Today I want to share with you the story of a pair of winsome warriors, as told by Focus’ Citizen magazine. It’s a story of Christ-centered love for country, of cross-generational partnership and of heeding God’s call.
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Change of Command
Kris Mineau’s love for America goes back as far as he can remember. Born in Berlin in 1941, he spent World War II living with his mother in a village near Munich. “My first memories were of American soldiers arriving,” Mineau tells Citizen. “All I knew was that these guys were happy. They would drive by in trucks and throw out candy and toys to kids. I thought, ‘Wow, these are great people.’ ”
His mother married one of those soldiers, and at age 7, Kris landed at LaGuardia Airport in New York, taking in sights he’d never imagined.
“My first statement to my mother was, ‘Why are the buildings standing? Why are they upright?’ ” he says. “To me, a city was just rubble. My mother said, ‘They did not have a war here.’ And I said to myself, ‘This must be a wonderful country.’ ”
That awestruck child would grow up to serve his adopted country as an Air Force fighter pilot; to endure the kind of bone-breaking calamity that few men survive; and, even more remarkably—after years of surgeries—to resume his fighter-pilot career before retiring as a colonel.
But the story doesn’t end there. Mineau found new venues for service. He went to seminary, pastored a church and later assumed leadership of the Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), Focus on the Family’s public-policy partner in the Bay State.
And when he stepped down from MFI’s presidency earlier this year, he handed the reins to another military man—Marine Corps Maj. Andrew Beckwith—whose devotion to God and country matches his own.
An Answer to Prayer
Military service seemed only right to Mineau—a matter of duty. He went to the Air Force Academy and flew 100 combat missions over North Vietnam in F-4 Phantom fighters.
“I got through all that without a scratch,” he says. “I was convinced I was the world’s greatest fighter pilot.”
He was also convinced he could do without God. Until March 25, 1969. That’s the day when, during a routine training flight, his plane malfunctioned, nose-diving at supersonic speed—and his seat repeatedly failed to eject.
“I remember yelling, ‘Please. God,’ ” he says—“the God who I’d been thumbing my nose at, saying, ‘I don’t need you now, I’ll wait till I’m old and gray.’ ”
At that moment, the seat fired.
“Out I came at 750 miles an hour. Both arms and legs broke in multiple pieces before the parachute opened, and when I hit the ground they broke some more.”
But miraculously, he was alive: His chute somehow had opened in what was later determined to be half a second, a fraction of the three to four seconds the procedure usually takes. He spent four months in traction and six years in and out of hospitals, undergoing one surgery after another. His bones healed wrong and had to be rebroken. At one point, he was expected to lose a leg.
“I spent those years getting all my pieces put back together,” Mineau says. “The most important piece was an Air Force chaplain by my bedside—with me in solid plaster head to foot, at my lowest point—who shared the reality of Jesus Christ with me. It was the first time I was willing to listen.”
That’s when the healing began, in more ways than one.
Defying all medical expectations, Mineau returned to flying combat aircraft in 1975. He flew F-4 Phantoms and F-15 Eagles for another 10 years, retired as a colonel in 1992, and spent three years as a military consultant in Saudi Arabia.
Then he answered the call to the ministry, studying at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary before becoming an associate pastor at Trinity Evangelical Church in the Boston bedroom community of North Reading, Mass.—the town where he and his wife, Lura, had grown up. He’d come home and, as far as he knew, would serve the Lord at Trinity from that time forward.
A New Mission
Nov. 18, 2003, is a date burned in Mineau’s memory.
“That’s the day the Massachusetts Supreme Court decided to redefine marriage by a 4-3 vote,” he says. “It just hit me like a ton of bricks. As a pastor, I thought, ‘How far have we fallen as a culture?’ And we as people of faith had done so little to raise our voices in the public square. We’d been asleep at the wheel.”
That night, Mineau talked to the church elders. They put him in charge of working on the issue—building and mobilizing a network of churches to go to the Capitol, talk to legislators, hold rallies for marriage.
“He really threw himself into this,” Trinity Pastor George Ray tells Citizen. “He’s a tireless worker. I was an attorney before I was a pastor, and I’m used to high-energy people who are devoted to their careers. But Kris is devoted to the advancement of the kingdom of God.”
Mineau’s work caught the attention of Rob Bradley, chairman of MFI’s executive committee and the group’s founding chairman. MFI was looking for a new leader, and Mineau fit the bill.
“Kris is a marvelous combination of a warrior and a minister,” Bradley tells Citizen. “He’s someone who is courageous and strong and willing to take a stand. But he’s got a heart for the Gospel and for people. There’s not a mean-spirited bone in his body. Those characteristics were exactly what we needed.”
“They asked me come on board as the acting president,” Mineau says. “And that act lasted for 10 years.”
Mineau’s early years were largely focused on the marriage battle. He became a prominent media figure, known for making his case in a persuasive, likeable manner. He and his team built a broad network of 1,200 churches, almost evenly split between Catholic and Protestant. They gathered 170,000 signatures to put a marriage amendment on the ballot—the largest number ever collected in Massachusetts—in 60 days. They even won a legislative vote to do so at a state Constitutional Convention.
“We came very, very close to getting it on the ballot,” Mineau says. But in 2007, a new governor, Deval Patrick, took office, replacing Mitt Romney.
New leaders took their seats in the Legislature. All were intensely opposed to letting voters decide the definition of marriage, and lobbied vigorously to change votes—including a lot of horse-trading, Mineau says. The amendment never made it to the ballot.
“That was the lowest point of my presidency,” Mineau says. “But we had to press on. We’re about myriad issues—the sanctity of life, sexuality, education, gambling. As fighter pilots say, we’re in a target-rich environment.”
Over the years, MFI has blocked a lot of bad legislation in Massachusetts. But its biggest triumph to date was the defeat of a 2012 ballot initiative that would have legalized doctor-assisted suicide—which had a 2-1 lead in polls a few months before Election Day, but lost 51 to 49 percent.
A variety of factors turned the tide, but in the end, church mobilization was decisive.
“The tipping point was the black vote in Boston, where we have a very close relationship with the pastors,” Mineau says. “Without that vote, we would have lost, and assisted suicide would have become a reality.”
Despite the earlier marriage defeat, the battles the MFI team had been through strengthened them. Across the state, the network of churches they’d built gave them clout. And in their office, they’d added the man who would be Mineau’s successor.
The Next Generation
About the time Kris Mineau was getting involved in public policy in Massachusetts, Andrew Beckwith was doing the same—in college.
In 2003, Beckwith was attending law school at the University of Minnesota, where abortion activists were celebrating the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Beckwith and a few friends decided to wear pro-life T-shirts in response.
“We thought we’d get a lot of negative feedback from fellow students, but the opposite was true,” Beckwith tells Citizen. “We had students come up to us thanking us for making that statement. That was an eye-opener for me: There are more people on the side of truth and life than we think based on the voices that dominate. But it takes a few individuals with the courage to speak up in order for others to join them.”
That lesson would serve Beckwith in good stead a few years later. But first he had obligations to fulfill to the U.S. Marines as a Judge Advocate General (JAG)—obligations he’d undertaken for much the same reasons Mineau had.
“I’d heard all the stories of my father and grandfathers and their time in the military, and saw it as an American rite of passage,” Beckwith says. “I’d always assumed I would do that some day.”
He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, where his concerns for his home country grew stronger. “I was a prosecutor, getting the 3 a.m. phone calls,” he says. “A lot of those cases dealt with sex and sexual assaults. I was seeing a lot of sexual brokenness, especially among young people without as much of a moral base as previous generations.”
Those concerns didn’t abate after his time in the Marines. Beckwith returned to his native Massachusetts, working as an immigration attorney for the Department of Homeland Security in Boston.
“Having grown up here, it was very clear to me that this was not the same place I’d known,” Beckwith says. “I wanted to do something about it.”
One day, he shared those concerns with an old friend. That friend was Rob Bradley’s son-in-law— and that conversation led to Beckwith joining MFI’s board of directors.
“When I first came on the board, Kris and I started talking, and he asked, ‘What would you like to do long term? What would be your ideal job?’ ” he recalls. “And I said, ‘Pretty much what you’re doing’—not actually thinking that I’d be doing his job within three years. But Kris just said, ‘Hmmm.’ Apparently, he tucked that away for future reference.”
The near future.
Mineau, then approaching 70, had been considering the road ahead.
“I knew we should begin thinking about a successor,” he tells Citizen. “Someone with the potential to stay with the organization for many years, not just someone looking to punch their ticket to Washington.”
After interviewing candidates outside MFI, it became clear to the board that they already had the man they were looking for.
“We couldn’t think of anybody with a better background for the job,” Bradley says. “We function in a very hostile environment. We needed someone who can be cheerful and tell the story nicely and persuasively, but also stay true to the Gospel, and Andrew is wonderful at doing that.”
In April 2012, Beckwith signed on as executive vice president, in training for the presidency. For two years he worked alongside Mineau, learning the ropes, until this February, when the colonel passed his command along to the major— even, half-jokingly, doing a change-of-command ceremony.
“Andrew’s got all the reins and I couldn’t be happier,” Mineau says. “He brings youth and vitality and tech savvy. He’s a gifted communicator who can reach the younger generation. And he’s got legal acumen and expertise. That’s a new dimension.”
Mineau, for his part, has stayed on as president emeritus, lending his experience and working on special projects. His successor welcomes the assistance—and the example.
“Kris has done a great job of being a winsome warrior,” Beckwith says. “He’s a calm, articulate advocate for family values. He’s a man of action; when an issue hits, he doesn’t hesitate. And he’s a man of prayer; he’ll pray whenever the moment dictates. That’s part of the rhythm of our daily office life. It’s something I want to continue.”
Talk to those who know both men and you’ll hear a lot about their similarities.
“There’s the military background, of course,” says Neil Hubacker, pastor at The Harbor church in Beverly, Mass. “There’s a discipline in how they go about their work. There’s a love for our country. There’s a common passion. They’re warriors at heart.”
Traits like that come in handy in one of the most liberal states in the country. So does a commitment to the state that transcends its politics.
“All of us have Massachusetts roots,” Mineau says. “We love this state. We know the Godly heritage of this state. For all intents and purposes, America began here. That’s the Massachusetts we’re fighting for.”
Facing hostility, they know, just comes with the territory.
“We put the mission first,” Beckwith says. “We have to have a thick skin and not worry about getting our feelings hurt. Mission before self. That’s something Kris and I both learned as military men.”
And they’ve been well equipped for the battle.
“We couldn’t do this without the lordship of Jesus over our organization, without the prayer support of so many people,” Mineau says. “It’s a spiritual battle above all. That’s how we keep going.”