Taking Curtis’ place

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The young cowboy never made it to Mongolia, but others are taking his place around the globe

by Laurie Oswald Robinson 

On a Friday evening in September 2006, Curtis Lautt fell from his horse in Harvey, ND, and sustained a brain injury. That very morning, the tall, lanky cowboy had called the MBMS International regional office in Wichita, Kan., asking whether he could share the gospel in conjunction with agricultural work in Mongolia. A retiring agriculturist from Montana working in Mongolia had invited Curtis to take his place. And Curtis wanted the Mennonite Brethren mission agency to know he was available to serve in this dual role if such a niche came open.

But Curtis never made it to that remote mission field. The 26-year-old died Sept. 21, 2006, six days after the fall. When he passed into heaven, Curtis was surrounded by family and friends who mourned his death. Since the tragedy, some of their grief is being transformed into joy.

Even amidst the “why” questions of some and the lingering sadness of many, Curtis’ family and friends are discovering how many lives Curtis touched with Jesus’ love—and how his death is inspiring others to share Christ in Mongolia and elsewhere.

Curtis’ overriding desire was to humbly glorify God and the saving work of Jesus Christ without bringing attention to himself, say many people in his family and community. This unassuming attitude radiated from his love for people and a gift for communication in many settings.

Building God's kingdom

He worked with farmers on the plains, studied at Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., earned an agricultural education degree at Fargo, ND, served on short-term missions in Latin America and Russia, ministered as a youth pastor in his home congregation of Harvey MB Church and worked at Christian camps for kids. All the while, he built up God’s kingdom without building up himself.

In fact, no one knew the extent of Curtis’ influence until he could no longer speak of it. The week of his death and in weeks following, dozens of people from Harvey, throughout North America and around the world came forward through a Web site, e-mails, letters and calls to share Curtis’ impact.

“God could have taken Curtis right after the fall out there in the field, but the six days he lived gave us all time to understand how many lives he impacted,” says his grandmother, Delores Lautt, whose just-published book, Curtis: Beloved Servant, chronicles his life and death. “When news of Curtis spread, so many people from so many places sent e-mails describing how he had impacted them.… But we never heard all this from Curtis. He didn’t talk about how he served God. He only talked about the God he served.”

Bryan Lautt says his son Curtis desired to be an anonymous tool in God’s hands. “He had a degree in agricultural education and was approached by many schools asking him to teach agriculture,” he says. “But he turned them all down. His real passion was to be in ministry, and to do it behind the scenes. Once I introduced him to some folks as our congregation’s youth pastor. He said, ‘Don’t do that anymore, Dad. I just want to be a regular person relating to regular people. I can get so much farther in sharing Christ with people when I don’t have a title.’”

"This is not right" 

The irony is that while Curtis wanted to remain anonymous, the story of his tragic death has spread far and wide. Randy Friesen, MBMS International general director, says, “When I first heard of Curtis’ death, I said to God, ‘This is not right,’ It is hard to get people to go to Mongolia, and here was a young man who was willing to go and who had gifts that fit so well with the needs there. Then I felt God asking, ‘What are you going to do about it?’ I knew right then I needed to invite others to take (Curtis’) place.”

In a heavenly twist of events, Curtis, asked to take someone else’s place in Mongolia, is inspiring other young people to take the place he never occupied. For example, at a mission rally in Saskatoon, Sask., where Friesen issued this call to Mongolia, Katie Housek came forward, indicating she wanted to be one of those to take Curtis’ place.

Katie, a horse trainer, joined the first “Nomad” short-term mission team to Mongolia in 2007. She returned to the nomadic people to lead a team in 2008. Katie, currently on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Olds (Alberta) College, plans to return to Mongolia with another team in July 2009.

“I was really hit hard by Curtis’ death, and I prayed people would be raised up to go to Mongolia in his place,” she says. “But as is often the case, when you pray for God to do something, you are the one he is calling to do it. Here I was, a young Canadian, who had no amazing skills but who felt called to go to a remote, near-impossible situation. But I’ve learned that God works his awesome miracles when we have nothing but him.”

Kindness and live in action

Joshua Nightingale, a 16-year-old living with his missionary parents in Brazil, is another young life Curtis deeply impacted. In a Feb. 26, 2009, e-mail sent from Brazil, he writes: “I met Curtis three years ago as we traveled around the Midwest to get support for starting a camp here in Brazil. While we were in Harvey, I went to his house a couple of times. He had me help with the training of his favorite horse. It wasn’t so much what we talked about, but what he did. He took a lot of time out of his day for me. Kindness and love were expressed in each of his actions.

“The true significance of this time didn’t hit me until after he passed away. When we returned to Harvey, Mr. Lautt took a day off to spend with me.… He talked to me about Curtis’ dreams about Mongolia and told me that it was my job, and people like me, to do what Curtis was about to do.”

Joshua continues, “In summer of 2011, I am going with MBMSI to Mongolia to tell the nomads about the love of Christ.… I am not planning all of this in obligation of Curtis’ father, but because it is what the Lord wants me to do. The Lautt family was the vehicle for his message. Curtis Lautt was a great man; I hope to be a lot like him, and I can’t wait to see him in heaven.”

Taking up the call

Katie and Joshua and others are needed in missions, Friesen says. God needs people for whom missions is not a place but a way of life—an attitude modeled so well by Curtis. “We are currently praying for and mobilizing a long-term team in Mongolia,” Friesen says. “I doubt if we would be mobilizing teams for Mongolia in the way that we are if it had not been for Curtis’ passing. He refocused our attention on the cost of following Jesus to the least reached. Many others are taking up that call today.”

Friesen prays this unfolding story encourages us to realize that God redeems everything we invest in his kingdom—including a mission call that seemed to end too soon.

“I most want the legacy of Curtis to cause people to ask, ‘God, are you calling me to go?’” says Friesen. “God isn’t looking for people with ‘big’ skills as much as he is looking for those who are willing to let him be a big God.

“When I first met Curtis during short-term mission trips, what impressed me most was that he was an ordinary person. He was sincere, thoughtful, faithful and personable but not flashy,” says Friesen. “He was an ordinary person who had a deep faith in an extraordinary God and his saving work in Jesus Christ.”

Laurie Oswald Robinson is a freelance writer living in Newton, Kan. 

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