What began as an outpouring of grief over the death of Buddy, John Karakian’s beloved chocolate Labrador retriever, two years later continues to provide an avenue through which the Assemblies of God adherent is sharing the love of Christ.
Additionally, Karakian launched an email campaign, sharing pdfs and links to Buddy’s story with celebrity actors and musicians, politicians, sports figures, and cultural and spiritual icons.
Karakian, whose home church is Brightmoor Christian Church, an AG congregation in the Detroit suburb of Novi, Michigan, works as chairman of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad. Earlier this year, he received a fax from the Teamsters Union, to which he and fellow railroad employees belong, asking for a volunteer, regardless of religion, to pray the opening invocation at next month’s 30th International Brotherhood of Teamsters Convention, held every five years.
While the request piqued his interest, he opted against volunteering.
“At first I figured I’m too chicken for all this stuff,” Karakian says. “I thought I’ll just email them the Buddy reports and maybe they’ll just want to print that.”
The reports detail how, after Buddy’s death in early 2019, many people showed up at Karakian’s invitation to attend the Brightmoor Easter production (he lost count at 60 contacts he had made while walking the dog), and hundreds more at the church’s Christmas gala, most of whom were unchurched. Karakian tagged the invitees as belonging to an informal “Buddy Brigade” of those who made friends with man and dog during their 12 years of hours-long year-round daily walks in and around Novi.
The Teamsters’ response shocked him. The organization posted a press release about Karakian, Buddy, and Jesus on the union’s website. The Teamsters’ assistant director of communications read the Buddy article and asked Karakian to open the international convention in prayer on June 22. The convention will be connecting thousands of its members and other audience attendees in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico.
Karakian said yes.
Jamie Kjos, senior pastor of Brightmoor, notes that heartwarming stories such as that of Buddy and Karakian are becoming more commonplace as people seek ways to share goodness, kindness, and love.
“John had a profound friendship with his dog, Buddy, and I am happy that it has given John a platform to continue his calling and to have those conversations with people all over the world,” Kjos says. “The invocation at the upcoming Teamster’s Convention is a big platform.”
Meanwhile, Karakian continues to send out emails with Buddy’s story that also include the plan for salvation. During a meal Karakian shared with Kjos and the pastor’s wife, Kim, he explained that he’d sent the emails to President Biden, Pope Francis, and Russian President Vladimir Putin “because they like dogs,” Karakian says.
“Kim then suggested that Queen Elizabeth II likes dogs and to send her an email,” Karakian says. So he dispatched an email to the 95-year-old monarch who has had more than 30 corgis during her 68-year reign.
Robb Stancer, creative arts pastor at Brightmoor, notes that the church will host a Christmas event this year to which Karakian can invite the Buddy Brigade. A two-act play is set around the bombing of Pearl Harbor, commemorating its 80th anniversary.
“It’s a great story of redemption and God’s love for us,” Stancer says. “All we have to do is give [Karakian] tickets and we’ll engage the Buddy Brigade again.” Stancer says Karakian forwards him many encouraging responses to the Buddy emails.
The story has always been far more than just a man’s love for his dog.
“John’s heart is for lost souls,” Stancer says. “His empathy for people is incredible, that they would meet the same Christ that has changed his life. He’s hungry for the things of God.”
Karakian is amazed that the Lord has used a dog to get the gospel message across to so many people. Although initially nervous about telling his story to audiences, he says the Holy Spirit emboldens him.
“It’s up to God how He does it, and He knows what He’s doing,” Karakian says.