By Kirk Noonan
Tim and Shawna Laffoon
huddled in heartbroken disbelief around their 17-year-old son, Ryan. Earlier
in the day he had bounded out the front door for a day of fun and sun at a
Now, he lay unconscious in a hospital’s
intensive care unit. An intricate network of tubes and wires monitored him
and fed his body oxygen and medication.
“We love you and are so proud
of you,” Tim whispered to his eldest son, then a junior at Republic High
School in Southwest Missouri. “We’re praying, and hundreds of others are
Relatives, friends and
classmates had gathered in a waiting room down the hall. Prayers, murmurs and
sobs filled the room as they clutched one another and asked God for a
One was already taking place
within Tim, Shawna and their youngest son, Trenton. As they prayed, they say,
God gave them an unmistakable assurance — the kind that only comes from
a life well lived.
A good kid
By all accounts, Ryan was a
fun-loving teenager with a gift for music and a penchant for making others
laugh. He was a prankster, the life of the party, a skilled musician, a car
junkie, and most importantly, a committed follower of Jesus Christ.
On the morning of May 23,
2003, Tim and Ryan had agreed to meet for lunch. But as the noon hour
approached, Tim got held back at work and had to cancel their lunch plans.
A couple of hours later Ryan
waded into the water at a swim beach at Stockton Lake, an hour northwest of
Springfield, Mo. The plan was to swim, get some sun and have a good time with
his girlfriend and her classmates as their summer vacation began. But after
only a few minutes in the water, Ryan went under. When he came up, he was
yelling for help.
Those who heard him thought
he was goofing around, Tim says. But when Ryan went under again and did not
resurface, the students began a frantic search for him.
They found him on the bottom
of the lake unconscious. According to the Army Corps of Engineers, it takes
only 60 seconds for an adult — without a lifejacket — to drown.
In what probably seemed an
instant to the students, Ryan went from being the fun-loving kid everyone
liked to one of the 6,000 people who drown in the United States each year.
Hours after racing to the
hospital, Tim and Shawna consulted with Ryan’s doctors. They were told that
everything had been done for Ryan that could be done.
“As a parent, your goal is to
love and train your children so that one day they will stand beside the Lord
in heaven,” Tim says. “But you never anticipate that could happen before you
“The only thing that got us
through that night was the assurance we felt. If the Lord was going to take
Ryan, then Ryan was ready to go.”
With that confidence and
peace, the Laffoons gathered around Ryan as the doctors shut down the
machines that were keeping him alive.
Within a few minutes, Ryan
Michael Laffoon died.
“I can’t imagine how anyone
could go through that without hope in Jesus,” Tim says. “Life is fragile and
can be taken from us at any moment — that’s why we need Jesus in our
Less than a year after Ryan’s
death, Tim, Shawna and Trenton were fast at work putting on the first Ryan
Laffoon Memorial Golf Classic. The goal of the tournament was to keep Ryan’s
memory alive and raise scholarship money for Republic High School students
headed to college.
For the past six years the
tournament has grown and enabled the Laffoons to present several scholarships
to college-bound seniors. The Laffoons also use portions of the funds to help
stock local food banks and sponsor educational programs.
“After Ryan died the
community reached out to us in a big way,” Tim says. “God challenged our
family to meet people’s needs on an ongoing basis and not just in times of
Since Ryan’s death, the
Laffoons have not only been able to give tens of thousands of dollars away,
they have shared their story and their faith with countless people.
“By helping those in need, we
earn the opportunity to share our faith,” Tim says. “That’s one reason Christ
wants His followers to exercise compassion — it opens doors for the
Gone but not forgotten
Just beyond a country
cemetery, cows wade in a nearby pond. Fields stretch for miles in every
direction, and insects that could be mistaken for small birds pester
At the edge of the cemetery a
beautiful granite headstone is engraved with Ryan Laffoon’s name.
Tim and Shawna visit Ryan’s
grave regularly. When it’s needed, Tim mows and trims around the headstone,
and Shawna maintains the flowers and mementos friends leave behind. On every
holiday, Ryan’s birthday and the anniversary of his death, the Laffoons can
be found at his grave.
“We know Ryan isn’t here, but
coming here makes us feel closer to him,” Tim says. “Ryan taught us that God
gives us today, and it’s our responsibility to do with each day what He wants
us to do with it.”
For the Laffoons that means
keeping Christ and others at the center of everything they do. It’s their way
of spreading the unmistakable assurance God gave them the night Ryan went to
stand beside the Lord.
KIRK NOONAN is the former
managing editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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