Buddy, the evangelistic chocolate Lab!
Moses had his wooden staff
John and Buddy had a leash
Moses had Aaron’s voice
John and Buddy had their feet!
Who would’ve ever thought
That a dog could be so used
But a donkey once spoke out loud
So it’s up to God to choose!
Joshua had his ram’s horn
Elisha healed the boy
Gideon had his lamb’s fleece
But Buddy spread God’s joy!
John: Thousands of neighbors in the culturally diverse metro Detroit neighborhoods knew Buddy, the affable chocolate Labrador retriever who loved to walk. Almost every day for 12 1/2 years, his owner John obliged, regardless of weather, as they routinely walked for hours per day. “He was a fantastic dog with a great disposition. Everybody loved Buddy.” John said. However, after Buddy died March 11, 2019 (to John’s surprise), neighbors came to his house and asked why he and Buddy hadn’t been seen walking recently. John explained Buddy had passed away a couple days earlier. Neighbors told him that he and Buddy had become so well-known in the area, it was imperative that John somehow let everyone know of Buddy’s passing, or else people who were used to seeing them walk would become concerned. John was surprised at such interest, but thought it was a good idea and thought letting people know would also help him handle his grief.
John handled his grief by walking the very same routes he and Buddy took together, but this time he hand-delivered a notice of Buddy’s death to the homes on their walking route- 200 homes- thanking them for all the nice smiles, talks, and great treatment over the years of walking through their neighborhoods. To John’s surprise, many responded with sympathy emails, text messages, sticky notes, and phone calls. John received nearly 100 sympathy cards in the mail. Some neighbors even placed memorial items on his front yard porch. A cherry tree was planted in John’s yard by some neighbors with a plaque that read: “John’s Buddy, everybody’s friend.” The Novi Fire Department, after noticing John and Buddy had not walked by their station in a few days, then heard about Buddy’s death and showed up twice at John’s house to say how sorry they were. A Novi police officer who hadn’t heard of Buddy’s passing, showed up at his house to check on his well-being. John explained that Buddy had died, and then asked the officer, “do you think Buddy’s in heaven?” The officer explained he had never before thought about God, or heaven or hell, and John said: “the next thing you know, we’re talking about Jesus.”
To thank everyone for their kind outpouring of sympathy toward Buddy, John wrote a second letter, walking the same route of 200 homes with the letter thanking everyone, also showing a photo of the front porch displaying the many Buddy memorial items, and he attached two tickets for each house to the upcoming Easter production at his church, Brightmoor Christian Church. John explained in the letter that the tickets were the best thing he could think of to say “thank you” to everybody for their kindness. John called them “Buddy tickets” and the people “the Buddy brigade.”
When the night of the Easter production came, John stood at the main entrance door of the church as people started arriving. He wasn’t sure anyone he invited would show up. Soon, he saw faces he recognized from more than a decade of his walks. From spiritual conversations he’d had with them, he knew their faiths: Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, atheistic. John lost count at 60 of his walking contacts for the Easter production. John greeted them as they walked in, and many told him the same thing over and over again: “We’re here for Buddy!”
While John thought his work was finished, the morning after the Easter performance, he says he heard a voice inside speaking: “You ‘re not done yet. Keep sending those letters out.” John said to the Lord: “You can’t be serious. I can’t continue walking around the neighborhood telling everybody my dog died. People will end up thinking I’m nuts, that I need a psychiatrist or something.” But he says the Holy Spirit persisted with the message: “You do the walking, and I’ll do the talking.”
So, for the next seven months, without his beloved Buddy, John kept walking the many neighborhood routes he and Buddy would use, hand-delivering more custom-made Buddy cards. He struck up spiritual conversations- that’s how hundreds of conversations unfolded in the wake of Buddy’s death. In November, John began distributing “Buddy Tickets” to the church’s Christmas program. On the night of the December performance, he couldn’t see everybody who entered the megachurch; he lost count somewhere over 200 from the “Buddy Brigade” who showed up. As with the Easter production, the Christmas show presented the gospel.
More than a month after the Christmas production, John received reports of its impact. Some invitees unable to attend gave their tickets to others who came. A woman he didn’t know showed up at his house with a cake, thanking him, because of a Buddy card and a conversation John had with her husband, her husband and son went to church.
“If Buddy didn’t pass away, none of this would have happened,” John says, noting that you don’t need anything spectacular to witness for the Lord: “it was just all basic grass roots stuff, because all I needed was a dog, a leash, and my two feet” to proclaim the gospel. He cites John 4:35 – the fields are already ripe, ready for harvest. In all, John visited 2,200 homes and businesses, and no one turned him away when he started talking about the need for Jesus as Savior. “Somebody said to me that if I had approached people out of nowhere and said: ‘Hey mister, you need Jesus,’ the person would’ve run away or called the police. Instead, I just simply said: ‘Hey, my dog died,’ and the next thing you know, it was all ears after that.” John says. “The next thing you know, the other person is immediately relaxed, interested and doing all the talking on their own, easily talking about heaven, their eternity situation, and conversations about Jesus. Something about talking about a dog automatically disarmed apprehensiveness and naturally warmed people up into talking. God knew that.”
Robb Stancer, Brightmoor’s creative arts pastor, describes Buddy as a: “four-legged friend that could melt your heart with compassion and help you open your eyes to something greater. They say they came because of the dog, but I think it’s John’s genuine love and care for the individual,” Stancer says. “This little dog bridged a gap between race, religion, culture and person because they loved Buddy. In many ways, John was just being Christ’s hands extended.”
Stancer points to the principles of sowing and reaping. “In some of those people who came for the Buddy Brigade and others who attended, we planted a seed. With others, we watered that seed, and with others we harvested.”Stancer says that John had a burden to reach those who had been so kind to him and Buddy. “Out of that birthing, God has used this simple act of obedience. He was obedient to God, and God honored that.”
John has received hundreds of emails, letters, and support from people of all walks of life, including Jim Harbaugh, coach of the Michigan Wolverines college football team, the office of Evangelist Franklin Graham’s Samaritan’s Purse, the office of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and even the office of Joe Biden’s White House. What began as an outpouring of grief over the death of Buddy, continues to provide an avenue through which the love of God is shared. Since then, John has spoken to a Christian radio station podcast, WBGL Chicago. CBN television featured the story, as did CBN’s website. Guideposts magazine ran a story as well. Additionally, John launched an email campaign, sharing pdfs and links to Buddy’s story with celebrity actors, musicians, politicians, sports figures, cultural and spiritual icons.
John says: “It’s hard to believe how much has transpired since Buddy passed away. The whole thing really helped me get closer to God. Buddy did that too. All of the hatred and fractional issues in today’s world…that was all disarmed, neutralized and overcome by the story of the kindness of Jesus being reflected in a dog.”
Like Elisha bones that brought a dead man to life
And just like a church can be identified by its steeple
God used a chocolate Lab
To connect with all His people!
And even though it’s been two years hence,
Since his death they say
Chocolate Buddy still connects
Spreading Joy to this very day!
Buddy was not a nobody
Because he was a somebody
With the love of God being used
To show everybody
To make a difference for the world to see
About the love of God for you and me
Chocolate Evangelism flowing free
To show we’re all part of His blood-bought family!