You’ve heard the phrase, “It’s not rocket science.” Well, if you could get to know The Navigators’ President Emeritus, Jerry White, as I had the pleasure to do recently, you would quickly see it really is rocket science!
With his Ph.D. in astronautics, Jerry served as an Air Force mission controller at Cape Canaveral, working on the beginnings of America’s space program, which in the mid 1960s, set the stage for America putting the first man on the moon.
Sometimes, however, it’s not the heights of achievement but rather a sudden, painful personal loss that reveals who God can truly be in our ministry, family and life.
Sometimes it’s not the heights of achievement but rather a personal loss that reveals who God truly is in our lives.
Jerry and I were discussing leadership. He openly talked about hard, yet redeeming, long-term lessons he had experienced along the way, including this one: “I’ve got to have the personal depth and dependence on the grace of God for whatever I do.”
What he said next stopped me cold.
“I was speaking in Columbus, Ohio one night in 1990. I was into year four as president of The Navigators. I had been promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force Reserves. My life was going well.
And then came the phone call. . .
Our 30-year-old son, Steve, was driving his taxi in Colorado Springs when a fellow randomly and brutally murdered him. That night, and for the weeks and months that followed, success didn’t matter, the Air Force didn’t matter, and frankly The Navigators didn’t matter. But over the months that followed, God started to rebuild our lives.”
How did Jerry and his wife make it through? How do any of us begin to recover and move forward with our lives, particularly when we’re in leadership? Here are four memorable thoughts Jerry shared with me:
1. Yield to God’s sovereignty
In the wake of Steve’s tragic death, Mary wrote a book, Harsh Grief, Gentle Hope. It really captures a key truth that when we have a foundation in the Scriptures, we understand the sovereignty and love of God.
2. Embrace forgiveness
When this very truth was being tested, we had to grapple with the issue of forgiveness. We never felt anger against the person who killed our son. I don’t know why, but we got down on our knees and said, “God, we don’t know what you’re doing, but we are yours and you do what you want with our lives.”
3. Look for God’s hand at work
Unforeseen changes took place. Many of The Navigators 5,000 worldwide staff had questioned my military background along the way. They were a little fearful of me. After Steve’s death, I became more human. Our international staff came together in ways I’m not sure would have happened otherwise. During an extremely difficult time in our family’s life, God used everything for good.
4. Engage with community
The most important thing was having a covenant group. These three dear couples, friends of 30 years, moved into our lives and guided us when we really needed them. They guarded my schedule and actually instructed my executive team how to function with me and keep me accountable. I was surrounded by people I cared about and who deeply cared for me. I never would have made it without them.
I asked Jerry if he had one final thought about where he is today – 26 years after Steve’s passing, and 11 years after his 19-year presidency at The Navigators.
“Keep perspective on who you are. Every gift, every opportunity we have is from God, not from us. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 4:7:
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
Today, my clear mission and passion – helping ordinary laymen and laywomen laboring in the workplace – is a holy and high calling from God. To be about this, I have to remember that I’m here to serve Christ. I have to have the inner attitude that it’s God who is at work, not me.”
Which of us in Christian ministry could possibly disagree?