I don’t know how to say goodbye to Nabeel. He was such a dynamic force in my life and in the life of my ministry. He and David Wood were there at the very start of my ministry, bringing Confident Christianity alongside Acts 17 on debates and adventures. Oh, and the adventures we have had together!
For me, it was all so odd…for I never intended to have a ministry. Yet there was Nabeel with an unquenchable passion to minister. I felt like a Jonah hanging out with a Paul. He was always challenging me to go beyond what I thought I could do. For instance, he was the one who penned the public challenge for me to do my first debate! No doubt both he and David had already discussed the plans. Last year, I mentioned to him that he and David were responsible for the fact that I had any debates at all. He smiled, laughed, and said, “Oh yeah, I guess we did do that, huh?”
David and Nabeel were also responsible for my engagement with ETS-EPS. Nabeel told me that I “had to go” back in 2006; like there was no option. When I got there, they threw me into conversations with scholars I had revered from afar, but was mortified to speak with in person. Most of the time, I tried to just listen, but they would never leave my opinion out of the conversation.
Over the years, we’ve all followed different paths in ministry, but Nabeel’s recent diagnosis brought us back together. In November, Nabeel suggested we do a road trip to the ETS-EPS conference, just he and David and I…one last adventure for the old times. So he drove us out to San Antonio while David set up the cameras all over the car so we could answer questions about Islam during the trip. It was such a joy to watch these two interact again and to jump in on the fun. From watching Nabeel, you’d never know that he was receiving cancer treatment. He was every bit as vigorous as always.
Throughout 2017, Nabeel spoke, taught classes, and preached right up until his hospitalization. I remember speaking with him at church about how he couldn’t do ministry like he wanted to do anymore. Other than the possibility of not being around for his family, it was one of the main things that really upset him about cancer. He wanted to minister to people. It is what he loved to do.
Throughout his hospitalization, my family and I visited him as frequently as we could do so. Over the weeks I saw him, he always had something to laugh about. Even the last time I saw him before Hurricane Harvey hit, he asked how I was doing. I told him I had just endured a five-hour faculty meeting and so I didn’t know who had the worse end of the deal, him or me, and he said, “You definitely have the worse end.” He loved to joke and tease.
Today is the day after his funeral. My tears yesterday said I will never be the same again. My heart today says that I will endure through the change. For I have reason to believe that my Lord knows what He is doing even when my heart does not understand. God has shown me that He is trustworthy. When I would pray with Nabeel, I would say, “I trust God with you.” I meant what I said.
So I will learn to live with a goodbye for now, dear friend. For you live on here and now with all the lives you have touched. I know that your influence on my ministry was a tiny tip of an iceberg of lives you affected. I thank God for your time here with us! I will high five, fist bump, and hug you in Heaven one day…and we will laugh together once more.