I don’t know quite where to start. So I will start with a passage from the next to last page of Dear Mom and Dad …
“Within minutes of walking in the door, I felt that I knew why God had closed the Healing Waters door. He’d been holding open the door of New Foundation Christian Fellowship for me all along. I was home at last. I sensed blessings of our maker in the face and presence of everyone, but most of all Pastor Jabowa Whitehead, in a way I’d never felt before in any church. The peace and sense of purpose we’d searched for all our combined life was finally ours.”
Yesterday evening June 1st 2020 at 5:33 and 59 seconds Thomas Cohen “Jabowa” Whitehead took his leave of this world and in so doing left in his wake a multitude of lives much better off for having known him and having been loved by him. And I say “loved” by him because he did love everyone who entered the sphere of his life.
I have met many people who claimed to love everyone, but there has always been a somewhat hollow tone to their claim. Not so with Jabowa. He did genuinely “love” everyone in his life. It was that quality that allowed him to change in some way every life he touched. When one loves as genuinely and completely as did Jabowa Whitehead one cannot help but leave a lasting mark on the lives one touches.
I will never forget the first moment I saw Jabowa. I had been talked into attending a church service for which I held no expectations or even hopes of some healing sense of what I would experience there. As I entered the “Upper Room” as I came to refer to the place on 16th Street and Osborne in Phoenix, he was busy at the front of the room but he glanced up and flashed that Jabowa smile at me. It was a brief but knowing smile that said, “I’ve been expecting you.”
Was our relationship flawless and without chuck holes? No, of course it wasn’t. In fact, at one point I walked away from New Foundation convinced that my time there was at an end and it was time to move on, so I did. But, true to his character, 4 months later I got a text from him. It said he would understand if I chose not to, but he wanted me to know that he would like it if I would worship with him the following Sunday. I responded that I would talk to Abba about it and if He said I should, I would. On Saturday I received another text from him asking what the answer was. I responded that Abba had been totally silent so I took that to mean that He was leaving it up to me so I would probably be there. And I was.
I have not looked back since then. A testament to what he had created was the reception I received when I entered the room, not from him, but from the “family” I found there overwhelmed me. It took awhile for the two of us to heal our relationship, but he had such a forgiving and loving heart that I had no choice but to forgive and heal.
It is important for people who read this to understand what Jabowa’s vision for New Foundation was, as he shared it with me.
It was first and foremost a place for everyone to worship. No formal membership required. And by “everyone” he sincerely meant “everyone”; the broken, the cast offs of society and organized, mainstream churches. As he frequently put it, “gay, straight, trans, bi, Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostal, or as he would phrase it, Methobapticostals; All had a home at New Foundation Christian Fellowship.
The second part of his vision was a fellowship in the form of what the early church was like before Emperor Constantine of Constantinople had his vision of the cross before his victorious final battle with Rome and attributed that victory to the God of the Christians. That vision led ultimately to the Holy Roman Catholic church and the endless requirements of organized Christianity today.
The Christ of Jabowa’s faith was a friend and a brother to be talked to and listened to on a nearly continuous basis. I wrote in Dear Mom and Dad that none of us is ever going to be completely privy to another’s relationship with our maker, and as open as Jabowa was with his faith and his prayer life his most intimate relationship with God is something none of us will ever know.
When I try, through the tears, to understand why he was called home so soon I can only think of it this way. In a forest there can grow a giant pine tree and over time it sheds many cones which lie dormant for years never giving rise to new trees. Only when a forest fire destroys that tree does the heat from that fire cause the many seeds the tree has shed over its lifetime, to break open and germinate. Only then does the promise of a future for other life to grow, uninhibited by the shadow of the giant tree.
The giant tree, in the person of Jabowa Whitehead, is no longer here among us, but we as the seeds of his love and acceptance must now germinate and give life to his vision. His vision must now be our vision. His mission must now be the mission of every life he ever touched.