Remembering Larry

June 18th dawned bright and sunny in Upstate New York. I stepped out onto our porch and began my stretches, preparing for a leisurely run over the dirt roads that lead to and from our house. As I started to jog my phone buzzed. It was a text from my brother Daniel, asking me to be in prayer for our friend Larry Madrid, who had just had a heart attack.

So, as I ran, I prayed. And as I prayed, my mind went back to the many, many memories I shared with Larry.

I met Larry my first day at Fellowship Baptist Church. I was a newly arrived college student, and, not knowing anything about any of the churches in the area, I had accepted an invitation from a new classmate to attend Fellowship that evening. Many things impressed me during that visit – so much so that I made Fellowship my church home – not the least of which was Larry’s enthusiastic song leading.

Actually, Larry didn’t just “lead the singing.” He put his heart and soul into the song services. Sunday after Sunday my heart was led to the Throne in worship, prepared to hear the Word by Larry’s conscientious and passionate ministry in music.

As time progressed I was able to sit under his musical leadership in the choir, in special music, and various other projects. One of my favorites was this number we sang at a sacred music event in Bartow, Florida. Larry is to my right.

Here’s another, recorded in April of this year:

It wasn’t long after meeting him that I discovered that music was not the only area of his life where he excelled. He was a brilliant engineer, a successful businessman, a loving husband to his wife Connie, and devoted father to their three sons.

He also loved kids. I remember when my son Michael was still a baby, watching Larry try repeatedly – and unsuccessfully – to get him to smile.

It became evident to me – as it was to all who knew him – that Larry was passionate about Christ. And one of the ways this manifested itself was in his dedication to missions. As Itacyara and I prepared to go to Brazil, Larry and Connie were among our greatest cheerleaders, and our earliest supporters. And as God blessed their professional life, they in turn blessed missionaries. Numerous projects in Brazil were benefited by their personal generosity, and that can be multiplied many times through many missionaries around the world.

Just before venturing north to visit our New York churches this May, Itacyara, Michael, Nathanael and I spent an evening with the Madrids. Over taco pizza and Dr. Pepper they asked us questions and listened as we shared the struggles and triumphs of our last term. As we left their house, Itacyara and I commented to each other on what an encouragement the time had been.

My morning run complete, I stood on the front porch and checked my phone. There was a message from Daniel.

“Larry is now singing in the presence of Jesus.”

In a state of shock I told my wife the news, and we both mourned the loss of our friend. The next hours and days were a blur. I remember that we took the boys to hike up the gorge at Watkins Glen, but it was hard to be enthusiastic about it knowing that our church family in Florida was in mourning. Via social media I watched as they concluded a week of Vacation Bible School – their ability to soldier through that event in the face of such deep sorrow was a clear evidence of the grace of God in the life of that congregation.

The next week found me in Lakeland, Florida for the funeral. The auditorium, which can seat between three and four hundred people, was packed out. And it was there that I could see the enormous impact this man had. Besides Larry’s immediate family and church family, there were many, many professional colleagues in attendance. Sitting up front was Pastor José Ramirez and several people from a Mexican church in Lakeland, Florida – present because Larry has been active in helping them over the years. At one point Pastor Piatt asked all the missionaries who had been supported in some way by Larry and Connie to stand. Besides myself, a dozen other people stood, representing ministries that span the globe.

By modern standards, Larry was called home early – just shy of his sixty-first birthday. But the footprint he left in this world is more than many leave in lives that extend far beyond Larry’s.

And the footprint is still growing. Before I flew down for the memorial service, I received a call from the family in which they expressed their desire to encourage people to give to our camp dormitory project in lieu of flowers. Of course we were honored, and grateful to be thought of in this way. What I was not prepared for was the deluge of gifts that came in. So great was the outpouring of love for Larry and his family that our mission agency – no stranger to legacy giving – actually called our church to learn more about Larry. As of this writing, over $17,000.00 in memorial gifts has been donated.

I had done my best to prepare myself emotionally for the funeral. I made it through the songs, the testimonies, the outstanding message, with a minimum of tears. But nothing could have prepared me for the end. You see, Larry had presented a special number at our church the Sunday before he died. It was a song he had written, and in it he shares his greatest desire. And they closed the funeral service with a video of Larry singing that song.

Here it is. And if you can listen to it without tears, you are made of sterner stuff than I. (song starts at 1:13:00)

To paraphrase something Pastor Piatt said at the service: Larry loved life. He loved his family. He loved music. He loved his work. He loved kids. He loved missions. But most of all, Larry loved Jesus Christ. He wore his love for his Savior on his sleeve. That was his defining quality.

For now, we miss Larry tremendously. In a month’s time I’ll be back in Florida, and I can already imagine the gaping hole that caused by his absence at our church. But as a Christian, I know this is not the end of the story. Someday I’ll stand beside him again as part of that immense choir before the throne, and together we’ll sing the praises of our Lord and King.


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