Joel Stepanek

An Open Letter to Brent: On the Power of Words

Dear Brent,

My first year at Life Teen I was the awkward freshman in the corner of the room, trying to go unnoticed, so I understand if you didn’t see me. I saw you, though. You were a confident senior and the center of attention. It seemed like everyone admired you, and with good reason. I would learn that you had a great heart, were a man of deep prayer, and were a skilled wrestler – all things I aspired to be in high school. Since we were in such a large youth group we didn’t have opportunities to interact all that much, until our annual winter retreat.

That whole weekend you gave me a living example what it meant to be a man of prayer and integrity. I remember how you and your twin brother helped the Core Team with the retreat, and were an incredible witness to all of the young men there. You showed us that it was possible to be an athletic, smart, popular young man and still be a man after God’s heart.

On Sunday morning we had Eucharistic Adoration that continued through lunch. You and I were the last two teens that stayed in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and we left at the same time. I had just given my entire life over to Christ; I don’t know what you were praying about, but both of us had tears in our eyes. We walked toward the dining hall together, and you looked at me and said,

“You know, it is crazy – like, I barely know you. I see you here every week, but I don’t know you. But right now, I know we are brothers. It feels like we are brothers in Christ.”

And that was it. It was so empowering to me. I wasn’t alone in my walk of faith – I had a brother. Even though we didn’t know each other well I knew I was supported, I wasn’t alone, and that I had a companion.

Brent, you need to know that those words changed me. I respected you tremendously, so to hear them coming from you left a lasting impact throughout high school and that continues today.

As adults, we went our separate ways – I began to serve in ministry and you served our country as a Marine.

And then you taught me another lesson… that love gives everything, including life itself. I couldn’t believe when I heard the news that an explosion had taken your life during Operation Iraqi Freedom in December 2004.

I went to your funeral – everyone did. The church was overflowing with people you had impacted and loved. They shared stories of the great things you had done – as a soldier, a brother, a son, and a teenager. You were a living example of the positive power of words, encouragement, and presence. You were an example to young men at our parish to be men of faith, action, integrity, and courage.

I haven’t forgotten it.

I still work in ministry and I see the incredible potential that teenagers have to change lives, if they allow Christ to change theirs. I watch seniors in high school, like you, reach out to freshmen and mentor them. You would be so amazed at this generation.

Brent, I never had a chance to say it… but thank you.

Thank you for your words of encouragement, your brotherhood, your sacrifice, and the example you gave to me. I have no doubt that while we mourned your loss here, Christ welcomed you gladly into His kingdom.

Pray for these young men and women, Brent. They are going to do great things.

Your brother in Christ,

Joel Stepanek

Joel Stepanek

About the Author

I spent most of my 8th grade year in detention because there wasn’t a dare I wouldn’t accept. But in high school, my youth minister dared me to follow Christ and I haven’t looked back. I love all things Wisconsin, especially the Green Bay Packers. I can probably eat more cheese than you. (Please don’t dare me to prove it.)