Remembering a peacebuilder…
Where I was [Afghanistan], the main thing that expats can do is to be a presence in the country. Treating people with respect and with love and trying to be a little bit of Christ in this part of the world. -Glen Lapp, excerpt from the End of Term Report for his assignment in Afghanistan which was to be finished in October
We lived in adjacent dorms our freshman year at Eastern Mennonite University, so it was not uncommon that I would see two buzzcutt classmates wearing LMH Blazer t-shirts walking up the sidewalk past Maplewood bumping a volleyball back and forth. Glen played setter for the EMU volleyball team that would form during his tenure–first as a club team and then as a varsity sport. As setter, he seemed to take great pride in the ability to deftly squeeze the ball toward the outside hitters flying in for a spike.
During my second year, I lived with Glen and some other volleyball guys in the Mt. Clinton apartments. I soon became immersed in the slang of the EMU men’s volleyball team which was part Lancaster County dutch cadence, part nonsensical verbage. Glen was among those in the house whose interests also included cycling. On more than one weekend that year, usually when Glen’s brothers were down from Lancaster, the avid riders would plan a climb into the Blue Ridge mountains.
One route was infamous for its punishing serpentine incline on the way to the summit. The days leading up to the ride became a competition to see who could outdo the others in woefully lamenting their lack of fitness against the indomitable challenge of the mountain. It was a game–partly about comedic relief amongst friends and partly good-natured psychological gamesmanship. More often than not it was Glen who would break the chorus of woe with a pick yourself up by the scruff word of encouragement and determination. “We can do this! That incline isn’t that steep…” then he would pause and say with a groan, “Yes it is!”
Another house ritual took place on evenings when a study break was needed. In my memory, I see Glen in the kitchen preparing his almost nightly snack of several toasted cheese sandwiches. Then someone would bring out a deck of cards and throw down the gauntlet–a dual of pushups through the whole deck. Plaintive cries for the deck to be kind erupted. Inevitably, one person would draw the higher cards more often and be pushed to the brink of total muscle fatigue. “Come on Mil, you can do it,” Glen would chime in with his sing-songy tenor drawl as if playing the part of an Amish fitness trainer.
That was twenty years ago. Our lives have not intersected much since college. Then, two days ago, I received the horrible news that Glen was killed while serving with MCC in Afghanistan as part of a medical assistance team that had been providing eye care and other medical care in a remote region of northern Afghanistan. The team was ambushed and slain on their way back to Kabul. Since hearing this news, I have been thinking quite a bit about Glen’s life.
Glen did not live his life by a conventional script. After college he went back to get his nursing degree from Johns Hopkins. One time when our paths crossed in Lancaster, he was selling real estate. At another point Glen was on a several month trek through Nepal. My sense is that Glen lived his life with a simplicity and freedom that is uncommon. He was free to experiment with vocation, explore the world and to help others in places of need. He was free to see value in humbly serving others–whether setting a volleyball, offering encouragement on a challenging bike ride, or providing medical care to an Afghani villager. Glen was free to live with a “moral imagination” which took him beyond conventional expectations.
Others would be in a much better position to say, but I don’t think Glen would have considered himself heroic or extraordinary. However, his tragic death brings into view the power of an ordinary life lived with grace in service of others. Thank you Glen for your witness. Thank you for seeing the humanity of the person next to you–whether in Lancaster or Afghanistan. Thank you for treating others with respect and love. Thank you for modeling a different way of living in the world–the way of peace. Thanks for being a little bit of Christ.