Louie passed away peacefully, but suddenly, this past weekend. We had just returned from the greatest weekend trip to watch my cousin get married. Surrounded by family and friends, we smiled a lot, laughed until our stomachs hurt, and caught up way into the early morning.
And then this phone call came.
I didn’t know Louie. I met him when I was much younger, but the memories I have of him are pseudo-memories I’ve created in my head from the endless stories my dad tells about his friend. They led Young Life together in New York back in the 80s, and my dad credits a lot of his love for the Lord to Louie’s reckless abandon of self for the sake of the Kingdom.
I had just graduated from Cobleskill and was working in Ithaca. I had known Louie since before college and we kept up our friendship. One day, he said to me, “I’m going to start a Young Life group, and you’re going to be one of my leaders.” I said, “pffffft! I don’t even like high school kids. I was a high school kid and I didn’t even like myself!!”
But the next thing I knew, I was sitting in someone’s living room in Interlaken, NY with a bunch of (ugh) high schoolers. And I started to fall in love with them.
Before getting involved in YL, Jesus was more my Savior, but not quite yet my Lord. I came to the realization that if these kids were going to look at me, I needed to change how I lived. I wasn’t a bad guy, just not passionate about my faith. That was my turning point. That is how Louie played a major role in my Christian walk.
In my last e-mail to him this past Christmas time, I said:
“I hope you’re well, Louie. I think often about our experiences with YL and how formative they were for me. And you were a huge part of that.”
I credit a lot of my faith in Jesus to my dad, so I guess I’ve got Louie to thank as well.
Just a few weeks ago, my dad had found some old photo albums from when he was in his 20s, and we laughed at the bad fashion choices and the goofy faces he and Louie made in the Polaroids. I commented on how outdated the Dr. Pepper cans looked, and Dad told us about how Louie had this quirky sense of humor that drove him crazy but made him love him.
And then this phone call came.
And he’s gone. One day he’s here, the next he’s gone.
I got on Facebook late Monday night and searched his name. I didn’t even know his last name, so I just typed in “louie new york young life,” and a little icon of Calvin and Hobbes popped up next to his name. Louie Rudin. I clicked and started scrolling.
He was the Area Director of Young Life in Tompkins County, New York, where my dad worked with him 30 years ago. Louie faithfully served youth and told them the good news of Christ day after day, month after month, year after year.
Looking through his Facebook wall following the announcement of his death, it became obvious that he changed lives. That sounds like a flippant statement. It’s what you say when someone dies, right? Below are some of the comments written about Louie:
- “Everyone secretly wishes to leave this world better than they found it, and you did just that.”
- “The man who made God seem approachable”
- “Louie wanted to turn our view of the world upside down. Congratulations, Louie, you did it.“
- “He is the epitome of the extension of Christ calling us.”
- “There is not a man on Earth or in Heaven who has had more impact on my life than Louie Rudin.”
- “I would not be alive today without Louie entering my life 35 years ago.“
- “Truly this man walked with Jesus.”
- “I’m sure heaven is saying ‘Thank you Louie’ for the many ways you’ve been a friend to the friendless and family to those of us who had none.”
- “The number of people impacted by Louie’s life is remarkable. But even more remarkable is the quality of that impact.”
- “I’ll always be different because of the example Louie set for me.”
- “And I would not know Jesus Christ without Louie Rudin.”
- “I met Christ at Windy Gap in 1984, ushered to the feet of my Savior by this weird and wonderful man. A man who loved without limits, filled the world with laughter, and poured it all out for the sake of Christ.”
Over and over, friends write, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” There are no other words I’d want to hear when my time comes to go home.
Louie impacted hundreds–maybe thousands–of students in his years here. Those students went on to impact thousands more, who have impacted thousands more. His impact will keep multiplying for the rest of eternity.
Isn’t that what this life is all about?
When my grandpa passed away in the early 2000s, Louie spoke at his memorial service. He talked about how my grandparents took him in as their own, loved him well, and showed him more of Jesus. My dad remembers Louie grinning big as he walked up to the microphone, and I’m certain it’s because Louie realized that this life is not it.
We can try and make it “it.” We can pursue all kinds of stuff. We can strive for more and more. We can aspire to great things for our own glory.
Or, we can surrender like Louie did. We can say, “God, you gave me this life. Use it for your glory.”
Louie smiled big at my grandpa’s memorial service because, as he talked about the love he had for the Lord, he–like all of us–was certain my grandpa was looking into the eyes of his Savior that very moment. And today, we’re confident Louie is, too.
Never before have I been so touched by someone I knew so little. May we all live lives like Louie Rudin.
As yet another Facebook post said, “Thank you, Louie. That’s all. Just thanks.”