The Nice Guy
In high school, Jeff Koch was all smiles—a big, toothy grin—but inside, he recalls, “I felt like a complete alien. I had this sense that there was something more to life beyond the superficial suburban lifestyle, but I wasn’t necessarily finding it,” he explains.
Koch’s pursuit for the meaning of life continued at the University of Michigan, where he met other soul-searchers who liked to discuss philosophy and the arts and debate cosmic topics. Koch started to write and produce music, influenced by free jazz and jam-band rock. “I felt like I stumbled on my life’s calling—creating music.” He spent a summer hiking the Appalachian Trail and living in the woods of New Hampshire and on the beach in Maine, all the while poring through Thoreau and Emerson and studying Eastern mysticism. A self-described pantheist, he developed a steadfast, even fanatical, hostility toward organized religions.
One day during his junior year, a close friend whom Koch had rebuked for becoming a born-again Christian challenged Koch to explain what exactly he believed. “This was the most important question that anyone had ever asked me,” says Koch. Subsequently, he decided to learn as much as he could about Judaism and Christianity, if only, he says, to “debunk it.” But to his surprise, Koch, who grew up Jewish, became enthralled with the stories and teachings of the Old Testament and then, even more surprisingly, with the New Testament. Torn between his Jewish roots and Christian theology, he resolved to test his faith. “I just laid it on the line,” he recalls. “I said, ‘God, ultimately I want to know what’s true. If the truth is in Jesus, then I’m going to need you to show me in a demonstrable, tangible way.’” A series of events, which Koch asked to keep private, then occurred in which, he says, he “felt like the Creator started to actually work in my circumstances to reveal that he was certainly real.” He believed it was his call to faith, and before long he volunteered with the evangelical group Jews for Jesus. He met his wife a couple of years later at a messianic Bible study group. They now live in Rolling Meadows and have three, soon to be four, children.Meanwhile, his career seesawed from construction work to real-estate sales and insurance adjustment while he was writing screenplays and music on the side. Several years ago, he enrolled in music school but had to quit after developing a disabling repetitive strain disorder. “My life’s vocation was taken away from me—music, writing, art—these were the things I lived for,” he says. “That’s probably why God took them away.” Despite the setback, Koch says, he has now found contentment in his life. Today he is happily working as a mortgage broker: “It’s not about what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s about who I am.”
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