Larry LaRue: Church lighting candle of faith for ailing youth pastor

Staff Writer Staff WriterDecember 14, 2013 

’Tis the season for holiday parties and pageants, and Pilgrim Lutheran Church in Puyallup has put an extra dash of the Christmas spirit into its effort.

Julie Halpin is directing an all-kids play Saturday and Sunday afternoon, promising familiar music, a feel-good theme and free admission. And afterward, cookies!

There will be no preaching, though the Rev. Steve Schumacher will be there.

Somewhere between arrival and refreshments, someone from the church will tell you about Jeff and Sonja Hobson.

They’re both 33, and each grew up in a family that was part of the Pilgrim congregation.

“We met at church, dated in high school, went to Pacific Lutheran University together and were married in the church,” Sonja said. “Our children were baptized there.”

They live in North Tacoma, and Jeff has a business — J.Hobson Photography — that’s produced cover shots for 425 and South Sound magazines.

He’s also the youth pastor at Pilgrim.

The Hobsons’ oldest daughter, 6-year-old Ellie, will be among the Sunday schoolers singing carols in the program this weekend.

Much as he wanted to be there, Jeff Hobson can’t make it. He will be lying in Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, where he’s been for nearly six weeks, fighting for his life.

Just after Halloween, a blood test revealed a form of leukemia, and he began rugged chemotherapy. A blood disorder nearly killed him when he was still in college.

“We’ve been through this before,” Sonja said. “We had a miraculous healing last time, and we have to trust God has a plan. Jeff is strong, but the chemo has taken a toll on his body. He’s exhausted, and there have been side effects to drugs.”

The news has been good and bad this week.

On Friday, doctors declared Jeff’s bone marrow cancer-free. In the past 10 days, however, an immune system weakened by chemotherapy led to a tenacious brain infection. Tests were continuing, including a spinal tap and CAT scan.

“It’s dangerous and tricky,” Sonja said of the infection, “and they may take a biopsy to see how best to handle it.”

The church has mobilized around the Hobsons, filling in where family can’t do everything.

“There’s a meal train organized, and last week a neighbor and two members of our congregation put up their Christmas tree and decorations,” Schumacher said.

The response says something about Pilgrim Lutheran, though Schumacher said it says as much about Hobson.

“He’s meant a lot to this community. He’s impacted lives in the church and community,” Schumacher said. “Jeff’s a loving, giving person. The outpouring of support is because of him.”

For Sonja, the days and nights are starting to blur. Along with Ellie, she has 3-year-old Noah and 4-month-old Haddie to care for. Trying to get the kids to school, drive to Swedish each day and run a household that’s suddenly without income is daunting.

“I have family, good friends and a lot of help from the church,” she said. “Our health insurance is through the church, and everyone has been making it work somehow.”

Medical bills? “They’re just starting to come in,” she said.

When those at Pilgrim heard the news of Jeff’s illness last month, they immediately hit upon the idea of making the annual Christmas programs a fundraiser for the Hobsons.

This is where that extra dash of Christmas spirit comes in.

The program remains free – period. Families large and small can enjoy a Christmas play and refreshments without donation.

There’s no hard-sell fundraising. The kids involved have been practicing for weeks and are excited to perform, the way only children can be.

Anyone attending the program Saturday or Sunday will be welcomed, and during a scene change they’ll be asked to sing a carol or two.

The folks at Pilgrim want to kick off the Christmas spirit. They’ll do that onstage and then with cookies and fellowship. Anything they raise for the Hobsons will be a holiday bonus.

If you’d like to donate, you can – even without attending – by sending a check with “Jeff Hobson” in the memo line.

Christmas program/ fundraiser

Where: Pilgrim Lutheran Church, 10510 136th St. E., Puyallup.

When: Saturday and Sunday at 4 p.m.

How much: Admission is free; so are the cookies.

If you’re inclined: Donations will be taken for youth pastor Jeff Hobson and his family.

Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638

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