The passing of Dr. Stone contained both shock and relief. I had wanted more time with him; I had more to learn from him, I knew he had more to teach me. This grief had been in process for some time. Not long after I graduated from college he resigned from both lectern and pulpit, his health was declining rapidly, and he had emptied his office. I stood there in disbelief, I’d spent countless hours listening and talking in this now empty space. The bookshelves were gone, the space where his chair and desk had once sat; empty. The side table where he kept an emergency stash of crackers, juice and toiletries for the occasional student who was completely destitute; missing. Behind the door once hung two photos, one of his wife, the other of he and his daughter with a buck they had shot; gone. Yet, one thing lingers in my mind, something seemingly innocuous, but an iceberg in terms of the principles he taught us: A small porcelain pumpkin which sat on his desk that read; “Give Thanks”. A new thought formed in my mind; “Thank you Lord for the time we had with him; please take care of him.”
Keith Stone had been my professor of Spiritual Life, Homiletics, and Theology at Shasta Bible College and Graduate School in Redding, CA, outside the classroom he was my Pastor. Like many of the students at SBC, I attended his small church nestled in the foothills of the Redding valley. He suffered greatly from an undiagnosed health condition for many years, yet continued to teach and preach faithfully. He grew tired of people asking daily how he felt, so he decided that when he was having a good day he would wear a tie, and when he wasn’t he wouldn’t. The summer of my freshman year I had a relationship end unexpectedly. He would call me every month to see how work was going and to remind me to walk on the sunny side of the street, and to give thanks.
Keith Stone is survived by his wife Gracie; their 4 children and 14 grandchildren; he graduated to glory in the morning hours of September 11th, 2016. To know Keith as I did is to have heard the countless stories of teaching, joy and occasional terror in being a parent. His children are a miracle, for he and Gracie were told by doctors they would not be able to conceive. He shared how they struggled with eight years of infertility in a class I took on marriage and family. His lesson from those barren years was to never give up and to never cease praying.
To me Keith was like a grandfather. I spent my high school years and summers with my grandparents, and I was especially close to them. The year before my first semester at college my grandmother passed, the week after I arrived my grandfather died as well. Neither of them knew the Lord, a loss that never fully heals. My sudden fascination with religion did not make sense to them, but they were excited for the initiative I was taking and supported my desire to go. Keith somehow had sensed the loss in my life and took me under his wing.
Keith was also my Pastor at Shasta Community Church, a small evangelical congregation nestled in the Western foothills of Redding. His sermons were uniquely expositional and applicational, always capturing the meaning of the text in ways that were simple to understand. A majority of the students attended, and most Sundays afterwards, everyone would get pizza together and have fellowship. Nearly my entire sophomore year my phone would ring early on Saturday mornings. It was Keith, saying he needed help with his computer and that he would be leaving Shingletown in 15 minutes to pick me up in Redding. I’d spend the mornings with he and Gracie, fixing their laptops and helping them understand technology. They wouldd feed me breakfast and pay me well for my time; that was my only income for that year. The following Sunday I would hear how much he loved seeing the grand kids over Skype. The church building had been something of a work in very slow progress for some time. For years there was no proper pastor’s office. When one was built, Keith cut and laid the wood floor himself. The church did have a nice parsonage attached to the property, which he would rent to students of the college. Late one winter I had come down with a horrible flu and somehow, bruised my esophagus on a vitamin. I was unable to swallow, had a fever that would not break and excruciating stomach pain; Keith visited me in the ER and prayed with me.
The classroom was his native element, he was teeming with life experience, and somehow it all related to Scripture, theology, life and family. He quickly became my favorite professor. The assignments were meaningful, and somehow the lectures were unforgettable. He’d start class standing at the lectern, when he had plenty of strength. By the 40-minute mark he would be sitting, with his hands folded over one knee, leaning back in the chair. Some days his voice was weak, and he required a microphone. Some days he could barely speak and needed water to finish his lecture. He had the utmost love for his family, his children were a special joy in his life. Every once in a while, he would be mid lecture, take out his phone and call his son and ask him to illustrate the point over speakerphone; moments like that were unique. Other times his phone would ring mid-lecture and he would answer it.
Shasta Bible College is a unique institution of higher theological education; the motto being “Preparing Servant Leaders for the 21st century.” The byline should read, our professors are servants, all they want to do is life with you. They are not published in the latest journals, they are not writing books every quarter, they are making disciples, and that cannot happen without being present in the lives of their students. We have glossed over this fact in our seminaries today. At Shasta you’ll meet half a dozen of the most godly, humble, compassionate and knowledgeable professors, serving a student body of around 50. Once a year Keith would take the entire student body and faculty to lunch at In N Out. It was always quite the sight; he would stand at the doorway of the school, handing everyone a five-dollar bill and whisper, “go get a burger”. He often used food as a means to disarm those who would otherwise not be so chatty. He simply loved being with the students and hearing their stories, getting to know them and seeing what God was doing in their lives. His favorite part of the day is when they’d ask to talk with him in his office; he would just sit and quietly listen, three fingers pressed against his cheek to balance his head. It didn’t really matter what the subject was in discussion, or the nature of the issue at hand. It all somehow boiled down to two principles; giving thanks or honoring mother and father. Keith would attend the student run camping trip in the fall. He would read to us Two Logs Crossing and then we would spend the next hour surfacing applications from it. The college would dedicate a whole week toward the protestant reformation. On Friday of that week the students would view a showing of Martin Luther over soup at the Stone residence in Shingletown.
After my graduation from SBC in 2012, we relocated to Dallas to attend DTS. I would see Dr. Stone at least twice year when I visited to assist the college with their conferences or visit family in the area. Our first son was born the following spring, and he and Gracie were able to meet him. He was weak then, and they had sold their house in Shingletown and moved closer to the college. The following year his health had continue to worsen, and they had moved to the east coast to be with family. We didn’t talk at all the next year, I was just too busy with work and studies and now our second son. In the spring of 2016, I called him for his birthday. His mind was still sharp, but his speech was occasionally garbled. We talked about basketball, how God exalts those who honor Him, Shakespeare, Dallas Seminary and family. I knew then that might be the last time I would speak with him.
Dr. Stone taught me patience amidst great physical and relational suffering. To lead the will to give thanks to God in all circumstances and to marshal the strength to open God’s Word in all seasons. Above all things, he taught the most effective way of loving people is simply to serve them by meeting their needs. He taught me through his actions a passion for theology, the Scriptures and the Savior, and I again give thanks for the time I had with him.
Jenner Francis is the Director of Admissions & Alumni for Shasta Bible College & Graduate School.