A Lament for a Friend

Joe Zickafoose

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died last night. He had cancer, and in the process of treatment his immune system became so weak that he was very vulnerable to infection, got pneumonia, and died.

Maybe this is normal, but I don’t feel overwhelmed by emotion until I try to talk to someone about it. It’s kind of weird. When I’m on the phone with a mutual friend of Joe’s, I start to choke up. And I usually weep for a few moments after I hang up. After that, I’m fine (albeit sad) until the next conversation.

It would be hard to overstate Joe’s influence in my life. When I moved from Louisiana to Missouri to go to seminary, I began volunteering at the Chi Alpha ministry he led at Missouri State University. He soon asked me to join him on staff, and I seized the opportunity to work with this amazing man.

I got to know Joe very well over the next few years. He was a real mentor. He told amazingly funny stories. He was kind and caring. And wicked smart. Joe really knew his stuff. He helped me understand how theology related to practical ministry in a way that is still stunning to me.

I have so many vivid memories of Joe that it’s hard to believe he’s really dead.

I’ll never forget his booming laugh echoing through the office. I remember once I was giving a student an explanation about eschatology (the end of the world), and after the student left Joe just started laughing uncontrollably. “Glen, do you realize how many times I’ve heard you give that exact same explanation using the exact same words to students?” Maybe it would be funnier if you heard my explanation and knew a little more about my denomination, but this isn’t really the place for a theological treatise on the return of Christ.

Another story that springs to mind is the time Joe decided to buy a motorcycle. He used to ride them as a kid, and he wanted to return to the halcyon days of his youth. So he did his research, bought the bike and all the accessories. It was a months-long process, filled with days of Joe waxing eloquent about the joys of motorcycle riding. Joe could get pretty obsessive about his hobbies, and this was close to displacing music in his level of passion. He set out to ride and my phone rang about an hour later. It was Joe. “Glen, I crashed my bike. Can you come pick me up?” So I set out in my trust Isuzu pickup to retrieve the noble fallen Zickafoose. He sold the bike shortly afterward. It was one of the most heartbreaking and yet funny events I can remember.

But my favorite story of Joe has to be his salvation story. I might have it a little jumbled, but this is the essence of it. He spent his teenage years working hard and saving for college. However, when he arrived at Kent State he blew all the money he had spent years saving in one term on a crazy drug binge. He had to drop out because he had depleted all his funds. But before he did, he met Jesus. Here’s how it happened.

Joe and his drug buddies used to stay up late at night talking about crazy stuff they had seen. Joe Zickafoose’s roommate, Joe Daltorio (hereafter referred to as Big Joe), had some of the best stories about people he had seen healed at the Pentecostal church he grew up in. Joe was skeptical, but Big Joe swore up and down he had seen it with his own eyes.

One night Joe was visiting his supplier down the hall, and they made some sort of joke about Satan. As Joe tells it, at that moment they felt the temperature drop and an ominous presence filled the room. Joe fled back to his room where Big Joe happened to be. As Joe entered the room, he felt the exact opposite presence. A sense of overwhelming peace filled his dorm room.

“I don’t know what’s happening in here, but I want it.”

Big Joe looked at him and said, “Joe, I’m what you call a backslider. I was turning my back on what I knew to be true. I told you all those stories about my church, but I never told you the most important story of all. Jesus is God and he died for your sins. You can be forgiven and have peace with God. I just finished repenting and I’m not going to be part of the drug scene anymore. Do you want in?”

Joe said sure, and so Big Joe explained, “This is the way they do it at church. Would you please bow your head? Without looking around, if you want to receive Jesus Christ as your personal lord and savior, would you please raise your hand? Great. Please kneel and repeat after me. Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner and I need your grace. I humbly repent and please forgive me of my sins and help me not to do them anymore. With your help, I’ll serve you.”

And that’s how Joe became a Christian. His drug friends came over to his room and Joe decided to put some music on to celebrate. He began digging through his collection until he found something that looked religious and put it on the record player. He told his friends, “See, there’s a quote by George Bernard Shaw about God on the cover. It’s spiritual music.”

His drug dealer friend started laughing. “What does George Bernard Shaw know about God? He was an atheist!”

Joe’s countenance changed; he stared at his record collection. “I’ve been deceived,” he said slowly. He took the record off the player and threw it out his window like a frisbee. It smashed into the next building. His friends sat stunned. One by one he took all the records in his collection and hurled them into oblivion, his friends screaming at him to stop and begging him to give them the records instead. He bellowed, “None shall have them!”

I always used to crack up at that line. “None shall have them!”

There are so many stories about Joe. He was truly an amazing individual. I’ll miss him deeply. We hadn’t talked too much in the last few years because he was serving overseas as a missionary to university students in Scotland, but I thought of him often.

I can barely imagine what his wife and teenage sons must be going through. I rejoice that Joe is in heaven experiencing his reward, but I weep for his family who now must soldier on without him. If you remember, be sure to pray for them.

39 thoughts on “A Lament for a Friend”

  1. Wow. I never knew Joe (nor do I know how we may be related) and I only know of his passing because your blog post came up in my Google Alerts for ‘Zickafoose’. Thank you for sharing your memories.

  2. Thanks, Glen for this post. Though I feel like I barely knew Joe, I have always been and shall ever be grateful for what he taught me about ministry during those brief ten months.

  3. Glen, your sharing of these stories put a smile on my face. Thank you. I believe this is exactly how Joe would want us to remember him even amongst our human nature of sorrow.

  4. glen, i am there… fine but if i start talking to someone… i loose it. i feel the short time we got to be with joe was just the tip of the iceberg in getting to know him. that time we were all in spfd was a very significant time in my life, many parts of great, zickafoose being one of them. i remember that pickup too, carrying our bathtub.

  5. Thanks for the blog. I learned so much from him too. I was always to proud he was my friend.

  6. Hey Buddy,

    Sooooo many stories…gosh there’s a lot.

    Man, he was awesome. He will be missed.

  7. Amazing. Thanks Glenn. Those booming laughs & wise words are echoing in my soul now because of your post. cheers very much.

  8. Joe & Jayne started at SMSU the year after I graduated, but my sisters were still there and I attended several times with them when I was back visiting home. I remember Joe as being really passionate about Christ and the ministry. The love that he had for college age kids was really great. Will keep Jayne and the boys in my prayers.

  9. Hi Glen,

    Thanks for the poignant remembrance. I only met Joe, Jayne and their boys once — when they came to my church to itinerate several years ago. The church where I attended back then “adopted” them and supported them monthly — and I put them on my list of missionaries that I prayed for on a regular basis. (in fact, you were on there too, as one of the Chi Alpha missionaries we supported). I was shocked to hear of his death.

    We are praying for Jayne and the boys.

  10. Thank you Glen for sharing. His dry humor and his practical approach to loving people is what I remember most, but we have all benefited from his mission and his sacrifice. As details of the funeral become available, I’m hoping someone will post them here. With much emotion and thoughts, Levi

  11. The lastest I’ve heard is Tuesday, August 19th at Central Assembly of God in Springfield, MO. I don’t know if they’ve set a time yet.

    If you’re on Facebook you can message Kristina Lwali — she seems to be in the loop on all the details.

  12. Information on Funeral arrangements received from Capital City Church in Columbus (Joe’s partner church here when he was at Ohio State)

    Both visitation and funeral service will be at:

    Central Assembly of God
    1301 N. Boonville Avenue
    Springfield, MO 65802

    Visitation is Monday, August 18, from 6:00–9:00 PM in the sanctuary.
    Funeral Service is Tuesday, August 19, at 1:00 PM in the sanctuary (there will be a viewing from noon until 1:00 on funeral day).

    Joe is at:
    Greenlawn Funeral Home East
    3540 Seminole
    Springfield, MO 65809

  13. Thanks, Glen. Just hearing Joe’s stories retold makes what seems to be gone, live on in my heart. And I think that’s true — Joe will always live on in all of our hearts because he impacted us. Joe was special — he made a difference in who we are. My heart is overwhelmed with deep sorrow for myself and his loved ones, but I rejoice for Joe. He is no longer in pain and he is happier now than he could ever be on this earth.

  14. I can really hear Joe’s voice in your reflection of his salvation story. After hearing it a dozen times some of us used to recite it along with him during Chi Alpha meetings, yet it never got old. And the passion he told it with each time shows how much meeting Jesus meant to him. And now he’s truly met Him face to face. As I grieve I try to remember the awesomeness of that.

  15. There’s one detail I know I got a little wrong — there was something about his friend (the druggie from down the hall) hopping from one piece of furniture to the next one saying, “Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!” or something like that.

    Does anyone remember the details and how that fits into the narrative?

  16. Glen,
    My God, this is hard.

    Thanks for putting this all down.…. I can hear Joe telling these stories again thru this blog. Thanks.

    I gotta believe that Joe now understands just how people felt about him.….. I feel like an idiot for not telling him more of what I felt about him, his life and ministry before he died. I gotta apologize to him in heaven.


  17. Glen,
    Thank you for sharing your memories of times with Joe. He was my good friend and i am going to miss him dearly.

  18. I was sad to hear about Joe. I met him about ten years ago when he was still in Springfield. He may have been the most intelligent practical student of theology I ever met. I didn’t get to know him well, but he was a very inspiring guy and has often come to mind in my own ministry with Chi Alpha. Now he knows all he had longed to know!

  19. joe’s gone. that stinks real bad. we’ve definitely lost a good one…one of the best for sure.

    if it’s even possible, heaven is now a happier place.

    we love you and miss you, joe.

  20. I am very sad to hear of Joe’s passing and my heart goes out to Jayne and their boys. Another chapter was written in my life because of Joe. In 1976 I was an atheist and I went to Kent State University to party. But before I could do damage to myself or others I ended up rooming across the hall from “The Holy Joe’s” as the other guys in the dorm referred to them. Joe introduced himself to me early on and was very approachable and was a fun guy to be around. He was able to disarm the many barriors I had built up against Chistianity and I came to realize how niave I had been in my thinking. As a result of my conversations with Joe and yes, Big Joe too, I surrendered my life to Christ. I shutter to think of where I would be today if Joe hadn’t shared God’s truth with me as a young niave college freshman. Thank you Joe, and may we all be inspired to live our lives for Christ as Joe did.

  21. Although I don’t think I ever met Joe face-to-face, I’ve felt like I knew him by association with all of the XA relationships in my life. Praying for his family with you, and for you and the many lives he’s touched, that you may continue to replicate what he did.

  22. Thanks, Glen, for the nice blog you’ve done about my brother. My name is Larry and I’m the oldest of the 6 siblings (73…22 years older than Joe).

    As you can imagine, it was a shock to me when his death occurred. Since I am the oldest, I expected to be the first to pass on. But I am comforted in knowing that he is now at peace in God’s House forever.

    I just returned from his Memorial in Springfield, MO and must tell you how great was the service provided by the Church and his friends. Friends and family, including we five remaining siblings, from all over the country, Europe, and especially Scotland were in attendance.

    An absolutely beautiful memorial was set up by the Church with big screen videos, pics, and letters of condolence was running in a continuous loop. Live music was also provided by a Gospel Rock Band playing behind one of his guitars placed on the stage. Services were closed with the lonely wail of a Scottish Bag Piper in Kilts playing “Amazing Grace” and “Going Home”.

    My brother Dave gave the Eulogy (they were closest)…did a great job. Sister Pam told family stories about Joe. I read his favorite passage in the Bible: Proverbs 3, 3 thru 6.

    Thanks to all who knew him and remembered him. I know that Jayne and sons John and Andrew appreciated all who shared in their lives. They have made Springfield, MO their home.

    Best Regards.

    Larry Zickafoose

  23. Glen, thanks for the stories. I just happened upon the news of Glen in Blair Bonin’s newsletter. I only knew, but greatly respected, Joe from a distance, but I feel like I have an even better respect for his memory.


  24. I was blessed to know Joe while he led Chi Alpha in Springfield, Mo. In his life and in his sermons, he shared a compelling and winsome vision of Christian faith. I remember how gracious he was with me. I miss him too. My prayers are also with his family and friends.

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