Celebrating the Courageous Life of Erica Faith Hagan

Erica Faith Hagan began coming to Hardin Baptist Church in high school. Serving as Youth Pastor, I was able to spend time with Erica on a weekly basis. In 2010, Erica decided to give up a week of her summer to travel to the country of Nicaragua for an international mission trip that would soon light a spark that would spread into an unquenchable flame. Now, this mission trip was not a “show up the day of and get on a plane” type of trip. No, this trip began in December with on-going meetings and planning stages in which students were to engage.

Erica did not merely show up to these meetings. She came alive during these meetings, planning and praying for the children of Nicaragua whom she would soon encounter. It was during our times of planning and then going to Nicaragua that I learned several things about Erica.

Erica loved her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ and wanted to live for His honor and glory. Erica also loved people. Erica was a team player. She did not involve herself with cliques. She loved everyone. I can still see Erica sitting in a church in Nicaragua in 100 degree weather with three kids sitting in her lap. Erica loved travel and missions. Some kids tolerate travel for the sake of mission. Erica had a genuine love for both.

When I first heard the news of Erica’s death, I was in complete shock, as were you. Then as the days went on, I began to contact the family and friends of Erica. I had anticipated this very moment where I would be asked to speak at a service on Erica’s behalf. Then, I began to fear the uncertainty of what I was to discover in my endeavors. Now for all of you who have spent time with Erica in recent years, you know those fears were completely unwarranted. And now, so do I. After spending the past few weeks investigating Erica Faith Hagan’s life, instead of digging up skeletons, I uncovered her strong faith in God, deep love for people, and courageous compassion for the needs of the world. Erica truly was larger than life.

Erica’s blog revealed that Erica did not merely like to travel, she was a traveler! These are the words under her blog entitled “¿Donde en el Mundo? (Where in the world)”:

“I will always have a heart full of wanderlust (in a later post she defined wanderlust as: “A strong desire to travel”)…here is my attempt at logging some, if not all, of the adventure I might take in my traveling experiences.”

Erica quoted the great St. Augustine of Hippo who said, “The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.” Erica was not content in reading a mere page of this world’s book. Her heart’s desire was to read chapter after chapter.

There was one place that truly captured Erica’s heart, the country of Chile. She had visited Chile on a mission trip with Georgetown College. After graduation, she returned to work at a Baptist school, helping children learn the English language. In her own words she wrote:

“No masterpiece compares to God’s masterpiece. Chileans have a saying about Chile and all its natural wonders. It goes something like this: In the beginning of time, God created wonders of the world. When He was finished, however, he saw that He had many leftover pieces. He had parts of rivers and valleys, of oceans and lakes, of glaciers and deserts, of mountains and forests, and of meadow and hills. Rather than to let such beauty go to waste, God put them all together and cast them to the most remote corner of the earth. This is how Chile was born.”

Erica was proud of where she came from but she was always on the move. She wrote, “I love being from Kentucky. I love being able to come back from wherever I’ve been and call that sweet bluegrass state my home. Though in reality, staying put has never been in my blood.”

In all my fact-finding about Erica, I discovered over and over again a girl who loved Jesus, loved people, and who loved to travel. Even though we can all agree that Erica’s death was  sudden and tragic, we can also agree that there is no other place in the world Erica would have rather been.

In moments like this it is really hard not to think about all the life Erica seemed to miss. In our minds, years and years were cut short from Erica but in reality, we do not mourn a girl who missed life. Instead, we celebrate a beautiful girl who actually lived life. Yes, there have been myriads of people who have lived much longer lives than Erica but there have been few people who have lived fuller and deeper lives. Erica was not on the sideline watching life pass by. She grabbed life by the horns and lived it to the fullest! The fact is, there have been many people who have lived to see 100 and beyond who didn’t live half the life that Erica Faith Hagan did. Some people idly waste a long life. Erica, on the other hand, took a short life and made it found for ten lifetimes!

As I spent some time reading through Erica’s blog this week, it struck me why Erica wanted to write down her traveling experiences and then post them for the whole world to read, (or at least those privileged enough to know her.) Erica wanted to share her experiences with those she loved. In Spain, she wanted us to taste the difference between tapas in Sevilla and Tapas in the Granada. She wanted us to “remember that time she was in Paris” with her and have the Eiffel tower steal our breath away as it did hers. She wanted us to taste the coffee in Chile or even better, Irish coffee in Ireland. She wanted us to laugh at Dave who said, “I like that ring. What is it?” To which she replied, “A Ring.” That became the best laugh of the day.

She wanted us to ride the big boat with her to Africa, see the sunrise over the Mediterranean sea, and know the reason why all homes are blue in Morocco, (to keep the mosquitoes at bay during the summer, of course.) She wanted us to cross the bridge with her that showed Big Ben on one side and the London Eye on the other and she wanted us to know how hard it is to get your picture taken on Abbey Road along with all the other tourists also trying to be like the Beetles. Of course, she wanted us to spend our Sunday’s going to church with her in Chile, walking up the hill towards the market in the rain, and then wasting the afternoon away in conversation with the locals she so deeply loved.

After reading all of her marvelous blog posts, I got to wondering: What if Erica could write one more? One more blog post just for us today. What would she say? What would she want us to experience about her experience right now?

I am not going to pretend to know exactly what Erica would say or how I should say it. Because Erica had such a clever way with words, I don’t dare to mimic. But, I do know what the content of that post would be about – The love of her Savior, Jesus, who loved her until the end and who loves her forever more.

Jesus Christ was Erica’s Savior. In order to save her, Jesus, the eternal Son of God, left His throne in Heaven to be born in a stable as a human being just like Erica. Then, as a human being, Jesus did the one thing Erica could not do, live a perfect life free of sin before God the Father. You see, even though today we have all said beautiful things about Erica, what we have left off is the fact that Erica was a sinner who fell short of God’s glory. That is why Erica needed a Savior. That is why Erica needed Jesus.

Because of this, Jesus came and lived the life Erica could not and then He died the death she deserved because of her sins. Three days later, He rose from the grave and lives forevermore. Here is the good news! In His death, He defeated her death. In His resurrection, He purchased her resurrection. And since Erica’s trust in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, He saved her from her sins and reconciled her back to God forevermore.

Because of the good news of the gospel, Paul’s encouragement to the Church of Thessalonians becomes our encouragement as well:

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words. – 1 Thessalonians 4:13

Yes, we grieve and we will continue to grieve in the days, weeks, and years to come. But we do not grieve as those who have no hope. Instead, we grieve with hope: hope in the Gospel, hope that we who have trusted Christ will see Erica again, and we hope in the eternal Kingdom of our Lord Jesus Christ.

By Erica’s own definition she was a wanderlust, always seeking somewhere new because here and now were never enough. There were simply too many pages of this world to read.

And now in this final blog post, I think Erica would admit to us that her wanderlust is over because she has finally found the place that quenches the longings of her soul and that place is in the presence of her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. In His presence, there is fullness of joy and at His right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Where just one day in His courts are better than a thousand days elsewhere.

In her final post from Heaven, Erica would want us all to know that she has reached her final destination. For now, she is home.


(This post was adapted from Erica’s memorial message preached on September 27th, 2014. To visit Erica’s blog visit http://neverforgetalwaystravel.blogspot.com)

10 prophesies about Jesus 700 years before He was born.

1) Isaiah 40:3-5 – He will be proceeded by a voice crying in the wilderness.

All four gospels claim John is this voice preparing the way for Jesus.

2) Isaiah 7:14 – He will be born of a virgin and name Emmanuel (God with us).

Mathew 1 – Mary is the virgin and her son shall be called Emmanuel.

3) Isaiah 9:6-7 – He is the forever King who bears the name Mighty God.

Luke 1:32 – Jesus will be great and called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David forever.

4) Isaiah 11:1-3 – He shall be a righteous branch from the line of David.

1 Peter 2:22 – Jesus committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.

5) Isaiah 28:16 – He will be the cornerstone.

Acts 4:11 – Jesus is the stone that was rejected by men, the builders, which has become the cornerstone of the church.

6) Isaiah 40:11 – He will be a good shepherd who cares for the sheep.

John 10 Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”

7) Isaiah 35:4-6 – He will cause the blind to see and deft to hear.

Luke 7:22 – “Should we look for another?” And he (Jesus) answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.”

8) Isaiah 25:8-9 – He will shallow up death.

1 Cor 15:55-57 – “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

9) Isaiah 42:3 – He will be the hope of the Gentiles.

Matthew 12:18-21 “and in his name the Gentiles will hope.”

10) Isaiah 61:1-2a – He will be the Spirit filled Messiah who brings the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4 – Jesus says He is the Spirit filled Messiah.

Therefore, Jesus is God who became a man to live the righteous life we couldn’t and die the death we all deserve, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus is the “Anointed One”, who is called the Christ.

Isaiah 53

The Arm of the Lord (53:1)

ESV study Bible – “the power of God in action.”

Humility of the Savior (53:2-3)

God became a man. Men rejected Him as worthless.

Work of the Savior (53:4-5)

Summary: Jesus died in our place for our sins (Penal Substitutionary atonement).

He was wounded (pierced) for OUR transgressions.

His chastisement (punishment) brought OUR peace; His stripes OUR healing.

Our Need for the Savior (53:6)

“All we like sheep have gone astray” (We rebelled against a Holy God).

Willingness of the Savior (53:7-9)

“By oppression and justice He was taken away.”
Everything about Jesus’ trial was illegal, yet Jesus did not protest.

“Opened not His mouth”. Full submission to the purpose of saving His people.

Submission of the Savior (53:10-11)

“Will of the Lord to crush Him.”
Jesus was not a martyr, nor was His death an accident. He was God’s sacrifice for the sins of the world.

Satisfaction of the Savior (53:11)

Out of His anguish the wrath of God was satisfied.

By Jesus the many are accounted righteous.

Victory of the Savior (53:12)

“Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoils with strong”.

Jesus shares the victory of the cross with His people.

The Forgotten Missionary

I’m 20,000 feet above somewhere between Nashville and Phoenix, making last minute tweaks to sermon notes, bible studies, and daily schedules. There are 23 others aboard this plane who should be reading their travel devotion and looking over their teaching books, as they prepare to teach the gospel to Native Americans on a reservation outside Phoenix, along with Congolese refugees in Phoenix.

But there is a girl at home who is doing none of that. She is not working on her testimony or memorizing four steps to share the gospel. She is not wearing a team shirt, toting a carry-on, or taking selfies at the airport. No, this girl is not on this “mission trip”, but if it were not for her, neither would I.

This week, like many weeks, my wife will serve as the forgotten missionary. She will not be in any of the videos or make any of the photo albums. She will not get the thrill of crossing cultures to share the gospel. She will not fill her journal with forever memories of an epic adventure.

Instead, this week she will be changing diapers, washing clothes, cooking meals, cleaning house, and completely emptying herself for the betterment of three boys. Instead, this week my wife will spend her time serving missionary work that will far outlast one week in July. Because this week my wife will invest in three boys, all under the age of 5, who we pray will one day change the world.

So at the beginning of another mission trip that will get tweeted (and retweeted), facebooked, youtubed, and instagramed, I want to acknowledge one who will go unnoticed and under appreciated this week: my wife. And I want to say thank you for staying, so I could go.

Katie, this week you will serve the Kingdom of Christ behind closed doors with screaming voices, snotty noses, and constant demands for more chocolate milk. But do not think your work is in vain or unnoticed. For the same Lord who will fix his eyes on our missionary work in the desert, will also have His eyes fixed on a little house in Almo, because in both places He will be glorified and His kingdom will be magnified.

So here’s to you, forgotten missionary. I’m holding the rope for you.

6/15 – 5 Lessons about fatherhood.

1. There is no i in father. 

I grew up believing that being a dad meant loosing yourself in order to love and lead your family, because that’s what I saw my dad do. Now with three sons of my own, I hope they will grow up with the same model of fatherhood. I was recently asked what some of my favorite hobbies were. I laughed and said, “I only have three hobbies; Crider, Finley, and Garnett.”


2. Love their mother more. 

As a son I always knew my dad loved me like crazy, but I also knew he loved my mom even more than me. Just a few weeks ago my son Finley asked, “Dad, do you love mom more than me.” Without hesitation I said, “Yes.” Dads love your kids like crazy, but love their mom even more.


3. Confess, forgive, grow.

Fatherhood is extremely difficult and as a father I fail almost everyday before my wife and kids. I have come to understand my kids don’t need a perfect father, they need a real father who confesses when he fails, and forgives others when they do. My kids need a father who is growing into the likeness of Jesus, and that comes through confession and change.


4. Father for your grandkids sake. 

I don’t just want to raise my sons to be courageous men for Christ, I also want them to raise their sons to do the same. When I teach my sons a lesson, I often follow it with, “and this is what you need to teach your kids when your a dad one day”. My prayer is that there will be a legacy of Cunningham’s who will walk with the Lord in the midst of a crooked generation.


5. Love God the most. 

Yes, I saved the best for last. The most important thing any father can do is to love God the most. Love God more than your wife. Love God more than your kids. Make your home about the glory of Christ, because your kids or wife can’t handle being the true center. Lead your family to worship Christ supremely, and in doing so you will have fathered them well.

Happy Father’s Day.

How to pray each day for our Nicaragua team.

Saturday – safe travel to Nicaragua.

Sunday – children’s VBS, Adult Discipleship, & outreach service at The Promise Land (the village we brought water to last year).

Monday & Tuesday – teaching teams & lessons at La Panama School. Afternoon work projects at the school.

Wednesday – teaching teams & lessons in morning. Afternoon home visitation and evangelism using food boxes.

Thursday – morning teaching lessons at La Panama, afternoon finishing up projects, night preaching at local church.

Friday – beach outreach ministry.

Saturday – safe travel back home.

Thanks for holding the rope!

(Also please for me. I caught the flu before leaving and will be traveling on Sunday to catch up with the team. Pray for speedy recovery & health for the rest of the team.)