The email is dated July 9 — two days after The Rev. Alan Keith Martin learned there were no more treatment options for his cancer.
Martin titled the email “Thoughts for Later” and sent it to his friend and fellow Woodland — The Community Church minister, The Rev. Tim Passmore, and his wife, Lee Ann Martin.
Just file this away for now (until) later, the first line read.
Martin continued with his thoughts on ministry. As Woodland’s associate pastor of worship arts, his job was to implement music, media and messages for the church’s services.
And this email was no different. Martin — just six days before he died — was helping his beloved family, friends and staff prepare his funeral.
“That’s the kind of guy he was,” Passmore says. “He was authentic, humble, gracious and passionate about faith.
“He planned his funeral,” he says. “Even the music this past Sunday — the service following his funeral — Keith planned.”
In his “Thoughts for Later,” Martin offered perhaps the most comforting words possible for those who loved him.
“Very few people remember how you started — whether it be a job, task, team, relationship,” he wrote. “But everyone will remember how you finish. Finish strong.
“In closing, I have often referred to Laura Story and her statement to our church when she was here in 2008,” he continued. “She shared that she felt that God sends extra trials to his church leaders in order for our people to witness us going through them and how we handle them. I remember flinching when I heard that, yet knowing it was true.”
Martin died July 15. He was 53 years old.
To say the Woodland staff and congregation were like family to Martin isn’t contrived. After 25 years in ministry in churches in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama and Indiana, his daughter, Bethany Martin, stumbled upon Woodland’s website. At the time, Martin was serving at Graceland Church in Indiana. Intrigued, he sent his résumé to Passmore.
“They had no ties whatsoever to Florida,” Passmore says. “Keith just had this ability to bridge the gap between generations. It was a real gift.”
Martin’s impact at Woodland was immediate. The congregation responded not only to his talent as a musician and vocalist but also his passion for ministry. He also brought his longtime mission work with The Navajo Nation to the church and organized annual trips to the reservations in New Mexico and Arizona. In fact, Martin first was diagnosed with testicular cancer while on the trip in 2008.
“The Navajo have no word for ‘goodbye,’” wrote John Van Ike, director of reservation ministries for the Navajo Nation, in a tribute to Martin. “‘Ha’goona’’ literally means ‘until I see you again.’ The beauty of Keith’s life is that we know that this is not goodbye, but until we meet again.”
FIGHT FOR LIFE
Martin spent his last Christmas with his wife and two children in a room at the Candlewood Suites in Indianapolis. It was just weeks after a CT scan revealed his cancer had returned — this time on his lung. Martin and Lee Ann had moved into the hotel for a two-month stay while he received chemotherapy under oncologist Dr. Larry Einhorn — the oncologist who treated Lance Armstrong. In her blog, Lee Ann described the chemo Martin received as “going to death’s door and back.” He received his first round on Christmas Eve, but the side effects did not creep in until after Christmas, allowing Martin to enjoy the holiday with his family — complete with hamburgers cooked on a George Foreman grill in the hotel room while the Midwest painted a White Christmas outside.
Throughout their stay in Indianapolis, Lee Ann wrote on her blog almost daily. In addition to details of his health, the blog overflows with stories of Martin doing what he did best: Meeting people where they were.
Two days before he started chemo, Martin took his car to Walmart to fix a headlight. As he worked in the parking lot, he met a Walmart employee, a cancer survivor from Bradenton who was struggling in his marriage.
“Keith asked him if he could pray for him,” Lee Ann wrote. “Immediately the man hugged him and said, ‘Yes.’ … Afterward, the man said, ‘I really needed to have something good happen today. My attitude has been terrible. Thank you.’
“The reality is Keith also needed something good to happen,” she wrote. “His heartbeat is ministry, and it really charged his battery to be able to minister to this man.”
On Feb. 4, Einhorn walked into Martin’s hospital room.
I’ve got good news for you, he said. The CT scan came out completely normal.
So you are saying that it worked? Lee Ann asked.
Yes, it did, Einhorn replied.
Martin had conquered cancer for the second time.
Lee Ann had stopped writing in her blog at the end of March. Then, on June 10, she published a new post.
I can’t believe I am writing here again, but unfortunately, it means there is news to report on Keith’s health, she wrote.
Four months after that incredible moment with Einhorn, a CT scan revealed another spot on Martin’s lung. Oncologists attempted radiation over the next 16 days, but subsequent tests revealed the cancer had spread into Martin’s brain and skull.
There were no treatment options left.
He is the absolute love of my life, and it is killing me to see him go through all of this, but I know God is honoring his faithful service and even now is using him and his story to reach many people, Lee Ann wrote.
Fifteen days later, on July 22, Woodland honored Martin with a memorial service he helped prepare.
“There were stories and laughter and tears ... Keith would have loved every moment of it,” Lee Ann says.
Passmore agrees and says the Woodland community will continue to benefit from the influence Martin has had in the past six years.
“His influence will carry on,” he says.
Contact Michael Eng at [email protected].
Navajo Mission Fund
Donations in Keith Martin’s honor should be made to the Navajo Mission Fund. To make a donation, visit www.gowoodland.com or send a check to Woodland Church, Keith Martin Navajo Mission Fund, 9607 State Road 70 E. Bradenton, FL 34208.