was seeking for ways to navigate the seemingly dark period of my Christian journey. Ever since we have frequently talked, mostly online, about this Christian walk and how to live fully for Christ.

As many can attest, Joel was an encouragement, and primarily through his pen. If you have visited, then you have seen how he channels his sleek skill and subtle persuasive tongue through the computer’s keyboard.

His passing immediately brought our last chat to mind. It never ended. The talk, I mean. We agreed to hold it again because he was raising many questions about biblical interpretations and things that puzzled him. Typical of him, he prodded:

“If I may continue to ask…how well formed is your theology? Do you believe in the Christian living of John 15 or the one of referring to a book to remember how to approach some topics? Are Christians to be led by the Spirit or by the reading of the written word? Are all Christians to be apologists? Theologists? You guy I can ask you a million questions. Like things to do with Christians not fighting against flesh but principalities. Are those demons? Do you believe in spiritual spouses? Wild prayers that claim deliverance? Do you come down to Christ (as I always ask) or theology in Christ? Sorry for bombarding you. These are questions all over the place. Like why do you disagree with Phaneroo or Prophets? Are they not from God? Can you really know the difference?”

Those and more questions he asked I did not answer, and because I had a guest, I asked if we may revisit this conversation. He agreed, and thanked me for my time.

I did not know it would be the last one I have with him this side of heaven. I did not. But what would I have done if I knew? Would I have been more available? Would I have prodded more to understand how he really was doing? Would that help at all? He was more concerned with the enduring truth of God than how he felt at the moment.

Nevender always challenged me to write better, think better, communicate better. And he forever will. And though our conversation did not end, I look forward to starting from where death abruptly stopped us. The chat then shall not be about the same questions he had on earth. But for now, I consider this period in between as mere ellipses… the Master has answered all his questions as we speak. He alone could, after all.

But I am gladdened by his fifth last reply on our conversation, as he said: ‘You know, this conversation about God doing all this for the church makes me understand things better in a way. When God says set apart. I get it. It’s like He’s saying, you are of my kind, and I died for you, so be as my kind. Don’t act like you are on the other side – the rejects.’ ‘You are my kind’ he said, and indeed he was God’s.

Assurance of salvation is what the Sermon today was about at Church. We can know that we have eternal life. And Nevender knows that better than he ever could. Our conversation had stirred him to better see the fullness of God’s love for him as His son.

And even though we did not have enough time to go through all the questions he raised, my confidence is that now my brother knows in full, requiring no one to teach him. He can fully behold what we discussed together through the short five years of our friendship.

As for me, I need to stop, before I soak my keyboard in tears. It’s not that I do weep as one who has no hope, no. But as one whose hope weeps for the reality of the fall.

And for you, the King’s voice fills you with joy, His countenance satisfies you. What need is there to desire fallen man’s utterances? He who is with the Bridegroom does not fast. He who is at the fountain does not thirst. All tears and pain and sorrows have ended at last, and he who toiled under the curse of Eden is at rest. Yours was a short life, a short life of legacy. Fare thee well my brother!



Photo Credit: Zahara Abdul