Posted by: thewhitesintokyo | January 16, 2010

Ben Larson (1984-2010)

This past week, I heard about the devastating loss of life in Haiti through news coverage online.  The destruction and deadly power of that earthquake was unsettling personally for many reasons, but somehow the estimated death toll didn’t “sink in” in any meaningful way.

Then, Rachael got a late-night message from our friend Chris.  He had gotten word that a college classmate of mine, Ben Larson, was in Haiti working with lay people there as a part of his lifelong commitment to serving God and God’s people, but also as a component of his final year of preparation at Wartburg Theological Seminary.  Our friend Chris had also heard that Ben was unaccounted for after the earthquake and that he would keep us updated.

After Rachael and I reflected on Ben’s possible predicament and talking about all the amazing things that come to mind when you picture Ben Larson, we tried to get to sleep since there was nothing we could do but wait and I had to get up to teach in a few hours.  Soon though, Rachael received a message from Chris that neither of us expected or could handle immediately.  Ben was reported to have “perished” in the earthquake.  His wife Renee and cousin Jonathan made it out safely, but Ben couldn’t have survived the collapse of the building he was in at the time of the quake.  Rachael woke me and shared the heartbreaking news.

After laying there in stunned silence for a few minutes, I had to get out of bed because I was immediately overcome with grief at the thought of this world losing such a special person as Ben Larson.  I had to talk to Chris directly.  Fortunately, the time difference allowed me to call him since it was well after midnight in Tokyo and the middle of the day in the States.  In our brief chat, we reflected together on this great, single loss of life and were both still stunned at the news.

Ben was the kind of man you couldn’t help but absolutely adore.  His gentle humility, Christlike joy, and sincere love for everyone he encountered was one-of-a-kind.  I can only dream of the impact he would have had serving a community of Christians as a pastor.  Though I can’t find any way to comprehend why Ben won’t have that opportunity, I also take heart in his mother’s words:

A statement from Reverend April Ulring Larson

As an infant Benjamin Judd Ulring Splichal Larson was wrapped in the arms of God in the waters of baptism, and from those waters, his life was an outpouring of love and joy, laughter and play, in response to God first loving Ben.

Ben’s love of God, walking in accompaniment, passionately loving others, listening and learning from those who are poor across the globe, drove his serving.

We give thanks to God for the incredible joy of knowing Ben.  His laughter, playfulness, passionate heart for those who are hurting was manifest in his daily life.  He delighted in the privilege of serving and knowing God, laying out his life in joy.

We are blessed by still being able to hear Ben‘s music.  His father Judd says, “If you want to know Ben, go to his music.”  In his tender music remains some of the treasure that is Ben:  what he believes, what he cares about, his deepest soul.

Ben died doing what he did best- loving God's people

Most of the people who died in this deadly earthquake in Haiti are the poorest of the poor in this hemisphere.  Ben went to Haiti to teach theology and scripture in the new Lutheran Church of Haiti; but more deeply to learn from these people loved by God.  In his young death his life joins the bodies of the poor.  In the Haitian rubble Ben’s life joins these dear beloved people of God:  all those parents crying for their children; young widows calling out for their husbands; new orphans searching for their parents.

God have mercy on us.

I was fortunate enough to play with Ben through the FOCUS (student-led contemporary worship service) worship team at Luther College for a few years.  His co-leadership of our group was always a bit quirky, but also genuine and passionate.  Through many of my faith struggles in college, Ben provided quick prayers and a compassionate ear that never made me feel judged, even when I had to step away from the music team for a time of introspection.

At one point in my return to a vibrant faith life, I was walking home in the rain after a frustrating day and a peaceful worship service at FOCUS.  I began to weep, feeling completely overwhelmed by the love of God and a renewed desire to live more like the example set by Christ in his short life on Earth.  As I got home to my tiny single dorm room, I wrote the lyrics to a song that expressed my feelings at that point.  The only problem was that I didn’t know how to play guitar well enough to write music to go with those lyrics.

Most High (He Reigns)

In a moment of true worship
I feel the warm rain as it covers my body.
As it touches my head,
I think of you Lord.
I think of the blessing that you’ve rained down.

My Lord you reign in all things
Through winter and summer
And autumn and spring.
These are tears of joy that I cry.
I love you, I love you,
I love you Most High!

You are Most High!

As it touches my chest
I breathe you in Lord
And your Holy Spirit fills me.
As it touches my lips
I’m called to sing
To worship my God and my King.

My Lord you reign in all things
Through winter and summer
And autumn and spring.
These are tears of joy that I cry.
I love you, I love you,
I love you Most High!

You are Most High!

So, I called Ben, and fortunately, he was available and more than willing to trek across campus in the rain to come help me write the song.  We sat around for a few minutes, awkwardly trying different chord progressions that just didn’t fit.  Then, Ben had an idea for something simple and I began to sing along.  The product was something beautiful that will always be a great reminder to me of a pivotal moment in my faith life (and now a defining moment punctuated by the early loss of this friend).  He then suggested we might use the song for worship at FOCUS at some point, another amazing gesture that showed Ben’s loving spirit.  In his memory, my wife Rachael and I will lead our congregation in this song tomorrow at our church here in Tokyo, Japan.

I have been to funerals for past high school classmates that left this Earth far too early as well, but have never before been as emotionally affected as I am this week thinking about Ben’s passing.  Knowing that he was around was always a comfort, even if he was in the American Midwest somewhere, or working in Haiti.  I kept tabs on his ministry experiences and new musical endeavors online and watched as he grew closer to the point we were all waiting for- his ordination as a phenomenal new pastor with brilliant ideas for new musical liturgies and an unending passion to serve.

Ben will be sincerely missed by all who knew him, but especially by his wife Renee, and incredible family.  I will pray often for their pain and grief to be eased by the knowledge that he accomplished more for the Kingdom of God in his short time with us than many people accomplish in a lifetime.  His song, “Psalm 30: Mourning into Dancing” will be something I carry with me for the rest of my life.  The raw passion that comes through in his voice is a well we can all drink from.  Rest in peace, Ben, knowing that all those close to you or that like me, only knew you for a brief time, will daily aspire to your Christlike example.  Bless you brother.

(I don’t know how long these links will be available, but some of his music is located online.  Please take the time to listen to his music, especially “Psalm 30: Mourning into Dancing.”)



  1. Brad, this was a beautifully written tribute from the heart. Tears are healing, so let them flow.
    God Bless Ben and all who love him.

    • Not a day has gone by since the news that Rachael and I haven’t cried, and now after hearing about his last moments it’s become even more difficult. He is living on much stronger in all of us now, and we’ll do our best to remember his incredible attitude of worship right up until his last breath. That’s certainly something we should all aspire to.

  2. Thanks for honoring Ben with your words and thoughts Brad. So true that Ben did more than many do in a life time.
    Extending Luther lover across the ocean.

    • Thanks for the Luther love Rachel. Right back at you.

  3. well written Brad. It’s heartbreaking that a truly beautiful person was taken so prematurely.

    • Thanks Ryan. It is heartbreaking and will take a lot of time to heal for a lot of people.

  4. Thank you for sharing this, and thank you for the YouTube link. It’s a beautiful song.

    • Glad to share anything about this amazing guy. Thanks for reading.

  5. Thank you, Brad.

    • Right back at you brother.

  6. God Bless You, Rachael and Brad. Thank you for sharing with all of us.

    • This is a story that needs to be shared, so we all know the pain that Haiti is experiencing right now. God bless all those people who survived and are trying to get a new start.

  7. The Youtube link pulled me back to nights at FOCUS; tears are streaming. This is a brilliantly written tribute. Praying for peace.

    • Glad to hear it Chelsea. If you can’t tell, I couldn’t even sing half of the song because it did the same for me. Since we’re so far away, that was the only way I felt I could try to honor Ben and his incredible way to show love for God with his music.

      • It is hard to hold back the tears. Ben and I did Young Life together for awhile, and maybe a Bible study. We lost a wonderful man.

  8. […] more information about Ben, go to The Whites in Tokyo, A Dahl Blog and Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Help […]

  9. […] more information about Ben, go to The Whites in Tokyo, A Dahl Blog and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: