A man who walked humbly before His Lord
By Charles Kelley
RIGA, Latvia – Jerome Kenagy (Nov. 2, 1934 ~ Jan. 31, 2018) was one of the most remarkable men I have known. It would not be appropriate for me to add to the obituary his family has so carefully and lovingly written. I refer you to this link to read more about Jerome’s extraordinary life. But here are some of my specific impressions and memories.
When I first met Jerome more than 25 years ago, I noticed he was extremely quiet. But that did not hinder the impact of his presence or the depth of the few words he spoke. I was introduced to Jerome and Donna by mutual friends, Mike and Stephanie Parker. One of the first things I observed about Jerome was his ability and affinity for languages; he learned Russian while in the military during the cold war. He was interested in all things Russian, including the fight for religious liberty and the changing landscape of ministry behind the iron curtain.
Around that time, I was starting Bridge Builders International. I invited Jerome to be a charter board member. His business experience, church leadership, historical knowledge and international worldview served our board profoundly. When Jerome joined our board, I had no idea what an impact he would make to BBI and to so many in Latvia.
Right away, Jerome began to introduce us to members of his extended family who lived in eastern Oregon in a small ranching town called Christmas Valley. Soon this congregation sent one of their favorite sons, Dan Roth, to scout out Latvia as a possible location for partnership ministry. The ministry and impact accomplished by Dan and his wife, Katie, over the years is a testament to the long-term impact Jerome made. Indeed, the Community Church in Christmas Valley has the largest heart for world missions than any other church I’ve known.
Jerome immediately reached out to his own pastor and congregation in Reedsport. Soon, he found himself on his first of 14 trips to Latvia, focusing on their sister church – the Russian Baptist Church in Jelgava. The ways that the Reedsport Church of God, inspired by Jerome and Donna, impacted the people and their sister church are surprisingly broad. They helped with education, construction, children’s ministry, pastoral respite and economic development for several members in need of help and mentoring (to start small businesses to feed their families).
All along, Jerome continued to serve on BBI’s board, consistently offering wisdom, critical support of the general operating fund (the most difficult area in which to raise funds) and numerous special projects. Very few people knew what the Kenagy’s were doing behind the scenes to bless and encourage us at Bridge Builders International.
In 2000, BBI had the rare opportunity to host the former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis for a three week goodwill tour. Besides attending the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, and meeting with Christian congressmen and Senators, as well as seniors executives of major Silicon Valley companies, Mr. Ulmanis spoke in several churches which had been introduced to Latvian partnership ministries by BBI. Such a trip was not inexpensive. I was overjoyed when Jerome agreed to make it financially possible. My close friendship with Mr. Ulmanis continues to this day.
About 15 years ago, Jerome began to initiate a series of conversations with me. He believed that what God was doing through BBI was so remarkable that the stories needed to be written. And so it was that in response to his prompting, I began to write Surprised by the Father’s Plan. Jerome invited and paid his daughter Kristin to be my co-author. She made the book better than I could have. Then Jerome financed the printing and publishing of the book – in hardback, in English, in Latvian and also the audio book in English. Thousands have been blessed because of Jerome’s vision to share this remarkable story.
Jerome and Donna’s chalet in Brienz, Switzerland wasn’t simply a getaway. They used this beautiful location to minister to so many souls throughout their retirement. Nancy and I, amongst many other friends, were welcomed to visit and rest, soaking up the hospitality and joy that comes from Creation in the Swiss Alps.
My heart treasures the memory of several all-day hikes with Jerome and Donna there. How they loved and appreciated nature, immersing themselves in it whenever possible. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jerome’s life verse is about walking.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? – Micah 6:8