Rev. Cawsey is the minister of Whalley Presbyterian Church in Surrey, B.C.
In his own words, Kris told me, "if I was choosing someone to do something like this, the last person I would pick would be me." And as long as I knew him, this was the humble view he carried of his call by God into the ministry. It turned out as I got to know him that this view of himself and God's faithfulness to him carried into every area of his life. Whether talking about his wonderfully loving and dedicated wife or two beautiful children, he would always say in amazement how blessed he felt, for he truly did not feel he deserved such wonderful gifts and thus he never took these gifts for granted. In the end it was this thankfulness, this humility that will stand out to me as the witness he carried as he tried to walk out his faith in Jesus Christ.
I first met Kris in the beginning of my first year at the Vancouver School of Theology. Having completed the equivalent of two years study at Regent College, I was going over to Vancouver School of Theology to complete the requirements remaining, to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The first time I actually saw him was the day of the infamous September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. To me he kind of looked like the character George from the television show Seinfeld, and as I would find out through our friendship, I was not the only person who thought this, for again and again we would be stopped on campus, or in a restaurant, or some other public place, by someone asking him if he really was Jason Alexander. He later told me that he grew his goatee in the hopes of stopping this from happening.
Our first day together in class, September 11, 2001, I got my first glimpse of the depth of his heart, and the sacrifice he had given to get into ministry. For he disclosed to our class, as we all debriefed about our experiences that fateful day, his great longing to be back with his wife and daughter who were in Calgary to comfort them, and how times like this made him especially lonely.
After the class, I invited Kris out for coffee and found out that Kris was on the United Church ordination track, and that we were similar in many ways. First, neither of us through our teen years and early twenties had any interest in any form of religion. But through similar powerful encounters, both of us, to our surprise, came to the awakening that Jesus Christ truly is Lord of all, and on this, both of our lives were changed forever. Second, both of us had lucrative careers and young families when the stirring of the call to ministry came to us, and thus when we both came to the conclusion that this was what we were to do, there was a huge sacrifice to go and fulfill this call. Third, we both had a life-long commitment to the Calgary Flames.
And finally, and most significantly, we both loved the story of the gospel. We both absorbed theology, not so we might get the confessions correct, but because we both were so overwhelmed by the God found in Jesus Christ that lay within the awesome story of salvation found in the Scriptures.
With these commonalities it was not long before we were seen together every day, supporting each other in our studies and having fun together socially. It was through this that I began to realize his deep humility. He just could not understand why God would have chosen him. What he meant by this was, knowing who he was, his limitations, and his own brokenness, he could not imagine how he was going to be able to be a representative of such an awesome God found in Jesus Christ. I believe that it was this humility which made him one of the best candidates for ministry that I have ever met.
Based on this humility and his amazing thankfulness to be under the grace of God, Kris simply could not understand people who thought that they were inherently significant enough to do God's work. He just could never understand people, whether in church, seminary, or presbytery, who used these mediums to build up their own ego and force their political agendas on other people. The gospel, he used to say to me, should work the other way in us. It should force us to let go of our agendas and pride.
Unfortunately for Kris, not everyone in these above-mentioned settings was of the same perspective. And soon he felt that, "My voice was no longer welcomed in the United Church." Thus through the sacrificial help of Rev. Dr. Ted Siverns, (the acting dean of St. Andrews Hall at the time), Kris was able to come over to seek ordination in The Presbyterian Church In Canada, and here in this denomination he said that he finally felt that he had found a home. As a student minister, when he finally was accepted into the call process, he was placed under the direction of the Rev. Dr. Tony Plomp, in Richmond Presbyterian Church. In Tony, Kris said he was given a deep and solid foundation as he prepared to go forth into ministry. He would go on to count Dr. Plomp as a dear friend as well as a colleague. He also reflected to me many times of the welcome he felt as a student minister, from the Session in the church, and how loved he felt at Richmond Presbyterian, from all whom he and his wife encountered there.
But through the faithfulness of the men mentioned above, the love of his wife, and his deep faith, in the spirit of an Athanasius, Kris stuck faithfully to what he believed and was able to make it through the program. For, academically there could be no question of this brilliant man's abilities, nor a question of his thoughtful passionate theology. He would later reflect to me, after our graduation, that though this was one of the most difficult times in his life, where he felt persecuted for holding an orthodox faith, he had in the end become a better theologian because of the struggles.
While Kris and I were going through our schooling and Kris was finally looking to go through the Presbyterian stream, I finally got to meet this wonderful woman that he always spoke so highly of, his beloved Sheryl. What I found in her was a sweet, committed, funny, intellectual, and passionate person. Her calling was to be a doctor of optometry and on this she was passionate. For example, she would ride me relentlessly, always with good humour, on the fact that I would wear my contacts too long. She would also often ask when I'd had my last eye check-up. When I would try and avoid the question because of my embarrassment at how long it had been since I last had my eyes looked at, she would to motivate me to come in by telling me some horrendous story about what had happened to people who did not regularly get their eyes checked. Though she might have been telling me the truth, I still am not convinced someone grew another arm.
Now, as passionate as she was about her career, this was not her greatest passion. No. Her greatest passion lay with her family, which she so dearly loved. It was this deep passion and commitment that had her send Kris off to seminary while she continued to be the main income earner in Calgary, while also raising their one daughter at the time, Lauren. It also was this commitment that had her leave her successful and thriving practice in Airdrie, to join Kris out in Vancouver for his last year of studies and into his call to Haney Presbyterian Church.
I remember how thankful she was when finally the call came to Haney for Kris to be the minister, for to her their life, after being so chaotic, could finally settle down. For through this stability, she could get her career going again, settle down the life of young Lauren and their new baby, Katie. But life does not always work the way we would like. For right after they had taken the call and moved into their new home, the Davidsons would have the most challenging problem to date fall upon them. Young Katie was diagnosed with a heart condition, with the prognosis being a high likelihood of a transplant being needed in the near future.
This left Sheryl with the task of not only being a mother but also a full-time nurse to Katie. The learning curve was immense and the stress of a sick child was definitely there for the both of them. But, they stuck together through the battle. Kris would take his only day off and take over the nursing duties so that Sheryl could have some desperately needed time off. Lauren, for her part, just took this time in stride. She was such a sweet girl that she did not begrudge the time that had to be focussed on young Katie; all she cared about was that her little sister got better. She reminded me of Kris in the way that she was so loving and deep, but could enjoy life so easily. As long as she had one of her 5,000 stuffed animals around her, or her Barbie dolls to play with, she always seemed content.
Eventually later in the fall, things started to finally settle down with Katie. Kris and Sheryl, with the help of some faithful homecare nurses, had figured out a system so that Sheryl was even able to get in to work again once a week. Kris's experience as a new minister at Haney was going well, as he and his young family seemed to be embraced lovingly by what he called a wonderful church with a family feel. It seemed that everything was finally coming together nicely for all of them. Lauren had found a new school to attend that she loved, and was beginning to meet new friends in the church, and in her Brownies. It seemed that the stability that most of us take for granted, and had avoided this family for so long, was going to come to the Davidsons after all.
Come December, I knew that Kris was hoping to get his family back to Calgary, to see their extended family that they so cherished. Unfortunately it did not look at first like the visit was going to happen, for there was a dilemma in the fact that a young lady connected with Haney Presbyterian was terminally ill from cancer and Kris did not feel at all comfortable leaving with the situation as it was. He felt very responsible that he should be there if the young lady passed away, so the family might be ministered to. Kris, if nothing else, was loyal to the end.
As it turned out, the young lady did pass away before Christmas and Kris, Sheryl and the girls, following the Christmas morning excitement of opening gifts, quickly packed their bags and headed off to be with their family in Calgary. Apparently, it was a wonderful visit. Kris got to celebrate his birthday by having a wonderful steak dinner, which I know he would have loved. Sadly though, as with all such wonderful visits, it had to come to an end. Kris, as was his nature, wanted to make sure they got back to fulfill their obligations around work and thus they headed off. They stopped half-way in Revelstoke, and the following day turned out to be one of the worst days for driving through the whole winter break. It certainly was the worst weather that I had seen since I have lived in Vancouver, as even buses were sliding off the Number One highway when they hit black ice.
As it happened while driving in those conditions, Kris hit a patch of ice on a particularly deadly piece of highway outside of Salmon Arm, and hit head-on a five-ton truck coming the other way. He, Sheryl and Lauren died instantly, while ironically, young, sickly Katie miraculously survived.
When this happened, the world of all of us who knew and loved Kris and his family was changed forever. In his reflection at Kris's memorial, Dr. Plomp said it best, "on January 7th, our own personal world, the world of two families, two congregations, many individuals, was thrown off its axis and our world will never be quite the same again."
So the question I and others who knew this wonderful couple have been left with has been, why? Many I have talked to, both within and outside the church, about this tragedy, cannot help but ask the answerless question of why did this have to happen. Personally, for the first time in my life, I have sat by the tomb of a person so close to me and I often find myself in prayer saying like Mary in John 11:21, "Lord, if you had been [there], my brother [and sister] would not have died."
Well, at that lonely place where it just seems like it would be easier to quit in grief and desperation, and question God's faithfulness, I think of the witness of Kris and Sheryl. How they through struggles, persecution, illness, and brokenness, faithfully stuck to their calling, based solely on the love and acceptance of their God they loved so much. Once again I hear the challenge from the living witness of their lives to go forth and continue to be faithful to what I know, and trust that the same God, that I am questioning with my "if only" questions, will answer the same today as he did to Mary when he made the great proclamation, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die" John 11:25-26.
In the end it is only right to let Kris close this brief memorial thought. For he would be abhorred that someone might lose their faith or turn from this awesome God that chose a sinner like him to have eternal life, because of the tragedy that befell him. Thus he would want me, rather than spending a lot of time talking about his greatness, to rather focus on the faithfulness of God of the cross, and challenge people to trust in his faithfulness, not in circumstances or their ability, to get it right. So I will let him do that.
The following comes from one of his last sermons, where he was dealing with the fact that some of the people he was close to in his life were questioning how a good God could allow his little girl, the daughter of a minister, to suffer as Katie did at the time. Kris here is calling for people not to turn away from the God revealed in Jesus Christ to return to the wisdom of a world that can only bring death! Rather we must look past the struggles of this age for the glorious truth of a kingdom breaking in that will one day truly arrive with the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the renewal of creation, and the resurrection of the dead.
In his words,
- Jesus will continue to lead his followers out to meet the enemy in battle, not armed with swords or guns, not with chariots or tanks; but armed with the cross: armed with a love that transcends anything within the enemy's arsenal. And although there will be times when the fighting is fierce and we are tempted to look over our shoulder at the world we left behind, if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will see him pressing on to the world that lies in front of us — the new creation, where death will be swallowed up in victory, where God will wipe away every tear.
But that is not to trivialize or take away the reality of the suffering of the world. The battle is very real, we see it in the broken hearts and broken lives of the people around us every day; and we see it in the bloodshed, warfare and disease all around the world. The battle rages on, and the question for us is not what we need to give up in order to be classified as true disciples of Jesus, but whether or not we have given up; whether we are engaged in the battle or whether we have surrendered. Jesus remains on the front lines meeting the enemy in all times and places and for those of us who count ourselves among his followers, who include ourselves as his disciples, there can be no surrender.
(From "No Surrender," preached September 5, 2004, at Haney Presbyterian Church)
Well, Kris and Sheryl never surrendered. They stuck faithfully to the faithfulness of Jesus, not just in words but in action and truth, and that is what led them to make the choices they made in their lives. And now because of their faithfulness in this life that was so chaotic for them, I believe by faith they have received a life of eternal peace; true life, the only life that a God who is the resurrection and the life can give. And on this I, in my grief, can once in a while smile, knowing they are safe, knowing that their battle is over, and knowing that we will meet again.
Kris and Sheryl with their daughters, Lauren and Katie. Katie was the only one of the family to survive the accident.