Losing Nate Henn

by Dave Weigel

The Associated Press reported the death of Nate Henn this way.

Explosions tore through crowds watching the World Cup final at a rugby club and an Ethiopian restaurant, killing at least 74 people, including a Delaware man. Police feared an al-Qaida-linked Somali militant group was behind the attacks, as Uganda's president declared today, "We shall get them wherever they are." Invisible Children, a San Diego, California-based aid group that helps child soldiers, identified the dead American as one of its workers, Nate Henn, 25, who was killed on the rugby field. The group said Henn called Delaware home and had played rugby at the University of Delaware while studying psychology.

Reading that, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I talked to Nate. How long had he been in Uganda? Quite a while, because his Facebook feed was basically all Africa all the time. That wasn't surprising. Growing up in Delaware, Nate was part of a circle of friends who gathered at Bethel Baptist Church more than once a week. (I went to another church but liked to get together with my friends at Bethel.) He was younger than me, three years behind me at a rival high school, and in the late 1990s and early 2000s he was the overeager, energy-to-burn kid who was first to jump in the pool, first to put up his hand in a discussion, first to screw around. The image locked in my mind is him smiling victoriously after making someone exasperated.

Natehenn But it didn't surprise me that he devoted his life to charity work. This was an extraordinary circle of friends, fun as hell, obsessed with pop culture, but absolutely devoted to living for Jesus Christ. Religious work, charity, mission work -- this was simply what people did. The walls of the church were decorated with photographs and letters from families doing mission work in Africa or Asia.Many of us went to Bible college, and some of us became pastors.

Obviously I wasn't one of them. I left Delaware for England in 1998, left England for Chicago in 2000, and left Chicago for Washington in 2004. I spent four summers back in the state. During three of those summers one of my other friends directed three full-length action movies, casting Nate as a henchman in one of them. One of them was "premiered" at Bethel; all of them managed to pack in fight scenes, surrealism and pop culture references while driving home clear moral lessons. (I stand by the pop culture references in these films; one of the people Nate's character was henching for was a DVD bootlegger who can't unload his trunk of "Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood.) This was the most time I spent with Nate since high school, and I was struck by how much more serious he was, how excited he was about sports and school -- before, he hadn't really seemed interested in either of those things.

It wasn't a surprise that Nate continued doing this, growing more and more serious about what he wanted to spend his life doing. I'm devastated by what happened. A lot of people loved Nate and depended on him, and it hurts to watch them post on his Facebook wall promises to "see you soon." It shouldn't hurt. They'll donate to the charity he worked for. They know he spent his last years on earth liberating children from war and terror, and that he is at peace and at rest with his Lord.