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.