There is a phenomenon that follows most major wildfires. After the initial burn, after the surface burn takes place, there is still ground fuel. Under the ash of the destroyed, embers continue to smolder, and if they get to the roots underground, the roots can catch fire. As the roots of the tree slowly burn, the tree on the surface remains healthy, vibrant and beautiful. But eventually, the flames reach the fleshy, inner part of the tree and the tree will literally burn from the inside out.

Today, at church, our pastor talked about how pride and self-centeredness act like these secondary fires. They are below the surface, they leave the outward visibly untouched… for a span of time. But they are deadly and will burn a person up from the inside out. The more we curve inward on ourselves, the more we lose sight of those around us and our God-given need for relationship with Him and others as well as our God-given mandate to care for those around us. But there are those who show us how to live, not like a tree burning from the inside out, but from the outside, lighting up with passion and fire for Christ and His people.

As I listened to the sermon, these words clawed their way up to the forefront of my brain:
“Seeing first hand, looking into the eyes of people and realizing how much I have, how much even the poor of this country have, by comparison, changed me. Bill Hybels (Founder and Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago) once stated that when he went to Africa and saw it, something changed and relocated in his gut and it never returned to where it had been. I understand that. Scriptures often talk about how Jesus looked at individuals, the leper, the prostitute, the down and out, and saw them, not their titles, illnesses, occupations. There is something about really looking into the eyes and seeing that changes you. I went through life looking at pictures and news and not really seeing. Once I saw, I had to do something.”

Lee and wife Anne celebrating the 10th anniversary of CompassioNow in October, 2016.

These are the words of Lee Kennedy, one of the founders of Compassion Tea Company and our beloved President and CEO. And do something, he did!

Lee took his hard-earned business skills, the wisdom and experience of decades of leading and working in the technology field, and married them to his passion and desire “to do something” for Christ.

Lee and Mitch, his friend and pastor, hauling the CompassioNow luggage that carries much needed medical supplies for Tanzania Christian Clinic.

Lee enjoying the local custom of killing the fatted goat for the visiting guests in Tanzania.

Since our founding in 2011, Lee has shepherded our organization through the rigors of set-up, transition, trial and error, and frustration. He led us in a weekly prayer call with joy and praise ever on his lips. And our one single purpose as an organization? To give God the glory for all. He celebrated every new customer and every new clinic and traveled back to Africa several times to see the work of God being done there. Lee challenged us to ask the question of all new business ventures, “Does it give all glory to God?” “Pray and wait on the Lord,” he encouraged us. And God has blessed our tea company.

Lee and Zach from Kuppa Joy in Fresno and Clovis, CA, show what a great relationship Lee helped us create with our customers.

Back in late July, Lee announced that he had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. While we began earnestly praying for a miracle of healing, Lee began reciting Acts 20: 24, “But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.”

Lee and Anne (on the right) visited Dr. Danny Smelser and his wife Nancy at the Tanzania Christian Clinic.

Lee finished his work for the Lord on October 29 and went home to the loving arms of Jesus. While we are saddened not to have his amazing wisdom, strong leadership, and loving laugh calling us to prayer and directing our business decisions, we know that he is giving God the glory right at His feet. And we know that Lee helped create a legacy that will live on in the customers who are touched and nourished by Compassion Tea, in the patients who receive medical relief and life-saving medical care through our clinics, and in the people he touched who came to know God’s love in a new and special way because of the way Lee lived.

In memory of Lee, and as a tribute to his life, CompassioNow doubled its quarterly payments for the fourth quarter to its clinics in Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, and Rwanda. We hope you will join with us in praying that these payments will multiply the work of God in the dark places of the world.

Lee was a tree on fire, burning outwardly for the Lord, not consumed inwardly by pride and self-centeredness. May we all live accordingly, for the glory of the Lord!

If you would like to make a donation to CompassioNow in memory of Lee, click here.