Even in the late stages of a brutal and physically exhausting disease, Robert Konemann was always there. At Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night services at his home church, Fisherville Baptist, at both Boyce and Southern Seminary graduations, in the lives of his wife and children.
Konemann, who served as project manager at Southern Seminary starting in 2012, passed away on Aug. 1 after a 16-month battle with brain cancer. His funeral was held the following Sunday afternoon at Fisherville, where he faithfully and consistently served as a lay elder.
Brian Payne, senior pastor of Fisherville Baptist who also teaches classes at Southern and Boyce, said Konemann and his wife, Becky, were “consummate churchmen.” Even in the final months of cancer, Konemann would sit in the service in his wheelchair with his eyes closed, listening attentively to the sermon. Payne said Konemann had so many passages of Scripture and hymns memorized that he was able to share with people, even when he grew physically unable to read.
The week of his diagnosis in March 2015, Konemann came into the Sunday night service late and sat in the back row, which immediately made Payne aware something was unusual. That Wednesday night, Konemann asked the church to pray for him, and two days after that, learned from an MRI that he had a tumor, soon diagnosed as Stage 4 gliobastoma multiforme.
“Even with brain cancer, he’s not missing church,” Payne said. “We noticed that long before the cancer, but it was even more evident after.”
Konemann moved to Southern in 2007 to study Old Testament after serving as a vocational pastor since 1987. As project manager at Southern, Konemann was involved with all capital construction projects on the campus of Southern and Boyce. He treasured his relationship with Andy Vincent, vice president of operations, who said Konemann integrated his work and faith better than anyone he knows and had a robust understanding of a Christian view of labor.
“It was more than just taking care of buildings for him,” his wife, Becky, said about his role at the seminary. Throughout his sickness, Konemann made it a priority to be at Southern as much as possible, and Becky would sometimes take him to lunch in the cafeteria and just leave him there to talk with people. “It gave him opportunities to have good, serious conversations with other employees or students or people he used to work with.”
Konemann was very active at Fisherville, often filling the pulpit for Payne and leading a Wednesday night Bible study, something he continued to do after the diagnosis. A month before he passed away, Konemann told the Bible study: “I’ve been trying to teach you how to live. Now my ministry is to teach you how to die.”
Payne, who called Konemann his “co-laborer,” said Konemann would sleep 20 hours a day just so he could be with his church family for a couple hours. According to many, one of his favorite phrases was “God is not a novice,” and he told Payne in a text message last December that the sovereignty of God served as his “pillow by night, allowing me to close my eyes and sleep … and a post against which I lean during the day as the winds of adversity blow.”
Becky said Konemann was committed to leading her and their five children, three of whom still live at home, even through his brain cancer. “He very intentionally led us to, as he put it, ride our horses into the middle of the storm. And the horses were verses in Scripture, hymns, and songs that guided us in those early days to be prepared for what was coming.”
Konemann described to Towers in May the vital place of Scripture in his soul during his sickness, comparing his reading and meditation on Scripture to that of a game show contestant in a glass money booth. “That has very much been my experience with the Word of God,” he said in the interview. “It has been like being in a glass box and the Word of God has flooded my environment. And that’s what has gotten me through it.”
Konemann’s spiritual faithfulness has had a massive corporate effect on his church, Payne said, something Konemann had been intentional to do throughout his illness. Countless people reported to Payne they had sat down with Konemann to pray for him, only to have him pray more fervently for them. Every time Payne saw Konemann at the hospital, he was sharing the gospel with someone. Konemann was intentional about having a “ministry of suffering,” Payne said.
“His suffering and his corporate engagement in the midst of his suffering has demonstrated to the people of this church that the gospel is real,” Payne said. “It empowers a man who has bowed the knee to it to rejoice, to worship, to be grateful. No matter how grievous your circumstances are, you can be content, you can have joy in the Lord.”