When I first met Pastor Steve Essenburg, it was inside of a Tim Horton’s on Groesbeck Avenue near Mount Clemens. We had decided to meet because Macomb Habitat needed a board member who served a very disadvantaged population in order to meet government grant guidelines. Steve fit the bill.
After practically begging him to agree to the seat, he finally said, “Yes!” Little did I know as I sipped my cream-laden coffee, that he would become one of the most significant mentors of my life.
He began his work of changing my life, and those of others, quietly. Other members of the board were louder. They had more to share and seemed to be much more connected. When it came to attending events, he rarely filled a table and usually brought only his wife or a few friends now and then. But he was present, and he loved us.
The months slipped away.
Though still rather quiet and humble, he began to offer a welcoming prayer at our meetings. He would do so with great energy, often starting out with a sentence such as, “Lord, we are weary. We are tired. We need you to breathe life into our starving souls and help us to face our challenges with renewed energy.” He always knew just what to say during those prayers.
I watched him closely.
After a year or so, he brought bookbags to the children of our partner families. They came to us filled with supplies. He was overjoyed to contribute in this special way! Pastor never told anyone on the board that he was meeting this need. He just acted.
And then, with no fanfare, he began to tell me about a few homes he was trying to renovate in his Detroit community. He’d ask for tips and construction advice. He shared that his volunteers were amazing and that his congregation was the “best ever.”
One day, I made an appointment to visit him at his church. At that point, his health was not good. He had been through a number of repair surgeries, and he was wheelchair-dependent most of the time.
Once I arrived at his small church in a war-torn looking area of the city, he welcomed me into his office before giving me a tour of the sanctuary.
We stood together at the window, and he proudly pointed to the row of brick homes that lined the edge of his parking lot. Two had been renovated by his church and a family had moved there. He told me their rent was often less than the agreed upon amount, because the children living in them needed food or medical care. He loved the children, and he wouldn’t let a high rental note stop them from becoming all they could be.
He built up those homes, brick by brick, thinking only about the boys and girls who flocked him with hugs; who came to him for tutoring; who sought him through the gunshot wounds and the daily crises in their poverty-entrenched world.
And he was always there for them. Actually, he was always there for me.
We will all try to pray like Reverend Essenburg, but our words may not be crafted from the voice of God who whispered in his ear each day. Our eyes fill with tears when we see the empty seat in our board room, and we truly do not know what to do to soothe our grief.
We felt all this raw emotion at his departing, and we only saw him once a month for one hour. One hour. And he changed the inside of our hearts. Just imagine what he did for those families in the brick houses behind his church!
Reverend Steven Essenburg was my mentor when I didn’t know I needed one. He taught me to be quiet. To listen. To learn how to be humble. He showed me how to help others without fanfare or notoriety. He was a gift, and we will never forget.
Brick by brick, lesson by lesson, – he changed the world around him. He changed me.
Let’s do the same for others, in his name. In His name.