Therefore encourage one another and build each other up as you are already doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
They were a hoot and a blessing. My role as a full-time pastor began in 1983. I had the privilege of pastoring the LaMonte Baptist Church in the small town of LaMonte, Missouri. We had a population of several hundred people, few dozen dogs, and life was good. If you have ever watched “The Andy Griffith Show” then you can imagine life in LaMonte. It was good living with a good bunch of folks.
A great example of those good folks were Leo and Opal Johnson. They lived catty corner from the parsonage which sat right across the street from our church. When we went to LaMonte, our family consisted of me, my wife Judy, and our two daughters—Rebecca and Jennifer. Later, we added a dog named Sam. Our daughters were two and three and that alone made life interesting.
I’m pretty sure God put the Johnsons catty corner from us for a good reason. They were like family, kinda like an uncle and aunt, or maybe even a mom and dad and the truth was…we needed them. You see, for whatever reason, our girls liked to take their clothes off—in the front yard—of the parsonage. Judy and I never figured out why…they just did. Sometimes it was to play with the water hose and sometimes it was just because. At any rate, Opal would call us occasionally just to let us know that they had done it again and we would go out and fix it, again.
Our dog Sam was really fond of the Johnson’s too. Some mornings you could smell frying bacon wafting from across the road. Opal was cooking breakfast. Invariably, it was just about that time that Sam would have to go outside. We finally figured it out that it had nothing to do with needing to go…it had to do with needing to visit the Johnsons. Sam would go and scratch on their front door looking for some breakfast…which she always got. Yup, I think God knew we needed the Johnsons. They were an important part of our lives and when they were out of town…we sure missed them.
They were beyond faithful in attending church and I always appreciated that. Sometimes, though, they were gone and often they went to see, “The Johnson Shut-Ins.” Leo would come and say, “Pastor, we are going to the Johnson Shut-ins this weekend.” I so appreciated their commitment to their elderly relatives. I had never met that side of their family, but I was sure they were as nice as Leo and Opal. Well, a while later, I found out that the Johnson Shut-ins weren’t relatives at all. It turns out there was a beautiful park in Southern Missouri called, wait for it, “The Johnson Shut-ins.” Here all the time I thought they were going to see their relatives and instead they were going camping. It still makes me smile.
Leo and Opal were like family to us long after we left LaMonte. In fact, when the time came for us to go, God just about had to pry us out of LaMonte and friends like them were a big part of the reason. I love that God always knows just what we need. Whether it was special friends or a new next chapter in the story of our lives…He always gets it right.
Not too many years ago, God decided it was time for Leo to go live with Him and it was my privilege to share at his service. I spoke about faithfulness, loving God, cutting firewood, and a little dog named Sam who loved to eat breakfast with Leo. I also told the story about the Johnson Shut-Ins. I told the folks that day about a man and his wife who were a whole lot like Jesus and who always had time to share a little love.
We all receive many gifts throughout our lives. Of course, none tops the greatest gift ever which is eternal life through Jesus. You can’t top that one. But always remember the greatest gifts aren’t bought in a store—they often live catty corner from us. They are the people that God brings into our lives to help us as we journey through this life. He knows we need Him, and He knows we need others. God sends people to help build us up—to encourage us. And He, well, He is always there too, ready to help because you know, “He’s got this.” Bro. Dewayne