John Wilklow is known around suburban Buffalo as “the lightsaber guy.” During nighttime dog walks in Eden, New York, John had found that his flashlight was disconcerting to drivers. “A Star Wars” fan from his childhood in the late 1970s, he found a website that sold replica lightsabers that were plenty bright and afforded more safety than his flashlight. He bought one — and a nickname was born.

John and Pastor Trevor

The first time Reverend Trevor Kaufman, Revive Wesleyan Church’s South Creek Campus pastor, spoke to John, John was walking his black lab, “Darth Vader” — naturally — and carrying a big double-headed axe. Known for his volunteer maintenance in the cemetery across the street from Revive, John was always doing something helpful in the community. That day, John was clearing brush away from the paths families would use to go down to the creek to swim. Big and friendly, bald with a bushy beard, John could appear intimidating. Yet Trevor always believed God had his eye on John. Over the next few years, John would occasionally chat with Trevor, who was then serving as Revive’s South Creek Campus worship leader and community outreach director.

John’s friendly nature was hiding significant pain. Born with what he calls “the caregiver gene,” John complemented his community service with work as a home health aide. This work afforded him a painful look at the reality of sickness and death. There was more: his mother’s cancer diagnosis, rapid decline and death, a struggling marriage and a significant back injury which interfered with his ability to work and enjoy life also contributed to his pain. On top of this, Darth Vader — his beloved black lab — died. All of which led to what his wife called “soul rot.” John didn’t feel like he had a purpose and always felt lost. He began to contemplate whether life was worth living.

At his lowest, moved by something he did not understand, John walked into the South Creek Church one night in the fall of 2021. Trevor was hosting the first night of a men’s group. John called Trevor aside and confessed, “I’m broken.”  Trevor responded, “God uses the broken.” Since John could not stay for the group’s meeting that night, he chatted with Trevor for a while and left. Afterward, Trevor came in and shared with the group: “There’s this guy I have been praying for and hoping to connect with for so long, and he just came in.”

Trevor eventually introduced John to the group, which became his lifeline. John felt affirmed by the men, jokingly referring to some particular meetings as “John’s group therapy sessions.” John said, “I was angry at God. I had to deal with a lot of pain and hurt.”

The men listened carefully and attentively, helping him to experience genuine love in relationship. After hearing about Darth Vader’s death, one group member gave him a Rottweiler puppy, a gift that deeply moved John, an avowed “dog whisperer.”

All this love, combined with the many hours spent with Trevor, introduced John to a source of love beyond any human being: he was being pointed to Jesus. John began attending South Creek Church services regularly. Though he had attended church sporadically throughout his life, he said that this worship was “really different! Each time I go I discover something personally for me.”

Over lunch one day, Brian Stebick, the South Creek men’s group coordinator, encouraged John to consider baptism. Excited to receive the grace of baptism, John joyfully accepted and was baptized in April 2023. To remind John that baptism is not the end of a journey but the beginning of a life of growth in grace, Trevor gave him a copy of “Stand Strong,” a men’s devotional from “Our Daily Bread.” John says it’s already yielding fruit: “Sometimes I have a problem dealing with anger; [the book] speaks to me and calms me down.”

Trevor is excited to see how God’s love flowed “both through me, and the church,” he said, making this transformation possible, and providing stability and love so John can continue to grow in grace.

Today, John still helps out everywhere he goes, carrying his lightsaber to walk an energetic two-year-old Rottweiler named “Darth Bane,” of course. But now John understands things differently. “You have to recognize that God is there and working all the time, through us, and through nature, and he definitely worked through Trevor.” God — and his people — bring new life everywhere. 

Michael Jordan is the dean of the Chapel and professor at Houghton University, Houghton, New York.

*Originally published in “Wesleyan Life,” fall 2023. Click here to subscribe and access our archives.