John Strong's remarkable life was cut short by cancer at 66 years of age on January 21, 2013. He died at home with his wife of 45 years and a friend by his side. As in his life, his passing was marked by struggle and an unwillingness to simply give in to the sentence of death. He wanted even his dying to somehow bring life to others and he shared eloquently and effectively about how to live a victorious life right up to 2 days before leaving us for heaven. John was born in Jackson, Mississippi on June 23, 1946, the first of four children born to Adolph and Marcine Strong. He graduated from Huntington Beach High School, where he met his wife Susan, in 1964. John's earlier life was characterized by a focused application of his significant intelligence and energy towards accomplishing a boyhood dream of becoming an astronaut. That dream formed as he escaped from family difficulties by reading Science Fiction and he developed an abiding love of all things related to the cosmos. He attended Oregon State University on a full Naval ROTC scholarship. After graduation from OSU in 1968 he was commissioned into the Marine Corps and attended flight school, receiving his wings as a Naval Aviator in 1969. He served on active duty for six years in the Marine Corps as a pilot, first of A-4's, then of KC 130's. He resigned from the Marine Corps as a Captain in 1974. During college John developed significant skill as a marksman, winning numerous shooting matches. That skill was also put to work in the Marine Corps where he shot for the Marine Corps rifle team, competing at such a high level that he was a contender for the 1968 Olympics, receiving a gold medal at the Olympic Trials in Texas. John's faith was put to the test during his service in Viet Nam and he found his heart turned toward wanting to help people find their way to God instead of wanting to go into space. This resulted in a life course change and the earning of a Masters of Divinity degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in 1980. He served as an associate pastor at Peninsula Covenant Church in Redwood City CA, as senior Pastor of Northwest Covenant Church in Mt. Prospect IL, and as senior pastor at Redwood Covenant Church in Santa Rosa, CA. He labored with intensity to present Biblical truth in such a way that it became alive for the listener. His purpose was that it be heard, understood and then put into practice. During his tenure at Redwood Covenant from 1986-2008 the church experienced remarkable vitality, growing from approximately 100 people to over 1500 in regular attendance. His desire throughout those years was not that the church get big but that the people of God recognize they each had a necessary part to play for God's purposes to be accomplished. He was opposed to hierarchical structure and eventually was unable to function successfully in that model. John retired from organized religion in 2008 and spent the last four years promoting and participating in the emerging home church movement. John was an avid golfer and life long learner who was knowledgeable on an amazing array of subjects from woodworking to Biblical history to rockets. He deeply loved his Lord, his wife Susan and his family and friends. He is survived by his children Jennifer Birkenes, Nathan Strong, and their wonderful spouses, Erik Birkenes and Jenna Strong, his six dear grandchildren, his three siblings, Alan Strong, Cathy Farrar, and Jim Strong, his mother Marcine Strong, and numerous nieces and nephews. He is greatly missed by them all and by the many he has encouraged in the faith through his years of care and acceptance for all people, especially those broken and hurting. A Memorial Service in celebration of John's life will be held on Saturday, February 9, 2013, 3:00 p.m., at Redwood Covenant Church, 3175 Sebastopol Road, Santa Rosa. John's ashes will be interred at Santa Rosa Memorial Park in the Veteran's cemetery in a private ceremony, where he will be honored as a veteran in service of his country and of his God. In honor of John's care for those in need the family requests that any generosity expressed be given to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospice or to the Redwood Gospel Mission.
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Published Online in the Press Democrat from Feb. 6 to Feb. 7, 2013