Barry Branaman: a great friend and mentor

Barry Branaman
Barry with his wonderful wife Kathy on the day of his graduation from seminary in 2009.

When people discuss their blessings, they’ll usually mention spouses, children, friends, health, finances, etc. If you asked me to discuss my blessings I hope I would mention the godly men God has put in my life. One of the most important is Barry Branaman.

He was a mutual friend of Elwyn and me when I taught in Marysville, CA. I met Barry through his two daughters who attended a young adults’ Bible study I started attending. He became my mentor soon after I became a Christian. The first Bible study I ever led took place in his living room under his supervision. He rarely said anything, but it was a constant source of encouragement and comfort to have him present. I knew he could answer any questions that I couldn’t.

Barry taught me to make time for people.

I spent many hours in Barry’s living room talking to him about the Bible. People have told me that I ask a lot of questions, and I would agree; however, Barry was the person God put in my life at that time to answer all the questions I had as a new Christian…and there were a lot. If I had to single out the one person who helped me understand the Old Testament it was Barry.

Barry taught me about stewardship.

I told a story in a sermon about Barry helping me see our possessions as a stewardship. When I thanked Barry for letting us use their home for our bible study, his simple response was, “That’s what it’s for.” With Barry everything he had was for serving God’s Kingdom. When Katie and I visited California in December 2012, we stayed with Barry and his wife Kathy. From the moment Barry and I saw each other I felt like no time had passed. He was as gracious answering my questions then, as he had been eight years earlier.

When I moved to Lemoore, CA in 2004 I remember standing in Barry’s kitchen telling him goodbye and that I really loved him. In return he gave me A Harmony of the Gospels, which I just took off the bookshelf behind my desk to read the note he wrote inside:

“To Scott,

May the Good News ever grace your heart and lips, thoughts and life. may the love of God always surround you and keep you in all ways. May your service in Christ be ever for His glory. May the Holy Spirit be your continued guide and Comforter, “empowerer” and keep.

Your brother forever,

Barry”

Barry still speaks.

On Thursday I received the news that Barry Branaman passed away at the age of 59. Last week’s sermon was about finishing strong, and Barry is an example of a man who did that wonderfully. I’m very thankful God blessed me with such a great friend, mentor, and brother in Christ. I’m much better for having known Barry, and by “better” I mean I have a deeper love for God and His Word because of him.

Hebrews 11:4 says, “Abel still speaks even though he is dead” and that could be said of Barry. I learned so much from him that when I’m teaching the Bible, often I’m passing along what he taught me.

If you knew Barry Branaman and would like to share a memory about him, I’m sure it would be a blessing to anyone who reads this post.

Coaching our kids in t-ball with my best friend…

Some months back when Elwyn was considering whether to take the kindergarten teaching position here, I remember walking in the house telling Katie, “He’s not going to move to Washington.” He had been offered the job, but before we got off the phone he told me he was staying in Marysville, CA. The whole situation was so sudden, and involved so much change, and required so much to be done in such a short period of time that for anyone it would seem almost impossible. Plus you factor in Elwyn had been in Marysville for almost twenty years: he had a routine, he was very well-respected by a school and community that knew and loved him, he told me he could walk into his classroom each day without preparing anything because he had been doing it so long, his job was completely secure, he was making good money, etc. Plus, he had a wife and two small children who would be seriously affected by the decision if it didn’t go well. It was a huge decisions to consider, BUT God had opened all the doors. A number of “fleeces” had been laid out, and God had answered in the positive regarding all of them. Still, what was being required of Elwyn and his family was so much that I could understand why he was waiting to come for the following school year. I was very disappointed, but it made perfect sense.

Then something happened that I’ll never forget. Forty-five minutes after telling me he wasn’t coming, Elwyn called me and told me he was coming. It was a wonderful, emotional moment. When your best friend tells you he’s bringing his family to be part of your family (and church), and you consider all it’s expecting of him…and he happened to be the person God used to see you become a Christian…and now you’re going to be his family’s pastor, it’s hard not to get emotional…even for a guy like me who never gets emotional :).

Elwyn said he had one requirement though. It wasn’t, “Be a great pastor to me and my family” or “Let’s make sure our families hang out once per week” or “Please introduce us to some other families so we have some friends” or “Can you get some people to help us move in?” it was, “I’ll move there if the two of us coach our sons together in T-Ball.” I have coached football, wrestling and girls’ basketball, and as of Saturday afternoon at 10:30am, Elwyn and I became the proud co-coaches of a Woodland T-Ball team, with Brooks, Ricky and Rhea as three of our players. Do we have any idea what we’re doing? Not at all!

Elwyn purchased this jacket for me, which happened to be the same jacket he'd purchased for himself. He's a Michigan fan; hence the colors.
Elwyn purchased this jacket for me, which happened to be the same jacket he’d purchased for himself. He’s a Michigan fan; hence the colors.

Dedicating 14 Babies?

Different times I’ve discussed one of my best friends, Elwyn Ordway. He visited a few months ago with his family and I’ve mentioned him in a number of sermons. We met early in my teaching career when our classrooms were next door. God used him greatly in my conversion and he’s been a wonderfully loyal and encouraging friend. He was the one person who stood by me at the lowest point in my life when my brother died and I was somewhat estranged from my parents. It seemed like a number of people had written me off, but he saw something in me and even at that early time in my Christian life he talked to me about being a pastor someday.

Last week he saw on Facebook that I dedicated 14 babies during last Sunday’s service, and he wrote the following article as a joke. Here are a few things for you to know so this makes sense: he lives in Marysville, CA, he read the other bulletin letter where I joked about the women’s meeting discussing me not liking baby dedications, and he’s a big sports fan. When I used to coach if I experienced any success, he’d write articles comparing me to the greatest coaches in history. This article is in the same vein as those other comical articles…

Marysville Daily Press – 2/17/13

Move over Babe Ruth. You too Broadway Joe Namath and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio. Coach Wooden you got company. And those ’72 Dolphins? They have a new neighbor.

Today in the sleepy little town of Woodland, WA a record was set. The Babe hit 60 home runs in 1927. Namath led the Jets to that Super Bowl III upset, Joe Dimaggio hit in 56 straight games in 1941, UCLA won 88 games in a row, and Miami went undefeated in the 1972 NFL season. But on Feb 17th, Pastor Scott LaPierre dedicated 14 straight babies at the WCC morning service. News reports stated LaPierre didn’t believe in baby dedications but he changed his mind just recently. “Pastor Scott didn’t even change his shirt and tie but went right into the dedications after his sermon,” said one onlooker.

One long time friend was not surprised. “I remember how Scott used to let the dishes pile up in his kitchen sink so I’m not really surprised he let all these babies pile up as well.” The friend said LaPierre would now be known as “The Babe”. One WCC member said the official count of dedications since Pastor Scott had not previously believed in dedications was 14 babies, seven middle schoolers and a 38-year-old man who joined in the gala event. The older gentlemen said he had waited a long time for Pastor Scott to change his mind about dedicating babies, but he was glad to finally be dedicated.

After the service Mrs. Katie LaPierre gave “the Babe” an ice pack and listed his shirt and tie on Ebay under “LaPierre Shirt with Drool“. Mrs. LaPierre said her husband had worn the shirt all morning so there was quite a bit of drool from all the dedications. Some of it even belonged to the babies.

Congratulations were in order after the service. Reports had LaPierre so tired afterwards that he needed to take a few months to recover.

-Reporter Elwyn Ordway