Kim, Maureen, Jeff, & Jon, I offer you my deepest condolences. Today is a day that I hoped would never come but since we find ourselves here, I intend to honor your husband, your son, your brother and our friend for the life he led. What a life it was.

Justin and I met in the summer of 2009. He liked to tell people that I blew him off when we met. Honestly, I don’t really remember meeting him so he was probably right. Jokes on you dude, I’m speaking at your funeral. What I do remember is how quickly we became close friends. We were both in ministry, both in our mid 20’s trying to figure out what we wanted out of this life. I remember him welcoming me in to his community and meeting his friends from Ventura. From the beginning, he invited me into his life and world and always made me feel welcome.

I quickly learned that travel was everything to Justin. Anthony Bourdain said, “Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown." That’s how Justin preferred his travel. Ask Kim. Not long after he and I became friends, he asked me if I’d be interested in traveling to Africa and filming a documentary with him. Without knowing much about his plans, I naively said, “yeah absolutely.” Within a year we would board a flight to Mogadishu, Somalia. It was and likely still is, one of the most dangerous places in the world. Justin wanted to show Americans what life for the average Somali was like. They had suffered through drought, famine, and a 20-year civil war. He wanted their story told. I think he also wanted to take pictures with huge machine guns. We had a phrase that we would sometimes say to each other on that trip, “We ride together, we die together.” It was our way of reminding each other that whatever came our way, we were in it together. The trip and the documentary were challenging and life changing. The entire experience is something I would’ve never done had Justin not asked me to do it. But that’s who he was. He was always able to see in me what I couldn’t see in myself.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve thought a great deal about Justin’s life. I’ve come to understand him as a true underdog. I think he saw himself as such. A person for whom the odds were stacked. The one who despite the circumstances chose to believe in more. Look at His heroes. Barack Obama, Anthony Bourdain, Conor Mcgregor. Men from humble beginnings who worked and fought their way through life despite the odds. His own life was not always an easy one. You wouldn’t really know it as he didn’t talk about it much. That was intentional. He was wholly uninterested in anyone’s sympathy. He was a private person but more than that, I think He saw the challenges He faced, not as obstacles to overcome but rather as fuel for his future. Justin had a fierce nature. He fiercely loved his wife. Fiercely loved his family. And was fiercely loyal to those close to him. He was also scrappy as hell. You ever make him mad? I was really good at that. Justin was also really cool. I mean that in the strictest sense of that word. He had a way about him. He was subtle and smooth and handsome. He was kind and careful and stubborn. He was strong and loyal and good.

I can think back to the last decade of my life and every single moment that mattered, Justin was there. He always showed up. When I got married, he was right beside me. When I moved to Texas, he gathered our friends to see us off. When I was homesick in Austin, he was the first person to visit me. When my grandfather passed away, he was the one white guy in a room filled with Iraqis. He always showed up for me.

Like his heroes, Justin desired greatness. If he was standing before me today, I would tell him that he achieved it. He was a great. He was the greatest friend that I’ve ever known. I look around right now and there are many of you here today that know each other specifically because Justin connected you. That is who Justin was. That is the gift that you and I were given in his life. He was a person in love with those around him. That was what made Justin great.

I’d like to show you something. This is the most valuable thing I own. It doesn’t look like much. But in this bottle is my history. Last year, Justin took another trip to the middle east. This time going to Iraq. For those of you that don’t know, that’s where I was born. My connection to the middle east was one of the things Justin and I bonded over in our friendship. Although I was born in Baghdad, my family comes from a tiny Christian village in North Iraq called Araden. Translated, it means “Land of Eden.” Justin and I spent a lot of time talking about our families. My grandfather was my hero and he was a farmer raised on that land just like his father before him. While Justin was in Iraq, he remembered me telling him about the village my grandfather grew up in. While secretly enlisting the help of my wife, he found the village on a map and decided that he would go there. He put a camera on the dashboard and drove through the mountains where my fore fathers roamed. He got to see the land my grandfather cared for and maintained with his own hands. He took photos in front of the ancient church where my grandparents were baptized and worshipped. He knelt down and collected earth from a place truly sacred to me and placed it in this bottle. He went to a place, I’ve not been able to go back to since I was a child. He then quietly came back to the states and sent me a package. In it was this bottle and a link to a video of where he had gone and what he had done. No one in my life has ever done something like this for me. And no one else ever will.

That’s who he was. That is who your husband was. That is who your son was. That is who your brother was. That is who our friend was. In his memory, I’ve divided up the earth he brought back from Araden and placed it into jars for anyone who’d like to take one. May they be a reminder to us of a man who would go to the ends of the earth for his loved ones. A man who lived his life for those around him.

I love you brother. I will spend my life telling your story. 


Kim, I need you to know that this is an incredible privilege...I had the honor of speaking at my Mother and Father’s services...This is equally meaningful...but far more difficult.

To provide all of you some context...I met Justin Cowan 10 years ago as the Youth Elder at our church in San Diego.  Our ordained youth pastor had recently left and Eric Holmstrom and Justin were hired as our new Youth Directors...

Honestly, it was not love at first sight...they both could have easily passed as junior high school students...but I quickly determined what they lacked in ordination or advanced degrees...they made up in energy and passion and a selfless love for our children.

Justin and I were clearly different:

I was in my 50s, I’m married, I have three children...I have a job, a mortgage...and I am a Republican.

Justin was a 20 year old, single college student...and a Democrat.

But we had two very important things in common: 

a love for our Lord & Savior, Jesus Christ ...and though we may not have realized it at the time...a growing love for each other.

The seed had been planted.

So what does a twenty something young man teach a fifty something old guy?

Lots & lots as I would discover...

As many of you know...Justin had a love for the disenfranchised.

He wanted to expose our youth to the homeless in some of the grittier parts of San one Thursday evening...with food in hand...we took our Youth Group to downtown San Diego

The kids got out of the car and I remained...I remember Justin approaching me and asking “Aren’t you going to join us?” “No...I’m good right where I see Justin, I’m a check writer...I write checks...feeding the homeless isn’t my thing.”

Well....That’s all Justin needed to the ensuing days, weeks, and months...he taught me how to engage... and more importantly respect the homeless...”Look them in the eye...give them your name...ask them their name...shake their hand...if they’re sitting down do the same”...again...treat them with respect.

And for good measure...I believe Justin sprinkled some kind of “pixie dust” on me that only the homeless can I have now become some kind of “homeless person magnet” wherever I go!

Justin taught me to know who Jesus is...

Jesus...who saves the un-savable and loves the unlovable.

 And Somalia...

Justin had recently returned from Refugee camps on the Tunisia-Libya border...he loved bringing people of different religions and cultures into conversation

He called me and said that he needed to go to Mogadishu Somalia...

he needed to go...

To people of my generation, Mogadishu is associated with one singular event...commonly known as “Black Hawk Down”...when 18 American servicemen were killed...I knew it was dangerous and quick Google search confirmed was the most dangerous City in the most dangerous Country in the World... it was the most dangerous City in the most dangerous Country in the World ...a “dubious honor” it had held for the past seven years....but Justin was adamant....I told him I would help...

And I told him I knew one Somali person...a security guard in our downtown office building...I knew as Mister Omar

Up to that point Mister Omar and I had a distant but mutually respectful relationship...but Justin’s request changed gave me the opportunity to find out who Mister Omar really was:

He was married

Had four children

Master’s degree in petro chemical engineering

Was the son of a Somali Diplomat

Spoke seven languages

And was a devout Muslim

And of course...he knew exactly how to help Justin...within two weeks we were meeting with local Somali Elders who could assure Justin’s access to the refugee camps...and of course...likely access to the President of Somalia.

Mister Omar...this $15 an hour Security guard was now someone different in my life... Justin had again taught me to know who Jesus is.

 You see this was the “Secret Sauce” of Justin Cowan....

Justin was impactful...he saw things in you before you saw them...he believed in you before you did...he connected people...he built community.

I am standing here as a testament to Justin’s gifts in all those things.

If it wasn’t for Justin, my family would not have known many you:

Taylor Cristen Casey Colin Devin Zach Natalie Jon Whitney Marie Billy Josh Mike Sean Goose Jordan Kyle Dallas Kat Becca Haley Dan Kirt Matt Beth Brandon Kevin, Aubry...Deleir...

and of course his one true, Kim.

Justin’s life touched so many other lives.

Justin did not simply cast seeds...he intentionally planted seeds.

Justin was impactful.

Justin...who saved the un-savable and loved the unlovable. I will miss you.