October 28, 1999

Rev. Bruce Fawcett

Rennie and Mike, let me begin this afternoon by expressing to you and your family, on behalf of all of us here, myself, and my wife Penny, our sincere and deepest sympathy for your loss. I think that the size of the crowd at the funeral home yesterday and here this afternoon is a testimony to the high regard which we held the boys and to our affection for you both. We want to assure you of our prayers and our willingness to do anything we can to help you during this very difficult time.

I want to tell you something which I hope will encourage you. This week I was at a Conference in St. Andrew’s, NB. There were hundreds of Baptist pastors and Christian leaders there. When it was announced Tuesday night that the boys had been killed, the evening program was immediately put on hold as many wept and joined in a time of prayer for you. Many who knew I was leaving to be here today said, “Bruce, tell them that we are praying for them and that hundreds of churches will be praying for them in the weeks ahead”. You are not alone. Hundreds of us are here physically and hundreds more are also supporting you but in a different way.

I know many of you who are here today, but some of you I have not had opportunity to meet yet. Let me introduce myself. My name is Bruce Fawcett and I work for the Baptist denomination overseeing our work among teenagers in the Maritimes. I also teach at Atlantic Baptist University.

Before this I was a minister in the Baptist Church in Lewisville. Our church had several ministers and thus I had the freedom to work primarily with teenagers. This is the context in which I knew Joel and Daniel best. But I actually had met them many years before.

You see, in the mid 80s Mike and I attended the forerunner of Atlantic Baptist University together when Atlantic Baptist College was located on the old campus on the Salisbury Road. During those years Rennie and Mike, Joel and Daniel lived near Jones Lake, a location I drove by every day from my home in Lewisville to the College campus. I’d often pick up Mike on the way by so Rennie could have the car for the day. And Mike and I would chat in my car as we made our way to those early 8:00 classes. Every once in a while I’d be at the campus and Mike would drop by to pick up his mail or drop off a library book and he’d bring the boys with him. Their presence on the campus caused quite a stir among the students because pre-schoolers don’t often set foot on a university campus. The students oood and awed over them, commenting on how cute they were and watching them with delight.

By the time we graduated, Mike and I felt called by God to leave the Maritimes and live elsewhere. Our destinations couldn’t have been more opposite. I moved to snowy New England to study and Rennie and Mike returned with the boys to live in the desert in the northern African nation of Niger. We kept in touch occasionally through the mail, and Penny and I had their family picture on our fridge and we’d think of them often. It’s only now that I have pre-schoolers of my own that I can even begin to appreciate the courage and sacrifice it took to leave a land of plenty and move to a destitute area to help those who were so poor. This willingness to give of themselves is something that I have always admired in the Roop family.

By the early 90s Penny and I had returned to my old neighbourhood of Lewisville and I was serving as youth pastor to the neighbourhood. Imagine my delight one day when the phone rang and from the other end, Mike who had by this time resettled in Moncton, asked if Joel could join our youth group, explaining that their church didn’t have enough teenagers at that time to support a youth group. My first thought was that I couldn’t imagine a five-year-old coming to our youth group! You see, I hadn’t seen Joel in years and I had forgotten that this little 5-year-old had now become a 12-year-old young man! It was with delight that we welcomed Joel, and two years later, Daniel, into our youth group. I remember feeling that these boys could offer so much to our group with their experiences in Africa and their fluency in both official languages.

I suppose that you, like me, have closed your eyes on occasion over the last couple of days and have seen memories of the boys in your mind. I can see them playing basketball in the church gym. I can see them laughing so hard they fell over. I can see Daniel reading his Archie comic books with a flashlight late at night on the stage in the church gym. I can see them riding in a 15-passenger van and joking with their friends. I can see Joel playing bongos in Montreal.

Over the last couple of days I’ve asked myself what I appreciated about the boys the most. What did I respect the most about them? I think I’ve been able to narrow it down to three key things:

1) Applied Faith: In spite of their youth both Daniel and Joel seemed to grasp a very important concept. And that is, your faith in God has to have feet. You’ve got to do something about your faith. You can’t just talk about it you’ve got to act upon it.

In our youth group we had an annual summer tradition called a Mission Tour. We told the teenagers that if they would take part in a five-month training process and then contribute $100 that we’d then take them somewhere to work for a week. We went to Boston, Hamilton, Quebec, Halifax, and many other places. As I reflect on it now, it is kind of an odd concept:

Read the Bible every day. Memorise parts of the Bible. Meet weekly with an adult mentor. Complete service projects in your church and community and then pay out some money so you can go work in another city! I’m not saying that Joel and Daniel didn’t complain about the workload from time to time like the others, but they did understand the big picture. If you are going to go and serve, then you have to be spiritually prepared. God demands our best, and meaning for life comes not from accumulating stuff but rather from serving others. They understood that your faith had to be applied.

2) Relational Maturity: Those of you who teach or work with teenagers and children know what I mean when I say that you can tell when children have been parented well. I could tell from the boys that Mike and Rennie were good parents. I could tell from their conversation that substantive issues were talked of in the Roop home. I could tell from the ways that the boys interacted with other teenagers that they had been taught respect and hard work. When we sat on the floor in one of our small groups on a Tuesday night talking about how the Bible applies to real life, Daniel and Joel never made fun of the other students’ opinions. When we traveled in the vans on long trips, their actions were never out of line. I always knew that I could partner the Roop boys up with anyone for billet purposes and they would get along with any of the guys. Whenever they stayed in a home while we were away on a trip it was almost inevitable that some Mom would say to me, “Those are good boys. No trouble at all.”

Both Joel and Daniel possessed a relational maturity which made them a delight to be around and a joy to travel with. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t perfect, but they were good boys and were well liked.

3) Forward Thinking: A year or so ago I remember one Tuesday night after our small groups that Joel and Daniel came into my office at the church and said, “Bruce we’ve got something to tell you”. So I asked them what it was and Daniel said, “We re not coming to this youth group next year Concerned, I asked “Why?” And Joel broke out into a smile and said, “We’re starting our own group at our own church”. I remember thinking two things simultaneously. First, I thought: Didn’t anyone ever tell Daniel that he’s not old enough to start a youth group? And then I thought, “Well I guess I’m glad I never did because he’s just going to go ahead and give it his best”. Secondly, I thought, Daniel and Joel got the whole point. We just can’t keep the good things for ourselves. We’ve got to share it. And planting new youth groups in different places and different languages was a great vision. They were forward thinking. Thinking beyond themselves and to the future with a maturity beyond their age.

The last time I saw Joel was at Springforth, a youth conference the Baptists run in Moncton for 1000 teenagers each year. As I was leaving the room where I had conducted a workshop I met Joel in the hall. Daniel would have been in anther building with the younger teens. And I asked Joel what was new in his life and he said, “My family is going to France this summer on a mission tour”. I said, “I know. That’s great. Tell me what you are going to do”. And he proceeded to tell me that they were going to help fix up and old building that was being used as a training school and they were going to try to bring encouragement to some Canadians who had left home to serve in France.

Probably only someone who lived in the desert could truly appreciate the value of encouragement to people who lived so far away from home. I said, “Joel, that is so great. You should tell the other teens here at Springforth what you are going to do”. And he broke out into one of his great full-face grins and said, “I am”. And later he did. And he moved the teens so strongly that they gave an offering of over $1000 to help the Roops accomplish their Mission Tour dream. Thinking forward. Hoping to plant the seeds among the teens that instead of going to Euro Disney, they could go and serve.

I know that we could all share so many stories and observations about the boys. Let me say how honoured I feel that I have had the privilege of sharing some of my reflections today. I know that I have learned a lot from Daniel and Joel. I know that my life is richer for having known them. And that even though their lives were short, they were was meaningful to me and I know they were for you, too. My prayer for you is that the lessons they taught us through their lives would not be in vain. But I pray that God will work in your mind and heart and help you to recall and process what they taught us through their actions and their speech. This, I believe, will honour their memories.

And let me conclude with this: Folks, this is a day of great tragedy and sorrow. We loved those boys. But our sorrow is for ourselves and for their family, not for the boys. Daniel and Joel were not perfect but they had a strong faith in Jesus and the Bible promises us that those who commit their lives to him will go to be with him when they die. Whatever the worst day in heaven would look like, it is light years better than the best day you could ever have on earth. Daniel and Joel are in a far better place. Of this we are certain and in this we all can have hope in the midst of our loss. May the Lord be with you all.