SPRINGFIELD – Stories have been written before about Ethan Holub. Someday, his life story might be a best-selling book. Heck, they might even make a movie out of it.
For right now, though, we’re going to flip through some of the more fascinating chapters.
Like, for instance, the time he hitchhiked through the Middle East. Or the time he posed for a picture in front of Gandhi’s house – holding a king cobra.
“People joke that my life has been a lot like Forrest Gump, where I just stumble into meetings with presidents and kings and leaders, not even knowing what I’m doing there,” Holub said recently during an interview at Plank Town Brewing Company in downtown Springfield. “I probably have a couple hundred stories like that. Like the time I was at a bar in Tokyo and wound up meeting Metallica. And I spent a couple of days with them hanging out and just weird stuff. At the time I’d heard of Metallica, but I was clueless about what was happening. I wasn’t a Metallica fan.
“I’ve learned to love it and the memories and experiences are worth more to me than if I’d built a real estate empire or had acquired wealth in cars.”
Holub doesn’t refer to himself as a missionary, but he certainly does missionary work, promoting Christianity around the world.
“Really where it started was when I was younger, around 16, I really came to commit my life to the Lord Jesus and I didn’t see the people in the church living the way people in the Bible were living,” the 45-year-old Eugene resident said. “My parents raised me to read the scriptures, and I believed them to be true, and I saw these men and women in the scriptures who came to know the Lord and went wherever He led them and their life was an adventure and was crazy.”
Holub and his family enjoy being involved in their non-denominational church, but sometimes he wonders if his work is worth all the trouble.
“I want to help people and I love people and I want to share God’s message with the world, but I don’t want to do it how they expect it, I want them to read the Bible and say this guy is doing that. Why else do we consider the truth if we’re not going to do it?” Holub said. “The fruit of that has been amazing adventures and some losing battles … and adopting kids. There’s a thousand stories, but I now embrace it. When I look at friends who have five rental homes and go on vacations every weekend, there’s part of me that thinks I’d love to have that kind of money, but I have memories and stories and I’ve impacted lives that I don’t even realize, so that’s what has led me here.”
Holub had attended seven universities and was just about to graduate from the University of Oregon with a double major in History and Religion. He was rooming with a UO football player, and he had just landed a job selling real estate insurance with Farmers. Life was good.
“As far as my personal connection, I hadn’t surrendered completely to God. I was asking Him, ‘What do you want? I would give it all up for you,’ So there was this one night where we had all of these prayer meetings, we had a couple hundred people on campus; call it a revival, if you will. I went to bed, and I didn’t hear a verbal voice, but I felt in my heart that I needed to quit my job, leave the church, drop out of school and move to Israel. That’s all I felt. Random thought. I think God sometimes works like that.”
The next day, a strange set of circumstances kept happening, and Holub got a call from someone he had met just once, named Mark. He said he wanted to travel with Ethan to Israel.
“We met at Red Baron Travel, and the (travel agent) said it must be a mistake, but there were $500 one-way tickets to Israel,” Holub said. “We had no luggage. One pair of clothes, a Bible and a passport. Flew to Israel with maybe $180 between the two of us.
“We got stopped in Amsterdam. ‘Where’s your luggage?’ And stopped in Israel and strip-searched, because they were like, ‘You guys are going to be homeless vagabonds here.’”
Times were tough, perhaps a little too tough for Mark.
“We had to walk on the highway to Tel Aviv and my buddy had this uncomfortable feeling and felt after a few days of praying like he needed to go home, so he left,” Holub said. “I had a clear conscience for the first time. And I felt like I was ready for whatever God had in store for me. I hitchhiked with some military guys to Jerusalem. I got a $5 room and sat in the lobby reading the Bible, and said, ‘OK, God, I’m surrendering my life to you like in the scriptures.’
“I was literally having the thought, ‘What now?’ And this Dutch-South African guy walks up to me and says, ‘Are you reading the Bible? Are you Christian?’ He sits down and looks at me, and says, ‘I’ll pay for your travels, wherever you’re going. I’ll pay for your room, your food, I just need you to teach me everything you know about Jesus.’”
Holub explained that the man was a raver who had been doing a lot of ecstasy with his girlfriend and desperately wanted to quit, and believed he could do it with God’s help.
On that particular trip, Holub spent time in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and Lebanon, sometimes traveling by camel as he hitchhiked his way around.
“I had a band of travelers – Swedes, Canadians, South Africans – and I had a guitar and I would play music and teach them about Jesus,” Holub said.
He said the most fascinating – and most dangerous – place was Turkey.
“I had a bad falafel in Jordan, then I walked across the border to Israel,” Holub said. “I started puking, and I yelled at the border guards, ‘Don’t shoot me!’
“On that same trip, I went to Gandhi’s house on a tour bus, and there was this python. We took a picture – I’m not a snake person, it’s one of my biggest fears in the world – then they hand me this basket, and a king cobra comes up, I’m thinking, just don’t move.
“I’m fascinated that Gandhi’s best friend was a Christian, and supposedly influenced his lifestyle quite a bit – I felt the same thing.”
On a later excursion, Holub began hitchhiking in Petra, Jordan, and five months later reached Paris. He took boats, trains, camels, and anything else he could find to cover the 2,900-mile trip.
“I spent time all over the Middle East, and I’ve gotten to go to 77 countries and met with leaders and stayed in politicians’ houses and stayed in slums in India and Africa with a hole in the ground as my toilet,” Holub said. “When I read the psalms that King David wrote – ‘Where are you, do you still care about me,’ hearing about other people’s struggles, and this is a hard season – it helps me push forward, makes me more passionate about ending meth and other major drug epidemics.”
On another trip, in the middle of the night on his 20th birthday, Holub was thought to be Bill Clinton’s nephew by India’s Royal Palace and was therefore given a full tour of the palace in the middle of the night while the royal family slept.
He also rented out a fraternity house and took in 30 homeless people to live with him for an entire year.
A new relationship
Holub met his wife, Christine, in a taxi cab, of all places.
After growing up in South Eugene and graduating from Pleasant Hill High School, Holub traveled frequently. He had moved back from the Kosovo area and heard taxi drivers were making $500 a day. Plus, he knew the owners from college, and he knew they wanted to sell their business. Holub wound up buying the lion’s share of the fleet of cars.
“I was always driving and networking with people,” Holub said. “Christine called me up after realizing I had worked in a third-world country. We started hanging out, driving together. I wasn’t thinking anything romantic, there’s over 10 years difference. (He’s 45, she’s 33.) We met for sushi a week later and I forgot my credit card, so she had to pay. I paid her back a week later.
“I had commitment issues at the time. She told me she needed to know if we were friends or something more. She cut me out for eight months. I then went from going from the grass is greener on the other side to the grass is greener where you water it.”
But the green cash was another problem. It was drying up, too.
“Uber came to town and more than 200 drivers had no jobs immediately. Then Covid hit; I had to borrow a lot of money to stay afloat, then I sold all of my taxis to my drivers,” Holub said. “A buddy of mine asked me to join BELFOR, and I had never heard of BELFOR, and I made a one-year commitment. which is something new for me. He had done a great job of building the local BELFOR (near the Gateway Center in Springfield). I get to help other homes, too. I tend to like to go places, and once everyone is doing all the work, I like to hand it off and go on to something new. Call it a weakness or strength. I’ve had a passion to start new organizations all over the world, but I have no desire to live in Uganda or Guatemala for the rest of my life. Once there’s someone doing it, I’ll jump out and do something else.
“I’ve learned to embrace that about me. I like new stuff, I like new adventures.”
Holub was promoted just this week to BELFOR’s Marketing & Sales Department, where he will be able to help with insurance repairs such as water or fire damage, mold, asbestos, bio cleanups, restoration, roof damage, dry rot, rebuilds or remodels.
For a guy who has studied at seven universities and has taught religion around the world while visiting 77 countries, one might expect that the Holubs would have more riches. But as Ethan is quick to remind, you can’t put a price tag on life’s precious moments – and he and his family have accumulated a treasure trove of those.
A big turning point in Ethan and Christine’s life occurred about six or seven years ago, when they started working with teen moms and women who were trafficked, or were hurting, forgotten or in need. “We prayed about adopting this girl named Evelyn in an orphanage in Uganda. After a while, DHS called and said we were the most consistent people in their lives – there were nine siblings, and we agreed to adopt the two daughters,” explaining that’s how McKayla and Hailey came into their lives. “They were 9 and 5 then. We had to step back from our businesses and organizations and nonprofits and ministries to keep our marriage strong, and at the same time we had multiple girls taken off the streets, one of whom had a baby.”
A supportive family
The Holub family is enduring a hard – but also joyous – season of their life right now. Ethan and Christine had an April 8 homebirth for their fifth child, a baby girl named Brielle. But they can’t put Brielle down for more than a few seconds because she has laryngomalacia, a condition that causes enlarged airways in young infants. When the baby swallows, it goes down her airway instead of her throat.
“We have to hold her in an upright position all the time, except when we change her diaper,” Holub said. “And Christine has been sleeping in a chair with her every night. This condition is somewhat common – 1 in 50 kids have it. The good news is that she will grow out of it by the time she’s 9 months old. She’s beautiful and healthy otherwise.”
Ethan and Christine are proud parents, gushing about their children. Oldest daughter McKayla, 16, gets to showcase her love of animals by working with horses at Camp Harlow. She’s also quite artistic, as she excels at writing and drawing. Both she and her sister Hailey, 12, can read a book in a day. Hailey loves sports, and played on the Churchill Middle School football team that won the 2022 championship at Autzen Stadium. She’s a social butterfly and is friends with everyone – both younger and older – at her school, her parents say.
Five-year-old son Azariah – well, according to Christine: “He’s 5 years old going on 40.” He plays chess and adult board games, and has completed over 15 adult 500-1,000-piece puzzles. He loves to dance and plays piano, drums and guitar with his dad virtually every day. Little brother Shiloh, who is two weeks shy of his 3rd birthday, also loves music. His favorite pastime is singing songs and dancing.
Through the years, the Holubs have welcomed several new people into their extended family.
“We’ve taken like 19 people off the street, but we’ve made a select few of them family,” Holub said. “One got married, and just had her first baby and bought a house. One woman unfortunately is back in prison. Another woman just got out of prison, was doing OK, and everyone was celebrating. She wanted a friend in her 30s to come over for Thanksgiving, and she said it was the first time she had ever had a home-cooked meal in her whole life.
“Whoever God brings in our path, we want them to know they are loved, if they want a family we’ll be their family, and there are other families in our realm who have been taken in also, whether it was a ‘good leave,’ like they got their life together, or they couldn’t overcome their stuff, we’re still in touch with them.”
During the past 20 years, Holub said there have been about 20-25 occasions when they hosted over 100 people on Thanksgiving or Christmas.
“We used to have the biggest house in the Whitaker,” he said. “From college kids, to homeless adults and youth, families, elderly, refugees, the broken and lonely … usually four or five other couples would help us host them at our place, making food, etc., then we would do gifts and a movie afterward.”
The human condition
About nine years ago, Christine got a call; the FBI had rescued a 14-year-old girl. “They gave us permission to let this girl live with us for a week or two before they could get her to Washington state. Only nine months ago fate intervened, again. “A guy was going around selling solar panels. Christine texted Ethan, who went home and met the salesman, listening to his spiel and exchanging life stories. The salesman goes home and tells his girlfriend about our conversation. She says, ‘Wait, were their names Christine and Ethan Holub?’” According to Ethan, she works at a mission now, “making a difference in the world. And we got to play a small role in that.”
Holub says his family name comes from a long line of immigrants who became doctors.
“My great-great grandmother – who was Czech and Polish – was a single mom with six kids living homeless in L.A.,” he said. “A Christian man took them in, his last name was Holub. I was part of a lineage of who I was destined to be, I had no clue. We have one of our favorite shirts that says ‘Family is More Than Blood.’ Family is who you commit to, and take care of, whether it’s biological or not.
“We ended up getting pregnant. We both came from broken families, and we wanted to make sure we had a strong marriage for our kids. But it’s hard, we had to kind of focus on having a strong marriage and handing over some of the businesses to other people,” Holub said. “Our pastor said he had never met two people more opposite, but her strengths and my strengths overlap. … We’ve done a lot of marriage counseling with other people and we’ve seen that there’s a way to water that dead grass.”
Holub says he sends out 3,000 Christmas cards every year – a practice he learned from Chip Gaines on the Fixer Upper home design TV series. Gaines and his wife, Joanna, collect hundreds of business cards.
“I love relationships. And I love hearing people’s stories, because everybody has one,” Holub said. “For me, every person I meet is a future friend.
“I’m fascinated by the human condition, the grief, the joy, all of it – I love hearing those stories. That’s what I love about people.
Sometimes, Holub said, people have to experience dark times before they can fully appreciate the sunshine.
“A lot of those travels, I feel like two things were happening, that God was building me as a person, and I was getting to observe humanity, not just in Eugene, but all over the world,” he said. “I was studying history, religion, anthropology and culture and to learn to see the good, bad and ugly all over.
“There’s this Netflix show called Indian Matchmaker. It’s about Indian families who hire this Indian woman who meets people from all over the world to see who would be a good fit, and I love that. The whole family is involved. There’s bad parts about that, obviously.
“No one tells me who I love. That’s weird to us in America, but in a lot of countries I visited, people want to give you the most precious gift they can give you. In America, we might give you a pair of pants, but we wouldn’t give you our best pair of pants.”
Holub has been to all 50 states and has lived in Chile, Israel, Thailand, Guatemala and Cuba. He liked extreme sports as a high school athlete, and he tried to surf, canyon-ski, or sky-dive in every country he visited. He said he’s been given eight to nine cars in his life, a couple by family members, the rest by random people, rewarding his faith.
“It’s a good story when you have to face your fears and doubts and pain and heartbreak and learn to overcome it. That’s a good story, that’s what makes people feel they’ve accomplished something.”