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Archive for December 8th, 2021

On November 9, 2021, my Uncle Ken died of injuries following an assault. He was 100 years old. A veteran of WWII. A grandfather, great grandfather, and great-great grandfather. The last of that Barhite generation to be called home. One year after my dad.

On October 25, Uncle Ken began a routine walk outside his apartment complex. He paused to greet a stranger sitting on a bench outside the front door. The man mumbled a few words. Then he stood up, tackled my uncle, and threw him to the ground. Uncle Ken suffered multiple fractures to hip, pelvis, and spine. For many days, his healthy heart and mind attempted to respond to trauma. He frequently asked his daughter, Lydia, “What is my purpose now?”

People who didn’t know my uncle soon knew all about the assault because it was a lead story in newspapers and on TV. My cousin Lydia was interviewed multiple times by reporters. There are emotions of anger and the frequent question, “Why?” What was the purpose of this seemingly senseless death of a WWII veteran? Some have even asked, “Where was God?”

My cousin asked me to say some things at the funeral that would describe her dad and bring closure. My uncle and I were very close. To rightly describe her dad would be to describe who he was to the Creator and Redeemer of his life. I knew what Uncle Ken would want to hear. Afterward, a surprising number of his family and friends looked me in the eye and said, “You’ve brought new perspective to this tragic death,” “You helped me piece this puzzle together,” “Thank you.” Here is the perspective I shared at my uncle’s funeral on December 3, 2021:

My Uncle Ken…

… has now heard the words he had been waiting to hear! The Lord God has said to Ken Barhite: “It is time! You have fought the good fight! You have finished the race! You have kept the faith. Now you have the crown of life!”

Of course, the “good fight” and the “race” weren’t exactly what Uncle Ken—or any of us—thought it might be. But then, who are we to tell God how our lives should be? After all, He is our Creator. He knows the plan and purpose He has for us. He wants us to keep our eyes on Him and live the days that He gives us.

Sometimes things happen in our lives that make no sense… that, in fact, seem unnecessary and horribly unfair. Something horribly unfair and seemingly unnecessary did happen to Uncle Ken. Wanting to make human sense of it, Uncle Ken asked Lydia, “What is my purpose now?” What’s going on here? What does this mean? Why did this happen?

From our perspective, it appears that a man who committed an evil crime changed everything. It appears that a thief robbed Ken Barhite of what was rightfully his… the right to live out his days in peace. We hate that this happened. We hate the wicked behavior of that man… and we him to pay for what he did.

Here is where I have to stop… and think back to hundreds of conversations with Uncle Ken. He realized that his life was not his own. It was a gift from God. Ken recognized that life does not play out the way we think it should. There are obstacles, disappointments, and suffering. With experience and age, Uncle Ken better understood that the God who made him is faithful—on good days and bad, in the presence of loving family… or while being attacked by a stranger. God is always faithful even when we do not like what’s happening to us. Even when we cannot understand it.

A few years ago, when Uncle Ken and I were spending a day in the mountains, we talked about the hard things that come into our lives. We talked about all those things that just don’t seem fair. And then there was the sound of Ken’s warm, soft chuckle. We looked at each other and smiled. We smiled because we know that life is not fair! Life on this earth is difficult. It is messy. We talked about all the Barhites whose lives turned out differently than they’d planned. Many of those Barhites probably asked the same question: What’s going on here? What is the purpose? Am I being robbed of what is rightfully mine?

The important question… the one we should be asking… is: How will we respond when things that we think we should have are taken away from us? When life does not go the way we think it should? When life is not fair? When wrong things are done to us? How will we respond?

When my dad and Uncle Ken could not figure things out in life, they were ok with letting God be God. It’s like, well, it’s like when 2nd Lt. Kenneth Barhite was serving his country in the Pacific Theater of WWII. He did not see the big picture. He did not know the entire battle plan. He did not know if he would have enough courage. He didn’t know what he might be called to do on any given day. He did not know if he would even be given another day. But he lived the days set before him.

We remember Kenneth Barhite for his service to our country in the U.S. Army But we need to think about his service in the Lord’s army, too. There are hymns that describe the life of a Christian soldier… songs like “Fight the Good Fight,” “Be Strong in the Lord,” and “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Ken Barhite knew all about soldiering. And whether he was soldiering in the U.S. Army or God’s army, he probably often asked, “What’s going on! What is my purpose now?”

Ever since Lydia told me about the assault, I have given this almost daily thought. I believe that with Uncle Ken’s death might come an answer to his question about life… and purpose.

It is possible, I think, that God called His soldier Kenneth Barhite to one last duty. Not just anybody would be prepared to perform this duty well. But Uncle Ken was prepared. He had confessed Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life… to everyone who would listen! He had told many of us that he was ready for the heavenly Father to call him home. And until that happened, I think Uncle Ken was perfectly willing to be an instrument in God’s hand… whatever that might mean.

Think about it! So many people in the Longmont area recognized Kenneth Barhite as a member of the WWII Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.. Who else but someone like Uncle Ken could get the attention of people in this community? The assault on this veteran really got people’s attention. People asked: How could this happen to one of our vets? Who would do such a thing? People expressed righteous anger: This is a crime! The one who did this must be found and taken off the street! We must help each other be more alert!

It appears that God wanted to call Uncle Ken home but not in an ordinary way. The death of Uncle Ken, one of the few surviving WWII veterans resulted from injuries of a violent crime.

His death was investigated as a homicide.

That means that not just the city, but the county was involved. Officers of the law and a county coroner were involved. That’s a lot of attention. And rightly so. There is danger on the streets on Longmont, and God used a soldier named Kenneth Barhite to sound the alarm and wake people up.

I won’t—and can’t—pretend to know God’s ways. His ways are not my ways and mine are not His. But until I learn differently, I’m going to believe that Uncle Ken was exactly where God wanted him to be, doing what He wanted him to do. He was living the days of his life. He was involved. He was starting his daily walk and being friendly to a stranger.

Uncle Ken was a soldier on duty. At 100 years of age, he was a weary soldier and ready for the heavenly Father to call him home. But perhaps, just perhaps, God wanted His faithful soldier Kenneth Barhite to help call attention to a problem, to encourage more citizens to stand guard in their neighborhoods, to protect their children, and to perhaps help stop one man from ever hurting anyone else ever again.

We don’t know the ways that this crime impacted other people. We don’t know what changes might be made because of it. But there is something that we can be sure of.

God knew that Uncle Ken would die well. He knew because Ken had been faithful to pray: Dear Lord, Thy will be done. If you want me to live, I will. If you want me to die and rise again, I will!

There is a lot of comfort for all of us. Here is the Psalm from my devotions the morning that Uncle Ken died:

He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of stars; He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked to the ground.

Psalm 147:3-6

Did you catch that? God lifts up the humble. He throws the wicked to the ground. A man threw Uncle Ken to the ground… but now God has lifted up Kenneth Barhite and one day He will throw the wicked down.

Soldier Kenneth Barhite did die well. He carried no hate or vengeance when he departed this life. He did not understand why this happened, but he told Lydia, “I forgive the man who did this.”

Someone else said the same. He is Jesus Christ who from the cross cried out, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Uncle Ken knew that he needed forgiveness. He knew he needed a Savior to set things right between him and God the Father. And you know what? That Savior Jesus Christ came to personally take Kenneth Barhite home.

Well done, good and faithful soldier. You have fought the good fight! You have finished the race! You have received the crown of life!

2 Timothy 4:7-8

May you and I also fight the good fight. Finish the race. And receive the crown of life.

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