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Ministry Leaders and Pastors Who Left Us in 2020

Warren Cole Smith

I have always been fascinated by obituaries, and my experience as a journalist tells me I’m not alone.  I used to think it was because they reminded me of my mortality.  Even the Bible says it is better to go to a funeral than to a banquet (Ecclesiastes 7:2).  John Calvin famously said the human heart is an idol making factory.  Remembering that we are all subject to physical death is an antidote to that disease.

But it’s also important to remember what C.S. Lewis once wrote: “You have never met a mere mortal?”  What he meant by that is that we all live forever.  I think that’s really what I find fascinating about obituaries:  not that they remind me of my mortality, but that they remind me of my duty – daily, even minute-by-minute — to live fully coram deo:  before the face of God.

With that in mind, we remember ministry leaders, pastors, and others who died in 2020, presented in alphabetical order.  If MinistryWatch did a more extensive obituary during the year, that link is included.

Ben Arbour died Nov. 6.  He was a Baptist professor who died with his wife Meg in a fiery collision with an alleged drag racer. Arbour and his wife, Meg, were driving home from a date early when a car that was racing on Risinger Road in Fort Worth struck their vehicle.  Their car burst into flames and both the Arbours and the other driver were killed.  The Arbours, who were both 39, left behind four children, ages 10 to 16.  Arbour, who earned a doctorate from the University of Bristol, was a two-time graduate of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and taught there as an adjunct professor in the spring of 2020. He also taught philosophy at Weatherford College.

Jon Buell died Mar. 14 at age 80.  Buell was a serial ministry entrepreneur.  After a tenure at Campus Crusade for Christ (now CRU), he co-founded Probe Ministries.  He also founded the Foundation for Thought and Ethics.  In that role he was instrumental in the publication of The Mystery of Life’s Origin.  That book, an anthology of essays by leading scientists published in 1984, helped kick-start the modern Intelligent Design movement.

Morris Cerullo died on July 10 at age 88.  Cerullo was a controversial televangelist and faith healer instrumental in the founding of The Inspiration Networks.  He held crusades in more than 100 countries.  His ministry owns the Legacy International Center, a $200 million Bible-themed attraction in San Diego.

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Patty Colson died on March 27.  She was 89.  Patty was the wife of Chuck Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship.  She was active with him in ministry work.

Ken Fuson died on January 3, at age 53.  Fuson was a journalist with the Des Moines Register and Baltimore Sun known early in his career for his hard drinking and hard living.  But he found Christ later in life and wrote his own obituary before he died.  It read, in part:  “Skepticism may be cool, and for too many years Ken embraced it, but it was faith in Jesus Christ that transformed his life. That was the one thing he never regretted. It changed everything.”

Beka Horton died on June 27 at age 90.  Horton was a pioneer in the development of homeschool curriculum, best known for Abeka products, which raised the profile of other organizations she founded, including Pensacola Christian Academy and Pensacola Christian College.

Harry Jackson Jr. died on Nov. 9 at age 66.  Harry Jackson led a large church in Maryland and was prominent in conservative political circles, serving as an adviser to President Donald Trump.

Stuart King died on Aug. 29 at age 98.  King was an RAF pilot during World War II who co-founded Mission Aviation Fellowship in 1945.  The ministry has since grown to be one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Roy Larson died Feb. 25 at age 90.  Larson began his career as a Methodist minister, but turned to journalism and became the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times.  He helped establish coverage as a “hard news” beat and became a mentor to others.

Joyce Lin died May 12.  She was 40.  Lin was a Missionary Aviation Fellowship pilot whose plane crashed as she carried COVID-19 test kits in Papua New Guinea. After receiving a degree in computer science from MIT, she went to seminary and became a missionary pilot.

J.I. Packer died July 17 at 93.  One of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, he wrote the million-selling Knowing God and Concise Theology, among more than 30 other books.  

Jean Jacob Paul died on Aug. 4.  He was 61.  Paul was a Haitian pastor affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America.  His ministry, Reformation Hope, planted churches, established a Reformed Bible college, and set up an orphanage in Haiti.  His death is believed to have been a targeted assassination attempt.

Darrin Patrick, a megachurch pastor and author, died by apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound on May 7.  He was 49.  

John Powell, a church planter and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in New Caney, Tex., was killed in a highway accident July 18, as he was helping a driver who had stopped in the traffic lanes.  A truck driving north on U.S. Highway 75 was struck by a car.  The car caught fire and Powell and another man pulled over to assist.  Powell, 38, was struck by a semi and killed when he saw the semi coming toward him and the other man who had stopped to assist, and Powell pushed the other man out of the way.

Sy Rogers died April 19 at age 63, of cancer.  As a young adult he lived as both an openly gay man and a transgender women, but after an encounter with Christ became a leader in the ex-gay movement, including a tenure as president of Exodus International.

Lou Sheldon died on May 29.  He was 85.  Sheldon began his career as a pastor who founded the Traditional Values Coalition.  The TVC was an influential religious right organization in the 1980s and 1990s – so much so that the TV show “The West Wing” parodied the organization as the “Traditional Values Alliance” and used a logo and letterhead in the episode closely resembling that of The Traditional Values Coalition.  The real TVC sent a letter of protest to the producers of the program.

Jack Van Impe died on Jan. 18 at age 88.  Van Impe was a TV preacher who often used news events to make the case that we are living in the end times.  He appeared with his wife Rexella.  

William Voortman died April 11 at age 88.   Voortman immigrated from the Netherlands after World War II and founded (with his brother Harry) Voortman’s Cookies, which makes 40-million cookies a day, and sells them in more than 40 countries.  Voortman became a major donor to Christian causes, including innovative homeless ministries in Canada.

John C. Whitcomb died on Feb. 5.  He was 95.  Whitcomb was a theologian and Bible teacher and a proponent of young-earth creationism.  He co-wrote (with Henry Morris) the best-seller The Genesis Flood

Ravi Zacharias died on May 19.  He was 74.  A Christian apologist and global speaker, he established Ravi Zacharias International Ministries to “help the thinker believe and the believer think.”  However, since his death, his legacy has been clouded by controversy.

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Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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