When He went ashore, He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them.” Mark 6:34a
*Photo credit: used by permission Keith Cotton, keithcotton.com
Simply put…Les was more. I had been the pastor of a church in the village of Cobden located in Southern Illinois. When I went there in 1986, I didn’t know two things. First, this would be my family’s home for the next fourteen years. During that time our lives were bonded with the people of the church and the community in a way that I’m not sure I can describe. Literally, we became family. The memories and relationships of those days remain firmly stamped in our minds and hearts. And, I guess, that is the second thing I didn’t know. So many of the people…young, old, rich and poor, single and married, in the church and out…were so very special. And that leads us to Les.
Cobden had several iconic residents that lived in a local shelter care home. Each one was special and each one was different. But at the top of the heap was Les. I officially met one day when he was walking by our church carrying his sickle. He was old for his age and had more wrinkles than he should. Bent over, he would peer though his squinting eyes and occasionally have a conversation with himself…or maybe God. Anyway, that day, I opened the office door and told Les hello and invited him to come to church. He acknowledged me and asked if I happened to have any coffee. Well, I did and invited him in to have a cup. And that was the beginning.
From that day forward, almost every day, Les would show up at the office and ask, “You wouldn’t happen to have a cup of old, cold coffee, would you.” I can still hear him today. And usually, I could accommodate him. It might be cold and sometimes it was old but to Les it didn’t matter one bit. It wasn’t long before Les started coming to church. Now you would be wrong to assume that Les was a slow thinker. He was anything but that. No, he was just Les and I loved the way our people grew to love him…sickle and all.
One day, at the office, getting his cup of “old, cold, coffee,” he said to me, “I want to be baptized.” Well, that surprised even me. So, I gave him my full attention and explained that to be baptized you needed to believe that Jesus had died for your sins and believe that He was the Son of God. And that wasn’t all. I explained a person needed to be willing to follow Jesus…kinda making Him the new “boss” of their lives. Well, without a moment’s hesitation, Les assured me he understood all of that. So right there, right then, Les became a Jesus follower.
He then circled back to what had started the conversation…he wanted to be baptized. I asked Les if he understood that to be baptized, he would have to go under the water…all the way under the water. I really wasn’t surprised when he said he did. Now Les was one of those fellows that with age and life had become pretty bent over. To look out, Les had to look up. So, I knew this baptism thing might be a bit of a challenge, but I also knew this was going to be special and it was. So, in a couple of weeks, on a Sunday morning, I stood in the baptistry and took Les’ hand as he came down into the water. I can’t remember but I may have called in reinforcements. But, regardless, I smiled as he gently slipped beneath the waters and came up again. And the church…well…it exploded in applause.
Years later, in fact nine years after I had left our friends and family in Cobden, I received a call from the local funeral home there letting me know Les had died. They wanted to know if I would be willing to come back and do the funeral. I assured them it would be an honor. On that day we said goodbye to Les but really it was more of a “see you later.” You see, Les, because of his commitment to follow Jesus had left the shelter care home in Cobden for a new home in heaven. I also knew that he was no longer bent over by age and life…that he could now look out and not have to look up. Now when he looked up it was to see the face of the Man who loved him and died for him.
As we journey through life, we need to realize that all around us are people like Les. Oh, not necessarily because they might live in shelter care, but more because they are just…special. You see, God’s world is filled with special people…all we must do is learn to see them. They might be a guy at the grocery store or the lady who brings the mail. They might be our doctor or the guy on back of the truck that gets our trash. Why not determine, starting today, to see people as God sees people? Jesus did. When He looked at people, and He did that a lot, He saw them as special and had compassion on them…loved them. We all might need a little help in this department, but the good news is, our Dearest Father is just waiting to help. Just ask…because you know, “He’s got this.”