Bob, a "True Blue Christian" and mentor.....

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Posted by Lauren Jensen Birkenbach on November 25, 2003 at 15:59:57:

How can I possibly express just how much Bob (and Gretchen) Passantino have meant in my life? How can I put into words their influence and how deeply it goes? I was only 16 years old, impressionable like wet cement and endlessly curious when I first met Bob and Gretchen. I will never forget that day as long as I live. My dad took me down to their CARIS office on Anaheim Blvd. in Anaheim; incidentally, in the same complex as CRI was in those days. Bob was standing outside in the front with little curly-haired toddler Mary by the hand. When he found out I was interested in “helping out” he visibly brightened and immediately put me to work! This was just the beginning………..

I was interested in learning more about Apologetics and so as a volunteer (after school and on Saturdays) I answered the phone, filled tract orders (learned to count by “fives”) and even did some cleaning. In exchange, I was enriched beyond belief. Bob was someone who contained boundless energy, a zest for life, and a genuine love for people that I have never seen duplicated. He was unique. His passion for the simple truth of the gospel and his innate ability to dissect philosophical arguments was absolutely remarkable and his enthusiasm was contagious. Our CARIS group would go to Jehovah’s Witnesses conventions and Mormon stake centers to pass out tracts and share our faith. I almost felt sorry for the hapless people who found themselves on the receiving end of Bob’s razor sharp intelligence as he turned their hackneyed arguments to ruins, their protestations to sighs. Nobody got the better of Bob! (He could talk faster than most people could even think!) Many people came to know the truth of God from him though, so it was all worth it. I learned so much in those early years and quickly amassed a library of books containing cultic literature (for study), philosophy, and Christian theology to name a few subjects.

As time went on, I would come by the Passantino’s home in Costa Mesa and help Gretchen with re-shelving books along with whatever project she needed assistance. It was those times I cherish as Gretchen treated me like a younger sister; imparting her unique blend of commonsense wisdom and compassion to my life situations. What I admired so much was how Bob and Gretchen were such partners and friends. They had the ideal working relationship complete with finishing each other’s sentences (when Gretchen could get a word in edgewise) and joking around as well as working on their jointly written articles. Over the years, I participated in numerous “mailing parties,” assisted in seminars put on the Passantinos, as well as babysat from time to time. I watched those children grow and blossom under the loving attention from their extraordinary parents. My own son Joel became acquainted with Paul and the two would play together when I was working with Gretchen. Those were wonderful years of personal and spiritual growth for me.

It is with profound sadness mixed with elation (Bob is exploring the “Undiscovered Country” and in the presence of his Lord and Master whom he faithfully served) that I write my thoughts. Bob’s funeral released a tidal wave of memories for me as I sat there realizing just how much he was a pillar in my life. A mentor like none other. I have thought a million times how grateful I am to God for allowing me to have known this incredible couple for 25 years. Even though I haven’t been around much the past several years, their undeniable influence is still very much a presence in my life and will be in the lives of my own children (the next generation). My sadness comes from realizing that there are others out there who will never know Bob and experience his love, compassion, encouragement, and keen intellect. It will be up to us, the folks he left behind, to continue what he has started; contending for the faith. We have the tools and the knowledge and the true blessing of having known Bob and Gretchen as a tremendous foundation.

Cardinal Suhard is quoted as saying, “To be a Christian does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up…...but in being a living mystery; to live one’s life in such a way that it would not make sense if God did not exist.” If anyone exemplified what a true Christian is, that person would be Bob. Bob was true blue.

My thoughts and prayers go out to Gretchen, Mary, Karen, and Paul as they go through this difficult time missing such a wonderful husband and father. And to the rest of us as we miss our friend and encourager. I look forward to the day when we will have one big reunion in Heaven!! “We mourn, but not as they who have no hope…”

Love in Christ,
Lauren "Jensen" Birkenbach
a friend of Bob's

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