Gifts Freely Given

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of God. (Matthew 7:21)

Just before dawn, I was traveling through the small southern Illinois town of Benton on my way to an early morning meeting. After stopping for coffee—my morning kind of fuel, I decided to find a shortcut to avoid famers driving large equipment along the way. I used a narrow one-way street but found myself behind a vehicle that made continuous stops. Every few feet the driver would get out, leave his door open, and pop the trunk. In the dark it was hard to see, but he would grab something, run to the porch of a house and leave it there. I thought he was delivering newspapers. This was not helping me to get to the highway. After watching this and making little progress to my meeting, I got out of my car and ran up to him, startling this little man, and asking if I could get around him. He asked me to whisper! He needed a few more stops before anyone in the houses awoke.

His name was Bobby. He was known around that town as well, and a little odd. He was unkempt, a bit scraggly, and drove a 15-year-old Chevy. Bobby drove a tractor at the large area cemetery, trimming grass around headstones and smoothing out dirt on fresh gravesites. Whenever someone need to locate the resting place of a loved one, he would stop what he was doing and take them there. He remembered the names of the thousands in that cemetery.

Bobby and I became friends. I learned that he returned home after World War II where he was captured in Southeast Asia by Japanese forces. On a work detail he escaped and was safely hidden by families who sheltered him for over two years. He did not speak their language, but he told me they took the bitterness he felt out of his heart. He made a promise to care for the needs of neighbors and strangers because of those who cared for him. And he adopted their faith. They were Buddhists. He had been raised Christian.

Those packages he left on porches in the early morning—bags of groceries for neighbors and strangers who had met hard times—never knew it was a gift from Bobby. Benton, Illinois was once a center of farming and union coal mining, but times were changing. Land prices drove many farmers to bankruptcy, and many of the mines had closed. Hard times persisted.

A friend was the editor of the local paper and, after hearing of my encounter with Bobby, penned an article that pointed to someone doing good deeds anonymously around town. I often drove that narrow one way street looking for Bobby, to help him quickly and quietly deliver his gifts of groceries and to share with him some donations to help him out. I think of him during these times of distancing and isolation.

He once said, “Rich I know you are Christian, and so am I, but I just call it Buddhist.”

Prayer Focus: For generosity of spirit

Prayer: Loving God, we thank you for hearts and hands of strangers who care for the lonely and the poor. Clear our hearts of fear and bitterness, that we may serve all of your children, in whatever way we can, for Jesus sake.