Thomas R. Jones
(November 21, 1962 — July 14, 2017)
It was in November 2016 that Thomas was diagnosed with cancer. The news was delivered with a quiet shock that reverberated throughout our staff at South Street Ministries. He hadn’t been feeling well for a few weeks, talking about allergies and body pains.
But cancer? We never saw it coming.
Overnight the entirety of the organization changed. Our Executive Chef at The Front Porch Café, the one who was the heartbeat of the Café since its beginning 7 years ago, had Stage 4 cancer and was to begin radiation treatment immediately. We scrambled to fill Café shifts and ministry gaps, stepping in as the Body of Christ to support our family, dear friends, and co-workers, Thomas and Toni Jones.
There isn’t quite anything that can prepare people for that kind of news.
We found ourselves all at once stepping in the middle of liminality. Thomas quickly began radiation in December, losing his hair but never his faith or tenacious, gentle strength. Even as he battled cancer, he embodied the consistency, loyalty, and faithfulness that we all loved in him, showing up at the Café frequently to check in. He supervised, asked questions, delegated, encouraged—sometimes wrapped in a blanket to keep warm if he was feeling particularly sick that day. Oftentimes he would have to go home after a few hours because he was too tired. Even other times, Toni would have to take him from the Café straight to the hospital.
Every week at Staff Meeting the first quarter of 2017, Thomas and Toni would share testimonies about what they were learning about the character of God. Thomas and Toni would talk about how although he was sick, God was still Good. Staff Meeting became a sacred place of processing for us all, as we witnessed our friend and brother courageously battle cancer and the Jones’ practice a deep faith in God that inspired us all. In the midst of shock and unknown, it was the faith of Thomas and Toni who carried us through. We prayed for healing.
While Thomas was thick in his first set of treatments around February-April, we read from this book “Spirituality of Gratitude” by Joshua Choonmin Kang every week at Staff Meeting. It was a book about what it looks like to practice the heart-posture of gratitude in light of difficult circumstances—something we found ourselves needing to practice with Thomas’ diagnosis and radiation treatment journey. Kang writes, “It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to be thankful for hardship or tragedy or pain during a crisis. How can a person diagnosed with cancer be grateful for the cancer? How can one be thankful for losing a loved one in a tragic accident? If anyone knows gratitude in that circumstance it is not for the crisis itself, but for God’s sovereignty in the midst of suffering.”
A few of us on staff sat by Thomas’ bedside during one of his last days with us and read stories and Psalms out-loud to our brother, co-laborer, and friend, declaring in shaking voices the faith that joined our stories together in the first place. There isn’t much more to say right now than this—that we loved Thomas Jones, and that Thomas Jones loved Jesus. That he laid down his life for those around him, that he lived his life in service to our God, and that to his final breath he declared God as Good.
Shout to the Lord forever, Brother.
(written by Amber Cullen)