Chief Encouragement Officer

Young Life’s Mission Services supplies field staff with critical business intelligence support, including administration, Human Resources, legal assistance and full-service payroll. One of the most beloved unsung heroes in the Service Center is Eric Cox, a gentle steward of resource and expertise, who for 15 years has assisted field staff with area accounting.

Getting to know him usually begins with a phone call, but few would say it ends there.

“Field Accounts Payable, this is Eric speaking.”

Eric joined Mission Services in Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 2004, eager to love and encourage the field — a passion that emerged in Yokosuka, Japan, where he and his wife, Barb, had served as missionaries four years earlier.

“He was one of those people you could tell was going to be really relatable for people,” recalled Vicki Thompson, Mission Assistance manager, who first hired Eric. “And that’s what we need — people who can love on and care for our field staff.”

Vicki remembers Eric delivering mail to the Finance department while wearing a large pair of bug-eyed glasses. “That’s so Young Life,” Vicki said. “Where else would you see someone delivering mail with bug-eyed glasses, and everyone in the department coming to love that part of their day?”
Eric soon moved to Accounts Payable where he works for Field Accounting Manager Lori Kiel. “He’s built with integrity,” Lori said, “He has a big heart for serving the mission, which bodes well for serving and supporting the field.”

Early on, his missionary experience in Japan informed his conduct. To care for the field, he had to ask himself, “Can I be that listening ear, coming alongside, and being that source of encouragement?” Call after call, how he chose to answer this question led him forward.

It eventually took him to the Alaskan tundra.

The Last Frontier

The Accounts Payable team divides the states among their members. Eric’s responsibilities included Alaska, which put him in frequent contact with Kim Kopp who worked in the small village of Galena. Somewhere over the course of many conversations about area accounting, Kim confessed she didn’t like coffee.

Inspiration struck. “Every time I drive by a Starbucks,” Eric told her, “I will pray for Galena.”

So began a ritual, lifting the area and its staff in prayer each time he drove past the Starbucks on his way to the office. By the time he arrived in Galena as part of a Young Life Expeditions team in 2015, the staff already knew him quite well — they called him “Mr. Starbucks.”

Jan Beatty, Young Life Expeditions coordinator, organized the trip. “Eric recruited the whole team,” she said. “It was such an honor to be with him and a joy to see him connect with the people in Alaska.”

Field Senior Vice President Brent Cunningham was serving as the Alaska regional director at the time. “Because of his heart for the field,” Brent remembered, “he wanted to be more than someone who served in the cubicle. It’s kind of like he adopted us. And by adopting us, we adopted him. He’s part of the Alaska family.”

Tapping Out Prayer Texts

Already inclined to prayer, Eric wanted to sharpen his discipline. A challenge from his local church compelled him — pray for your pastor on the day of your birthday every month. So Eric did, every month on the 22nd, right alongside his prayer for Galena every time he passed a Starbucks.

He soon wanted to replicate the idea on a grander scale. “I can’t pray for everyone on the 22nd, so what are we going to do? Oh wait, everyone has a birthday.”

Since that time, one of the first questions he asks whenever he meets someone is: what’s   your birthday?

“I pray for a heap of people. If I throw down a number, you’re more impressed with a number. It’s not the number to me, it’s ‘am I being faithful?’” Each person receives a short prayer text on the date of their birth, every month. He composes each prayer himself,  never copying from another source.

At times, he receives a thank you, or an “oh, I really needed that.”

“I love that we serve a God who is the Master of Logistics,” Eric said. “Cause I have no clue what’s going on in someone’s life when I send these texts. God knows. And He knew it needed to be there at that time.”

The Dark Woods

In March 2017, Eric’s wife, Barb, was diagnosed with cancer. She began chemotherapy the next month — a 12-week session that lasted through August. “They did some bloodwork,” Eric said. “Come to find out, it didn’t do much.”

Halfway through a second round of chemo that December, doctors conducted another blood test. “This was supposed to be the big guns,” Eric said. “It did nothing.”

Round three began the following April.

“Barb worked this whole time,” he remembered. “Very rarely did she stay home. But chemo just drags you down.”

Within a month her kidneys began shutting down and by May 21, Eric had a feeling the end was near. “These next three days were God ordained,” he said. Their daughter, Val — away attending school at Azusa Pacific University — called that morning to check on her mom. “I got a plane ticket,” she told her dad. “I just feel like I need to be there.”

The next day, just before another round of dialysis, Barb pulled Eric aside. “I’m done,” she told him. “I don’t want to do dialysis anymore. I don’t want to take vitals anymore. I am done.”

“I had a year to prepare for this,” he said. “You automatically start thinking, I hope we can beat it. But what if we don’t? I call it ‘going into the dark woods.’”

By the third round of chemo, Eric had begun to consider the inevitable. “I started thinking: Barb knows me really well. I’m a flexible guy, but I like to know what’s going on so I can prepare myself. If Barb knows me this well, and loves me this well, God loves me infinitely more. What if these dark woods are preparing me for what’s coming?”

On the morning of May 23, 2018, Barb left the pain of this world and went to be with her Savior.

In the midst of his sorrow, peace grew from the embrace of the Lord who welcomed Barb home. “When Barb did pass — and of course I can’t explain it,” he said, “because it's the peace that surpasses all understanding — I was totally at peace. I’m still at peace. I totally believe God  is sovereign.”

One Year Later

Today, Eric remains a consummate encourager. Every person on his list still receives a prayer text every month, and he continues to add new names. He also volunteers for the local Young Life College ministry in Colorado Springs, and maintains close connection with friends and peers at his church and at the office.

“I’ll be talking to somebody,” Eric said, “and they’ll say this weekend was terrible, I had a flat tire, but look at who I’m talking to.”

“Yes, I lost my spouse, but let’s take that heaviness off the table. Is what I’m going through bringing me closer to God, or away from God? Is your flat tire bringing you closer to God or away from God? That’s the crux of it all.”

As he walks through his grief, he continues to answer the call of service. Every time he sits down at his desk, every time he taps out a prayer on his phone, his faithfulness endures, driven by his devotion to the Master of Logistics.