Remembering Bruce Roman

Thursday I got the worst news I’ve heard all year — Bruce Roman has gone on to be with the Lord. He didn’t survive recovery from surgery to remove a brain tumor. I was working when I got the call and after reaching out to Alice, Bruce’s wife, and Andrew, Bruce’s youngest son, I knew what I needed to do next. I needed to go home. I needed to mourn, lament and reflect on what Bruce’s life on earth meant to me.

I met Bruce after arranging to see him and Alice after church one Sunday because I signed up for the “Adopt-a-student” program my college ministry had organized. Bruce and Alice picked me because my name last name is “Hollinger.” On paper, I can easily be mistaken for an international student, because “Hollinger” is actually a Dutch name. Bruce and Alice were commmitted to opening their homes to international students and serving them with meals, rides, love and quality time. So, the program and one “Marcus Hollinger” was a special opportunity to them.

We met that Sunday and I introduced myself. They asked, “So, where are you from?” “Kansas City,” I said. “No, where are you from?,” They asked, again. Suspicious, I told them I had also lived in Kentucky, but that was it. They told me they thought I was German or something and that’s whay they picked me. I said is was sorry to disappoint and we laughed about it. This was the beginning of our relationship. (If you think their thinking I was an international student after seeing me is a little naive, look up NBA player Dennis Schroder. He’s fully black and fully German. So, yea.)

Our relationship is special for how it began, but also because of what was happening in my life at the time. Months earlier, I decided I was going to follow Jesus at all cost. I was pretty new to living authentically Christian, so any tangible expression of Christian love I could get, I desperatly went after it. I wanted to experience the radical love of Jesus and learn to model it to others. I would do what ever it took — even entering a relationship with two elderly white people who couldn’t be more unlike myself.

We started meeting and developing our relationship through family dinners. Bruce and Alice would have me over for dinner once a week. At the dinner table we talked and got to know each other. It was at the same table, Bruce and Alice told me they were adopting me and I was now their son. I thought it was a little strange, because I was 20 years old and thought I was beyond being, “adopted.” I knew who both of my parents were and we actually had a decent relationship. But, like I said, I was desperate to experience this love of Jesus love I had been hearing so much about. I thought, whatever, this can’t hurt. Over the past five years, I’ve realized there was incredible depth and meaning when Bruce and Alice said they were going to “adopt me.”

Being a father, Bruce went out of his way and made me his responsibility. Bruce took me on as son in every sense of the word. There were times Bruce and Alice were concerned at how skinny I was, so they fed me outside our regular meetings. They let me know they were concerned, and lovingly told me I needed to take better care of myself. Bruce took interest in how often I was reading my Bible, and how well I was understanding what I read. He also gave me a Bible plan I’m still working through to this day. One time, it snowed very badly in Kansas and I procrastinated on de-icing my driveway. Bruce showed up unannounced, chastised me and handed me hoe. Together, we de-iced my porch and walkway. I became a little more responsible that day.

Eventually, I graduated college and took a job as a campus minister and missionary. The job required that I raise my personal salary of $60,000 to live on for two years. It was the hardest thing I had ever done in my life. Through that time, I experienced a lot of ups and downs. Bruce was there for me. He would meet with me, help me plan ways to get the support I neeeded and pray for my success. He and Alice also supported me with $100 a month toward my fundraising goal. They were constantly displaying how much they loved me and were invested in me. It took me a little over a year to raise the money I needed. And in that time Bruce and I grew closer.

As he prayed for me and encouraged me to grow, he shared with me his personal struggles. He told about his great desire for his own children — that they would know Jesus. He told me about his challenges in being a more loving husband and paying attention to Alice. He made goofy jokes about me being a black man that needed to try new things like skiing. Bruce became more like a friend.

In reflecting on Bruce’s life, I also remembered the times I took him and Alice for granted. I remembered the times I came home to Kansas after moving to Atlanta and didn’t prioritze a visit to them, though I was minutes away. I remebered times I showed up to their house unnannounced to ask to borrow something. Bruce chastised me about the inconsiderate visit and lovingly obliged. I reflected on these moments and discovered though I abused the grace Bruce extended to me over the years, he never failed to show mercy and love me. Bruce’s patience and kindness always amazed me.

I often felt insecure about our relationship because it made me feel like I was some black college kid, lacking in fatherly love, getting his needs met by some old white man (Bruce was somewhere in his 70's). But as I reflect on what Bruce meant to me, I see I gained so much more.

Ephesians 1:5 is a Bible verse that makes me see the beauty in our relationship at a higher level. It’s a letter from the apostle Paul explaining the relationship God initiated with the church in Ephesus and all people who trust in him:

“God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure.”

Bruce will forever live in my heart and I’m very sad that I’ll never see his goofy smile again, or hug him. But, in my sadness, I’m over come with joy because of the indelible mark Bruce left on my life. Bruce initiated our relationship because he wanted to. He wasn’t under compulsion by anyone or anything. Embracing me as a son gave him pleasure and I knew it all along. By initiating a Father-son relationship with me, Bruce gave me a physical representation of the spiritual reality that I was adopted as a son of God, the minute I put my trust in him.Comforted and secure in that reality, I will move forward in life inspired by Bruce to live a life worthy of my adoption.

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