Matt was the type of teacher who not only engaged his students and awakened faith and life within us through his teaching, but he was the type of teacher who loved his students – despite our immature, somewhat troubled selves. This was evident in several ways. For example, when I would ask Matt a question about faith, life, or even modern art, he would always say, “let’s take a walk.” I’d express my doubts and ask my questions and he’d answer me thoughtfully and respectfully, challenging me and never belittling me.
At Matt’s Victory in Christ memorial service, Concordia’s principal Pastor Tim Berner shared another testimony to Matt’s love for his students. As he told it, one day Matt came into Pastor Berner’s office clearly upset, saying he just needed a moment to compose himself. He didn’t explain what had happened, but something that led him to eventually say (along the lines of), “These kids shouldn’t have to deal with the crap they are going through.”
Including students, but extending to others as well, Matt’s heart for the outcasts, isolated, and wounded was also obvious. He was always adamant that, at lunch, “no one should ever sit alone.” I remember him reading to us from Frank Peretti’s The Wounded Spirit, Peretti’s story of growing up with disfigurement and experiencing intense torment and bullying in school. The story also, interestingly, includes how a caring teacher intervened in Peretti’s life. Matt’s love of this story, and his motivation to share it with us, speaks to his ache for the silently hurting and the alone, and his desire that we would not perpetuate such pain around us, but we would be a friend, the hands and feet of Jesus to the broken, ambassadors of community.
July 4th, 2014
When I heard that Matt passed away on the fourth of July from a brain aneurysm, it didn’t feel real and it didn’t seem possible.
Why someone so young, with a wife and children, in the prime of his life?
Why someone so artistically and musically talented, ushering beauty into the world?
Why a leader and someone so gifted, who aids God in impacting, molding, and loving every individual he meets and every student who walks into his classroom?
But above all, why someone of such integrity, character, and warmth; so full of life and love; so clearly doing God’s work in the world; a man desperately needed by this broken and hurting earth?
I understand that we live in an imperfect, fallen world, where tragedies that break God’s heart abound. I understand we live in a physical, natural world, with stable concrete laws and principles. I don’t believe God would cause something like this to happen, and yet what I am grappling with is why He allowed it. The most difficult of “whys” for me, is why does God intervene in some situations and not in others? Why does God do a miracle in the midst of some tragedies and not others?
And the answer is, simply, we don’t know. I find myself struggling with doubts, and it is easy to lose faith and lose sight of a loving Father in the midst of this. But the beautiful irony is that when I look at Matt, his life, his passion for God, and his love for others, all of my doubts lose a bit of their ground. Matt’s life and the way he loved is nothing but a testament to the existence, grace, and love of our God. And so there exists a tension, a tension I am finding to be healthy, between our faith and our doubts, our hope and our despair. Author and blogger Sarah Bessey so perfectly speaks to this:
“That’s why hope is so subversive, because it dares to admit that not all things are as they should be. But the reason why it is subversive is because first you hold space for the despair, and you hold space for the questions and the things that are broken, and yet you are able to hold both…. I want to be able to hold space for both brokenness and the beauty, the now and the not yet, the questions and the answers.” -Sarah Bessey, Born Again All Over Again
At Matt’s Victory in Christ memorial service, we were called to not just remember Matt but to honor him by “giving ourselves fully to the Lord.” We cannot change this situation, but what we can do is turn the ashes into beauty and plant a garden in the ruins. Already, Matt’s death has been challenging me in several ways. It is truly a reminder of how short, fragile, and precious life is. It has reoriented me to what truly matters – loving God, loving others, and cherishing the people in our lives. It’s a wake-up call to not live a shallow life in pursuit of a higher GPA, a larger paycheck, greater popularity and approval, or whatever it may be.
Even further, I urge you to honor Matt and the life of faith and service he lived in four ways:
1. Spend the next year reading through the Bible. This was my mom’s idea and I love it. Since Matt was a Scripture-Life teacher at Concordia, what better way to honor him but to commit ourselves to diving into the word of God? What a beautiful thing for this situation to lead us to grow in our faith, our knowledge of God and life, and deeper into relationship with the Father? I think that would bring a smile to Matt’s face.
There are several different ways to do this. You can read beginning to end, chronologically, as the books of the Bible were written historically, or reading through the New then Old Testament (or vice versa). To find a reading plan, click here. Comment below if you plan on joining my mom and I, we'd love to go on this journey with you!
2. Read some of Matt’s favorites. Matt often read to us in class or recommended some of his favorite books to us. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and please list more in the comments section, but just a few I remember are Dietrich Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, and Frank Peretti, and the books Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning (which I both read back in high school at his recommendation – and they are indeed incredible).
3. Donate to Concordia Academy. The teachers at Concordia, like Matt, greatly blessed, shaped, and influenced my life – and many other students as well. It was at Concordia where my faith began to take root and become my own. It was the place Matt served, loved, and touched hundreds of lives. Please consider making a financial donation here.
4. Keep Matt's wife Lisa and their two children Gus and Phoebe, along with their extended family, in your prayers.
Onward in His footsteps treading, Pilgrims here, our home above,
7/21/2014 05:50:19 am
Ellie--Your words about Matt were profound, moving, and substantial. Quite the tribute! I agree--he was a rock, immovable, always there, reliable, consistent. And at all times loving the kids, his family, and especially his Lord. We had many, many private conversations and even in the midst of frustrations, that consistency and substance that was Matt Stefan remained. Thanks so much for what you wrote. May God continue to bless you richly! --Mr. Fritz
7/21/2014 02:17:42 pm
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