Sunday, June 08, 2008

Rebirth, part six: Rita Lihaven

If you didn't catch Rebirth: Part Five, first go read it here.

Also, a note to all of you who have found this post by googling Rita's name... welcome! If I have any of these facts wrong, please forgive me, and feel free to email me with any corrections. I'll change them as soon as possible.

There have been many influential people involved in getting Camp Kawkawa up and running again. One of these people has been Rita Lihaven. Rita came on as interim director for Kawkawa and then joined the board shortly before the decision was made to close the camp. Around the same time, she was diagnosed with cancer, and the prognosis was not good. However, she remained active with Kawkawa after its closure in all the behind-the-scenes business that had to happen, even through chemo treatments and illness. As circumstances surrounding camp began to change, so did Rita's cancer. While it looked like camp would be able to open again, Rita was also getting better. She told the story many times that her story and Kawkawa's story ran parallel to one another, and told people that she believed God healed her for this purpose. And so she began to throw herself whole-heartedly into doing whatever it took to get camp up and running again. She has done an incredible, incredible amount of work for the camping ministry in which she believes so much. While there have been many, many people involved with Kawakwa, Rita's work and her passion for Kawkawa is one of the major reasons that it is open again today.

I first met Rita at the farewell in January 2006, but I've gotten to know her a little better over the last eight months or so through work days up at camp, meetings, and countless emails and phone calls regarding all things Kawkawa. Her creativity and refusal to let circumstances limit imagination has blown me away. She is inspiring in so many ways - as a Christian, as a leader, as a friend. I so wish I could have had more opportunity to get to know this wonderful woman better.

You see, she passed away earlier this week.

Now that I think about it, I remember her saying up at camp one day that the doctors had never fully declared her cancer free, but she quickly added, "but look at me! I feel great! I'm healthy, I'm here! They gave me a few months to live and that was a year and a half ago. God's got other plans for me." And he did.

Within the last two months, Rita turned 55, graduated with her masters from a theological seminary, and saw the final plans come together that would ensure that Kawkawa would be up and running in the summer and for many years to come. But also in that time, I guess the cancer caught up with her. She got pneumonia and was admitted to the hospital about two weeks ago. She died on Friday. I already miss her so much.

Rita was an incredible woman with a passion for seeing kids come to know Jesus. She worked for years as a children's pastor and then continued in family and adult ministries. She was the director for Kawkawa through its darkest time. I wish I knew her more to be able to expand on how much of a blessing she has been to others. Instead, all I can offer are the ways she's touched my own life. She was always encouraging, always positive, and always challenged me and others to think outside the proverbial box. She definitely was a woman with spunk. Even during her chemo treatments when people would stop emailing her, not wanting to bother her, she chastised them: "I'm NOT dead! Keep me updated!" She was a woman full of fun, passion for kids and for Jesus, and full of life. She has reminded me time and time again that nothing - NOTHING is impossible with God, and has been a living example of what it really looks like to trust God in all things.

While we all feel she that she died entirely too soon, I know beyond a doubt that God gave her these extra years for a reason. Like Kawkawa, Rita, too, has been made new: I know that she is now free - free of pain, free of cancer, free to finally meet the Jesus she served and loved so much. She is home.

Rita, you will be missed deeply. Thank you for pouring your life out for others and, ultimately, for God. You have touched so many people in ways I'm sure you are only just beginning to discover. Though you are gone, your life and your influence will reach into eternity.

Rita Lihaven
April 30, 1953 - June 6, 2008

If you are the praying type, could I ask you to please pray for Rita's husband,
three children, and extended family during this time? Thank you so much.

Thank You, by Ray Boltz

I dreamed I went to heaven and you were there with me;
We walked upon the streets of gold beside the crystal sea.
We heard the angels singing, then someone called your name.
We turned and saw a young man running and he was smiling as he came.

And he said, "Friend you may not know me now." And then he said, "But wait,
You used to teach my Sunday School when I was only eight.
And every week you'd say a prayer before the class would start.
And one day when you said that prayer, I asked Jesus in my heart."

Thank you for giving to the Lord.
I am a life that was changed.
Thank you for giving to the Lord.
I am so glad you gave...

One by one they came, far as the eye could see.
Each life somehow touched by your generosity.
Little things that you had done, sacrifices made,
Unnoticed on the earth, but in heaven now proclaimed.

And I know up in heaven you're not supposed to cry
But I am almost sure there were tears in your eyes.
As Jesus took your hand and you stood before the Lord.
He said, "My child, look around you. Great is your reward."

Thank you for giving to the Lord.
I am a life that was changed.
Thank you for giving to the Lord.
I am so glad you gave.


Niki Devereaux said...


I'm glad you have had the opportunity to meet and know Rita-she was a VERY passionate woman, full of dedication and drive to see things through to the end.

You'll enjoy this story from her days as Children's Pastor at Seven Oaks that she shared when I worked with her at camp: She was running a VBS and needed ice cream, which was on sale at the grocery store across the street for only $2, the problem being there was a limit of only 4 (or so) buckets per family. So... she loaded up 50 kids with toonies, marched them across the street, picked up ice cream and marched them back in for sundaes.

Always full of creative, wonderful ideas and as you said, loving kids and passionate about seeing them come to know Christ.

May she smile down on us this summer as the work you have all poured into putting camp back on its feet is blessed hundred fold as children once again sing at campfire, run through the fields for MI and swim in the lake at Kawkawa.

Hillary said...

Niki - I love it! She had such sass!

It's so sad that she won't be able to be there to see that first group of campers arrive. But then again, maybe she will. :)

Paul said...

I recall that (a good few years ago now) after a friend of my Dad's died suddenly and too young, his widow reflected that in hindsight he had tidied up a lot of loose ends over the previous year, finished off the tasks that God had given him, and started to wonder "what next?".

Perhaps the same could be said of Rita and she has faithfully completed what God had for her to do. Is sad that she will not be there to see Kawkawa open again, but perhaps she did see and do enough to have every confidence that the camp will open and is in good hands.

Norm said...


You have provided me with another example of what I have been telling my children and many other friends about over the past few days. That is, that throughout their lives they will meet many people who will share stories of how they were impacted by Rita's passion and ministry.

Thank you for this tribute to an amazing woman who was greatly used by God. Her ministry and legacy will continue on!

Thanks to all for the amazing prayer support and encouragement.

Norm Lihaven

Melissa said...

I am so sorry to hear this. But how wonderful that she was given exactly the right amount of time to complete something so vitally important and leave such an amazing legacy. That's how to use a life :) I'm glad she was able to continue living her life so fully up until the very end.

And the lyrics you posted (I assume they're lyrics?) are beautiful. I was crying by the end (I'm crying a lot when I come here! Cut that out! ;) :) )