This letter pays tribute to a late pastor and community leader who was less concerned that people go to church simply to hear sermons, than he was that people know Christ. He challenged his congregation to “be the church by serving others generously.”

It’s common in our rural community to hear the question, “So, where do you go to church?” The resulting conversation likely includes the proper name of a physical church and maybe a denomination.

Kevin Foss and his family moved to Battle Lake, Minnesota in 2014. In some ways Kevin was an outlier. It took courage for an avid New York Yankees and Giants fan with deep roots (and a Hillcrest Academy alumnus) to move into the heart of Twins, Vikings, and Battler territory. Yet Kevin quickly became endeared as he and Debi lived a beautiful reflection of Christ’s virtues that influenced many in our community.

While helping to plant Bethel in Battle Lake, Kevin was diagnosed with melanoma cancer. It ravaged his body over five years, inflicting multiple surgeries, chemo, radiation, and countless therapies and hospitalizations. Yet his faith and spirit would not be dampened.

Kevin’s tireless service through suffering is perhaps the most notable element of his time in Battle Lake. For many people, service, compassion, and generosity follow naturally from their achievements, abundance, and contentment. We see it often in our culture when people “achieve success” or “make it” by the world’s standards, and then their life of service and generosity begins. In contrast, Kevin’s life in Battle Lake might be regarded as disheartening in human terms—sanctioned to a terminal sentence of daily suffering and pain. Yet he responded with a faith that exuded love for every person, a perpetual smile, and selfless serving, when it was anything but convenient or painless for him to serve. In doing so, Kevin became greatly loved and admired by the people around the area.

It was not uncommon to hear someone ask how Kevin was doing after yet another serious cancer setback. It was also not uncommon to hear others wonder aloud, “How long must Kevin suffer?” In his distress, Kevin’s example of serving others could only be explained by unadulterated godly virtue. Although he suffered greatly, we believe Kevin’s time in Battle Lake was God’s perfect timing!

He quietly defined “church” for us as going into the community rather than going to a church building. A church was people, who would clean our local parks and beaches, clean up at the school in the spring, sponsor the Wenonga Days bounce house for any and every kid, provide Christmas Day meals for the needy and a Thanksgiving outpouring, hold sports camps in the summer, present a vibrant youth group even during COVID, offer worship at the community dock, support the Child Care Center, and the list goes on and on.

There are many great books about servant leadership, yet none better than the biblical account of Christ, portrayed as the greatest suffering-servant.

Considering Kevin’s time in Battle Lake, it is remarkable to realize how Bethel has grown, how people’s lives have changed, and how our culture of collaboration has been enhanced. All this influenced and inspired by a man of humble words, stricken with constant pain, against the backdrop of distancing from one another we felt due to COVID-19.

James, the half-brother of Christ, tells us, “Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing” (1:2-4, NLT).

Even while Kevin suffered, his faith was unwavering, and his smile was persistent in great joy. He prevailed as he matured in godliness.

Kevin’s brother Dave Foss—also a pastor—recently reflected on Kevin’s passing: “From now on when people ask me how Kevin is doing, I can respond with assurance and say, ‘He’s never been better!’”

We are better too, Kevin. Praise God, and thank you!

Dan Malmstrom is an accomplished global tech and biotechnology executive, writer, and executive mentor. He and his wife Lisa reside in Battle Lake, Minnesota where they teach Bible Studies to young adults in their home, participate in community service, and serve on various corporate and non-profit boards.

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