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The Generous Gift

June 19, 2017

Oak Terrace Mennonite Church (no longer has this name) but it looked about like this in the 1970s when this true story took place here. Google Maps image, edited.

Another Way for week of June 16, 2017

The Generous Gift

Editor’s note: Second of a four-part June series celebrating men and dads, drawn and updated from favorite Another Way columns over the years.

We stood in the little foyer of that cement block church in rural North Florida after worship one Sunday morning. The room hummed with all the chatter of folks whose main weekly social event was going to church on Sunday. Everyone but the pastor’s family knew that this was the Sunday for the surprise.

You see, the pastor’s car was one of those models that “kept the Lord working overtime,” as the pastor would sometimes quip, running on faith. His family definitely needed a newer car, but hardly had the money for one. He did not receive full financial support from our small congregation, and worked part time helping run a fledging mobile home factory. He had four children, one who required special physical therapy for his mental and physical challenges.

Not that anyone in that congregation was much better off. Many were farmers; that year both rain and blight had blunted much hope of any profit.

Children whispered expectantly and grownups maneuvered to get the pastor and his wife in one place at the same time so someone could hand them the envelope. Finally, it was in the pastor’s hand. He started to open it, oblivious to the gift that waited. Then he decided he’d just wait to open the envelope until he got home.

Someone prompted his wife, “Ruby, would you please help John open that envelope?”

By now, all normal conversation had stopped. Together Ruby and John tore the seal and began to pull out a fat wad of green.

Ruby joked, “There must have been a bank robbery.”

We laughed, and as John and Ruby went on to read the note that was enclosed, the hush returned along with knowing smiles. The note said there was $1570 in bills in that envelope. That wouldn’t buy much of a car today, but in 1973, it was enough to purchase a good used vehicle.

Then Ruby took off, red-eyed for the bathroom, and the dam broke for the rest of us, too. Tears flowed freely from many eyes, and John was left to muster the thanks that no words could express.

John was a pastor who had not gone to seminary, and his tongue sometimes got tangled up in his sermons or reading Old Testament names. “Frustrated” would come out “flusterated,” for instance, an inventive mix of flustered and frustrated.

This was an era when kids didn’t take real guns to school and shoot classmates, but John perceived that area youth he ministered to could use an in-school spiritual listening ear. He arranged with school officials to be available in the school library at two high schools over lunch hours for kids to voluntarily come to talk to him where they spilled out problems with friends, parents, schoolwork, or religion. He never pressured anyone.

“We aren’t reaching the community through our preaching services anymore,” he told me once for an article I wrote about his ministry with students. “If we don’t busy ourselves and touch this generation of young people, we’ve lost them.” The most frequent problems concerned relationships with parents, and divorce. They also shared boy-girl problems. Some talked of suicide.

I found out what a great listening ear John had some years later. My husband, our new baby, and I returned to that town to visit my brother and his wife who still lived there. My husband had been wrestling with spiritual questions himself—questions that had plagued him for years. After he heard John preach on Sunday morning, he perceived that this was a pastor he could talk to—he didn’t seem like he was on some pious pedestal. He did not use huge words. We called John that afternoon and he said sure, come on over after the evening service and we could talk. My brother and his wife gladly babysat for us.

And although I’m sure John was tired after two services and a long day visiting members in the hospital, he counseled with us until 1 a.m., talking and sharing until my spouse had some answers to his questions. I was pleased for the way John guided us; he didn’t tell us what to believe, but affirmed the faith we had and were brought up in.

Years later, John had a life-changing stroke: one that left him confused, almost helpless, and dependent on his ever faithful Ruby. It still seems like such a terrible blow, but the trials he helped others face were now his. I hope his family can still take comfort and strength knowing and remembering how fully and humbly he served for as long as he was able. He gave us all a generous gift. Himself.

***

Who is a man who stands out in your life, and why?

Send stories or comments to anotherwaymedia@yahoo.com or Another Way Media,  Box 363 , Singers Glen,  Va. 22850. I would love to do a follow up column.

 

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at FindingHarmonyBlog.com a week after newspaper publication.

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6 Comments
  1. singinglady37 permalink

    Another beautify and moving message.
    Thank you Melodie for sharing

  2. What a magnanimous soul, this John. Though I know he would never use such a word, it describes him and the indelible impression he left on your family. (I wonder where in North Florida this church was located . . . .hmm!)

    Aunt Ruthie gave me a scrapbook when I retired in May 2008. Just a few days ago I read again this poem from one the pages: “For in letting others help us, we are giving up a little of our pride and allowing our human vulnerability to show through. This is true generosity ~ giving another person the opportunity to touch our lives.”

    Who is the man that stands out in my life? My husband, so selfless and true

  3. You offer a generous tribute to your husband with your comment, Marian. Yes, dear John might have stumbled over magnanimous but then I might too, depending on how nervous I am. 🙂 He was a strong and very giving person when he was healthy and my pastor at an important time in my life. I left my membership with that church for my college years and then five years after until we settled on joining a Presbyterian church. We will have to compare notes some day!

    • Athanasia permalink

      I have always wondered what was the reason for becoming Presbyterian and why did you settle in Virginia?

      I would say my father and my husband are tied. Their backgrounds…home life, culture, education…are as different as night and day. But the constant in the formative years of both of them was a loving family, a love of hard work, love of God’s word and a commitment to their faith and their family.

      • I settled in Virginia because that’s where I went to college; I met a number of Eastern Mennonite College kids in my VS unit house while in Eastern Kentucky who helped me feel that EMU would be a good place for me. (I didn’t really want to go to Goshen College where my two older sisters went, wanted somewhere different of course!) Then as a senior in college, I met my future husband (Lutheran) who was from a local town near EMU, and as we dated we began attending Trinity Presbyterian Church because a number of EMU students/profs went there over the years and my husband knew a family there also. It was a house church based congregation so we chose it more on the basis of what we found there, rather than because it was Presbyterian. You can get a little more background on that here: https://findingharmonyblog.com/about/
        (at the bottom of the about section.) And here’s another link that tells some of the issues we worked through at various points in our relationship and marriage in regard to our church affiliation: https://findingharmonyblog.com/2015/08/12/getting-personal-unexpected-gift-of-mennonite-world-conference-2015/

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