Aidan Neary and Echo Ranch

Posted: Sunday, January 25, 2009

How do you respond to the death of a person you hardly knew? Sure, you may have crossed paths once or twice or maybe exchanged a few words in passing, but you never really got know the individual.

I suggest going to the people closest to them and asking questions. You might be surprised at how much you had in common. It turns out that Aidan Neary and Echo Ranch Bible Camp had some history together, and I believe that is a story worth telling.

My journey into the life of Aidan Neary started at a birthday party held in his memory on Jan. 20. As I pulled up to the house, I wasn't sure what to expect. Upon entering the home and stumbling over a pile of shoes by the door, the atmosphere was surprisingly warm and welcoming.

The Neary family had ordered pizza, baked a cake and invited guests - all the elements needed for a teenager's birthday party except one, the guest of honor. In my mind, I half expected Aidan to walk through the door and for us all to yell, "Surprise!" Instead, photo albums were passed around and music from Aidan's iPod played in the kitchen.

Aidan's friends were in the living room where the scene looked like any other gathering of youth - cell phones out, text messages being sent, stories being told and even the occasional outburst of laughter.

A month and 10 days has gone by since the tragic gun accident that killed Aidan. There has been time for some emotional healing and recovery.

I asked a few individuals to tell me about that fateful day and how it impacted them. They recalled feelings of unbelief and tears of sorrow. "Was this really happening?" they said. I could see it in their eyes, tears being held back as the flood of memories returned. As an outsider I couldn't fully understand what they'd gone through but those who knew Aidan wanted me to.

The two people in that room who knew Aidan better than anybody were his mother and father, Mary and Patrick Neary. I asked if I could come back in a few days and talk with them more about Aidan's life and Echo Ranch, and Mary agreed. Mary went on to share about putting Aidan on the bus to Echo Ranch for the first time. Aidan was 9 and Mary wondered if he would be able to handle almost a full week away from home. She also wondered if she could handle it herself. Her motherly instinct kept telling her to run onto that bus and pull Aidan safely into her arms. Mary watched as the bus drove away, then went back home where she met with several other moms who'd also allowed their little ones to go to camp that week. It is a fairly common summer camp tale.

Aidan returned from Echo Ranch at the appointed time. Little Aidan was excited about all that had taken place that week but had something on his mind.

In the weeks prior to this, the Neary kids had been asking Mary and Patrick questions of a more spiritual nature. "What are we?" they would ask, referring to what possible faith the family preferred.

After returning home from Echo Ranch, Aidan and Mary went for a walk. Aidan suggested the family start attending church. Mary, who'd grown up Catholic, had not been to church in many years but something about this moment was special.

It wouldn't be long before the Nearys were attending church regularly, and in 2004, Aidan was baptized at St. Paul's parish. Aidan's faith in God was his own but he wanted to share it with his family and anyone else interested. There are declarations of Aidan's love for God posted all over his MySpace page. There are stories of others who vowed to change their lives because of the way Aidan reflected God in his.

I left the Neary house humbled to know that Echo Ranch was used by God to impact the faith of Aidan Neary and those around him. It was wonderful to hear how the Nearys took an active role in their son's faith and gave him more opportunities to pursue God by going to church. At the end of your life, if a defining characteristic of who you are is your genuine faith and love for God, that is all that really matters.

The mission of Echo Ranch Bible Camp is to create a peaceful environment where people can come and meet with God. We believe the good news of Jesus Christ is where we find an everlasting hope. For the believer in Jesus, death is not the end but the beginning of something so wonderful it cannot be put into words.

So rejoice! For Aidan is with the Father! May God bless the Neary family and all those who knew Aidan.

• Jon-Michael Gwinnell is a staff member at Echo Ranch Bible Camp. He can be reached at

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