He was a Christian, in every good sense of the word.
It may sound simplistic, but I promise you, this is what my experiences with him were like. All of the positive things we attribute to the faith, with none of the baggage. Evan Wiggs was one of the most peaceful, joyful, righteous, kind, loving people I’ve ever met.
Some people exhibit some of the fruit of the Spirit, some of the time. Evan had the whole fruit basket, every time I saw him.
Which, to be honest, is a little misleading if you haven’t read the fifth chapter of Galatians in its entirety. As my wife Holly is fond of reminding me, the point of Galatians 5 is not for Christians to beat themselves up in an effort to develop and incorporate these individual characteristics associated with the Spirit. That would make for a great pilot episode in a series I call “Adventures In Missing the Point.”
No, the point is to live in freedom and to live with the Spirit. To be free enough not to care what other people do or think as long as you’re walking in step with the Spirit of God, following His leading, talking when He says to, praying when He says to, shutting up when He says to. Being unafraid of being embarrassed, or impoverished, or being willing, even, to renounce any kind of physical comfort for the sake of being fully connected and in tune with the Spirit of God, as often as possible, for as long as possible.
This is what I think Evan Wiggs was like all the time.
He was too gregarious and loving and free to be stingy with his compliments or his hugs or his joyful declarations of God’s goodness. To be honest, the first time I met him it kind of freaked me out a little. Who is this dude saying he loves me and calling me brother all the time? What’s his deal? Am I someone special to him, or does he do this with everybody?
Over time, as I saw him more and more, two truths began to converge that I didn’t think belonged together. Yes, I am someone special to him. And yes, he does this with everybody.
I say “that’s what I think he was like” because, truthfully, I really hadn’t spent all that much time with him. I didn’t grow up with him, he never attended the same church as I, really, at least not in any traditional sense. As a matter of fact, it was probably late summer or early fall in 2011 when I met Evan for the first time at his house. He and his wife Susan had been hosting small worship gatherings out of their home, and my mother dragged me over to one of them because —
— hold on, let me back up.
It actually started because my Mom first dragged my sister Rachelle into one of those gatherings, and she (Rachelle) was telling me about it. I think this was sometime around Mother’s Day 2011, we were out for dinner somewhere and Rachelle was telling me what her experience was like “at that house church somewhere out in Vancouver.”
Now, for anyone outside the Portland area reading this, you need to know something about Vancouver.
Vancouver, Washington is not simply a sister suburb to Portland. The Columbia river that divides Oregon from Washington and Vancouver from Portland is not some arbitrary boundary. It is, in many respects, a heavily politicized marker that divides left from right, secular from Christian, hyper-urbanized land zoning from suburban car-friendly sprawl, and whatever other culture battle happens to be raging. Yes, these are stereotypes, but they aren’t that far from reality. After Portlanders started adorning their cars with bumper stickers that say “Keep Portland Weird,” Vancouverites responded with bumper stickers that read “Keep Vancouver Normal.”
I mention all this to highlight the skepticism I was feeling about what this house church would be like. Honestly, I was leaning into hearing Rachelle’s account because I was expecting it to confirm the prejudice I already felt about this group of people I knew nothing of, outside the fact that they were Christians in Vancouver. Granted, I do have sort of a love/hate thing going with the city of Portland, but still, it’s my home. And having grown up in the Pacific Northwest, I expect to be the only black person in any particular room, and I figured the only thing more alienating than being black in a room full of progressive white 30-somethings in Portland would be making small talk in a room of mostly forty and fiftysomething white conservatives in Vancouver.
This is the context in which my sister Rachelle was telling me about what her first experience was like. And it started in the way that I expected — she was uncomfortable because during the gathering, one of the attendees made a carelessly hostile comment about President Obama, sort of casually joking about wanting him dead.
“So then what happened?” I asked my sister.
“And then Evan prayed for me, and gave me a powerful word of knowledge that I knew had to be from the Holy Spirit, and it blessed me tremendously.”*
Uh… I didn’t expect that.
My sister is not prone to hyperbole when talking about spiritual things, so I peppered her with follow-up questions, and her description of the event so shocked and impressed me that I had to see this gathering for myself. In my book, only God can overcome that level of racial awkwardness.
Several months later, I found myself connected to this motley crew of folks, and I came to realize just how wrong my initial instincts were. The gathering at his house had expanded, attracting more younger folks, and even a few more people of color. And even though a lot of the folks were conservative (and I considered myself more moderate, perhaps slightly left of center), after awhile those divisions just sort of faded into the background.
I’m especially thankful for Evan because his love and encouragement came at a time when I was questioning my call and role as a worship leader. Every time I saw him, he not only hugged and encouraged me, but he exhorted me, like Paul did to his protege Timothy, to stir up the gift I had inside of me. Once he found out I was a musician, he provided space for me, quite literally as well as emotionally, to play my instrument to the best of my ability, as I felt led.
And because I was still busy and had plenty of schedule conflicts, I couldn’t be there every week. But when I came, he thanked me, told me he loved me (and my wife Holly), prayed for our marriage, and for me to have the courage to walk in obedience toward God’s call. There were no guilt trips, no veiled attempts to manipulate or control. Just love, joy, peace, patience, and all the rest.
But in my life, God used Evan Wiggs to impart to me a greater sense of calling and engagement in my musical ministry. Had it not been for him, I might’ve just given up. Instead, now I’m doing my best to carry his mantle.
*not her exact words, but pretty close.