Craig and Lynn Ann Bogard grew up in a small, predominantly white community in New Mexico but sensed a call to minister to African American youth in central New Jersey after a short-term mission trip to the area in the early 1970s.
Thirty-five years later, despite living through periods of relying solely on God for their next meal, the Bogards are still at it. They have faced the kinds of challenges that only a deep and abiding faith could pull them through — fundraising struggles, misunderstandings about their motives by both blacks and whites, and then the untimely deaths of their two beloved sons, Daniél, 28, in 2004 and Dustin, 25, in 2007.
“Both Daniél and Dustin struggled for years with substance abuse, but this is not what defined them. Ultimately, it was the drugs that took their lives away, but their lives were filled with service to Christ. ... At the end, their hearts were just broken. What is discouraging is there still seems to be such a stigma attached to anyone with addiction problems,” said Craig.
I’ve been aware of the Bogards’ Aslan Youth Ministries for many years, but only just met Craig Bogard last year. As I listened to this slight, serious man recount Aslan’s history, what I really wanted to know was: How do you keep ministering to other people’s children when your own were taken from you?
Craig said he asks himself that question every day, and did so that morning before our interview. The still-grieving father opened up to me about his new life of “pain management” after I told him about .
We shared our thoughts on the bittersweet experience of ministering to children who come from seemingly hopeless situations while our own cherished children seemed to have lost sight of the hope we instilled in them.
“If Job weren’t in the Bible,” Craig said, “I probably wouldn’t be a Christian.”
He cited Lamentations, chapter three as a source of strength. It’s a difficult chapter that begins and ends with pain, but tucked into the middle are these words: “My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the LORD. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning” (Lam. 3:18-24, NIV).
Quoting a long forgotten source, Craig said, “I’ve done so much with so little for so long, I can do almost anything with nothing.” These days the “nothing” the Bogards make do with tends to be more spiritual and emotional than material. Still, God provides.
On the warm day last summer when I visited one of Aslan’s urban day camps, longtime volunteer Brenda Bouldin served both snacks and Bible knowledge to a group of campers while Lethea “Queenie” Ferguson, Aslan’s Monmuth County program director, organized an outdoor game.
What’s different about the Bogards is their passion for “kids nobody really wants or has time for," said Ferguson.
“Their heart for children takes priority over programs,” she said.
Relationships always have been the heart of the ministry, Lynn Ann Bogard said when I interviewed her by phone last year. Program-driven ministry puzzles her, she said, and Aslan’s success with kids has never been based on her or her husband having some intrinsic understanding of the African American experience.
“We are not black and never will be,” said Lynn Ann. “It’s never had anything to do with things like that.”
Their ability to transcend barriers “almost underscores that we don’t have to be the same to care for others. We listen because we’re related, not because we’re the same,” said Lynn Ann.
Nowadays, much of what Lynn Ann contributes to the ministry depends on what needs to be done or what she feels competent to do. Her lower profile is a result of both grief and age, she said. Like Craig, she grapples with a spiritual conflict that, in the wake of her sons’ deaths, she doesn’t see ever ending “because there has been too much loss and what feels like betrayal.”
Still, the Bogards' sense of calling is undiminished.
“It’s not based on how I feel or what I’ve been through or anything else. As confused and disillusioned as I can be, God’s call is still written on my heart. Changing that would be like trying to take freckles out of someone’s skin. It is part of who I am,” said Lynn Ann.
* This article is revised and reprinted with permission from UrbanFaith.com.