An old proverb reminds us, “Do not forsake your own friend or your father’s friend.” Tonight I had the privilege of spending the evening with one of my father’s oldest and most treasured friends.
Dad was a pastor and for years Bill stood with him not only against the forces of evil but against the disgruntled people within the flock whose criticism often posed the greater threat. The two men were unlikely comrades. My father was highly educated. Bill was not. My father was a gifted orator. Bill’s communication style was curt, even crude. But his unsophisticated speech disguised a brilliant mind. Even as he peppered sentences with improperly conjugated verbs, he redeemed them with his impressive vocabulary. Bill was a study in paradox— a mechanic, an ornithologist, a builder, a master of animal husbandry, and an entrepreneur who as far as I know, succeeded at every business he tried. Though lacking formal theological training, his biblical studies and insights could challenge any seminarian. He supported a family of ten yet managed at least two missions trips a year until eventually, one of the ministries captured his heart. In 1970, he left my father’s church and moved with his family to help rescue children who lived on the streets of Ecuador. He remains there to this day.
Tonight, as I listened to Bill and my father share memories, I realized this friendship, forged and powered by their love for God and others, has touched innumerable lives. In the early years, Bill provided a constant stream of opportunities for our little church to help hurting people. In helping them, we were changed. There was Elena, the eleven-year-old burn victim whose improperly healed scars had fused together her legs. Before Bill found her, she was bedbound and treated as an animal. He built a wagon for her so she could go to school. His eyes tear and his voice breaks as he tells us, “I still remember the joy on her face.” Bill personally arranged for Elena’s care and education then brought her to the U.S. where he convinced various hospitals and charities to donate their services. Our church gave for Elena to come. And there were others, all with heartbreaking stories. Rafael lost a leg when run over by a train. His parents in a drunken haze had tied him to the railroad tracks and left him to die. But the boy worked frantically to free himself and moved far enough away to save his life. But he had nowhere to go. Working together, our church family began to build a vast network of relationships inside and outside our community to help Raphael and children like him. Lia, a baby who’d been blinded through medical malpractice became part of my own family history. My uncle, a surgical ophthalmologist, not only performed multiple surgeries on the little girl, he and my aunt took her into their home for the two years of her treatment.
These are old stories but they are also legends in the making. Bill and my father are real-life heroes whose values, loves, sorrows and victories form the fabric of hope. In these times, where good people on both sides choose to hate and destroy rather than love and build up, the friendship between these two very different men witness of a better way—the way of Jesus. Jesus ignored all the social, economic, religious and political barriers of his time to touch a leper, to rescue a shamed woman, to hug a child, to engage with those of different faiths and cultures. He ate, laughed and encouraged the outcast, the immigrant, the poor. His life said, “Look what love can do!” This is the legacy I affirm as I sit across the table breaking bread with Bill and my father. Bill and my dad are now in their late eighties. The years may have taken their strength but their passion to serve, to give, to encourage remains.
Before we parted, I asked Bill if I could pray a blessing over him. Blessings are seldom invoked in our modern age but in the ancient world, a blessing connected the past to the future. It has always been a ritual that marks life’s most sacred moments—moments like this one. I placed my hand on Bill’s head, humbled… afraid… grateful. We paused, letting the silence speak first and trembled as the blessing flowed.