Son of a Preacher Man

Joe Kopp was a barnstorming evangelist. Could his son pass down the faith without the fire and brimstone?

David and Heather Kopp write regularly--sometimes individually, sometimes jointly--on spiritual parenting. This column is by David.

Our children are new worlds. Since they were born, we've been trying to land on their far shores, like Columbus, and take them hostage for our King. Score one for spiritual imperialism.

But that's just one side of the story. Trouble is, more often than not, we aren't sure quite how to pass on our spiritual legacy to our kids. I grew up in Africa as a missionary's son, watching religious colonialism at work. Heather slid into a life crisis, caught in the grip of a high-control fundamentalist church. We don't want to go back there. Score one for enlightened confusion.

So how do we take our own kids hostage for Christ without resorting to the kind of spiritual violence we now reject?

I grew up in a family of soldier priests. We didn't call ourselves that, of course. My dad used language like "serving the Lord" and "saving the lost." He was an ordained Swedish Baptist pastor, the man Barbara Kingsolver writes about in "The Poisonwood Bible," except Joe Kopp was all heart and no poison.


And we were his first mission field. He never doubted his right to do everything within his power to make his five kids disciples of Jesus Christ. Daily, he led us in our prayers. Almost daily, he saw to it that we were reading and memorizing Scripture.

Dad preached the Gospel as naturally from the head of the dinner table as from the shade of a spreading mulenga tree, as exuberantly from the darkness of a bush country campout as from the spotlight of the 11th Street Baptist Church in downtown Los Angeles. His readiness to speak his faith seemed all the more remarkable to us because he struggled with a lifelong speech impediment. "S-s-son," he would tell me, beaming and holding me by the belt loops to get my attention, "God just l-loves you!"

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David and Heather Kopp
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