Friday, June 29, 2018
In the front and to Al’s left, a young man with a cane was guided to the front and sat down by the music stand. The microphone was lowered and the young man held the microphone as he moved his chair closer. “Hello,” he said, “My name is Joshua White, but friends call me Josh. Only my mother calls me Joshua.” The young man smiled as a few folks chuckled. “And,” he continued, “I’m glad to be here and glad to know that Jesus Christ died for me and now I belong to Him and my Heavenly Father.”
As the young soldier gave his testimony Reverend Williams shouted out, “Amen son, Amen.” Josh continued, “Before I sing I want to say a few things to you folks. First thing is, don’t feel sorry for this guy up here. I’m the luckiest guy around, well I shouldn’t say lucky. I am the most blessed man in the world. You see while I was in combat I lost my eyesight. But the best thing is, today I can see clearer than ever. Now don’t misunderstand me. For a while I was mad and depressed. I hated the world. And then a nurse told me to quit crying and look to God.”
“The first song I want to sing is a real old hymn, The Old Rugged Cross.” At the name of the hymn Al remembered hearing it when he was just a young kid. His mother used to play old gospel albums during Easter season. As the young man sang, Al began to feel strange. Thinking, “How could this young man, his eyes stolen from him thank God? This just doesn’t make sense. A man is supposed to be angry when his eyes are stolen.”
Joshua sang two songs and after the second he said, “I’m gonna sing one more song. I wrote this one when I was trying to deal with my blindness. The words have to do with suffering, Jesus’ suffering, to be exact. You see, Jesus suffered for the entire world and every person that will ever live, or has lived. I hope you will listen to the words.”
On the first note from Josh Al’s mind was in the presence of the tear streaked innocent little girl who vanished right in front of him. She seemed so close to Al that he could touch her. Lost in pain, he only heard Joshua sing that Jesus took our sin and suffering so we could be free of pain. As Joshua ended his song everybody was on their feet clapping for the wounded warrior. Standing with the rest, Al’s vision was blurred with tears as was the vision of many, in that sacred renovated store front.
Friday, June 22, 2018
After a moment of shuffling through papers, the kindly lady sat at the piano. She began playing a few notes. Soon a few of the folks began singing. Sitting there Al didn’t recognize the music or the hymn. The guy next to him said, “It’s Amazing Grace, she always plays that one first.”
As she played, the elderly man whom Al had met outside approached the simple music stand- pulpit. Clearing his throat he said, “Welcome everybody, I greet you all in the name of Jesus Christ. I am Reverend Daniel Williams and that tiny wisp of a lady at the piano is my wonderful wife Elizabeth. Welcome to Agape Station, a place of caring and love.”
The Reverend stood at the microphone and his deep voice bellowed out the words to the hymn they were singing. Al thought, “That giant of a man can’t carry a tune in a wheelbarrow. But his wife, well she is one talented lady. She plays like a concert pianist.” They sang two more hymns led by the Reverend, and then he announced his scripture reading.
The scripture story was about a woman at a well giving Jesus a drink. Al was listening as Reverend Williams told the gathering the woman was from the other side of the tracks, a place the Jews hated. She wondered why Jesus being a Jew would even talk to her.
As Reverend Williams preached, his voice began to boom. With Al’s full attention Reverend William’s said, “Jesus doesn't care where you are from; he wants you to know where you are going. You can’t be any worse off than the poor woman he met at the well. You see, she couldn’t hide anything from Jesus and you can’t either. Jesus knew she had five men in her life and the guy she was with wasn’t her husband.”
As the reverend was talking about hiding anything from Jesus, Al began to get a strange feeling in the
pit of his stomach. His chair was getting harder, and he was getting tired. The old reverend ended with a prayer and asked anyone in the gathering that had a need of Jesus in their life to come forward to the prayer chairs.
When the words left the preacher’s lips, the guy in the stocking cap elbowed Al. As the Mrs. Reverend played and sang, “Just as I Am without One Plea,” a couple of folks walked to the front of the old transformed grocery store. Al was not one of them.
Friday, June 15, 2018
The word homeless, hit Al hard. Even as the young man stood in front of him, his thoughts centered on the word, homeless. In his mind the message was playing, “Homeless, me a war reporter, now homeless. Whatever happened?” His mind came back as the young man was talking to him. “Hey mister,” he said, “Down the street is a place called, Agape Station. The Reverend and his wife help people. You can get a meal and a place to sleep. They are real nice folks. People start lining up around five, but it wouldn’t hurt to be there a little early.”
Al sat in the alley for another hour or so. The sun was warm and enticed him into something close to sleep. When he tried to get up it took all of his strength just to prop himself up against the fence. Almost a full minute later he was stable. His feet were numb from the sitting and his lower body felt like it was dead weight, like his legs were bags of cement. Once steady he walked out of the alley and turned left in the direction where the kid said Agape Station was.
After walking a few minutes he found himself looking at a sign. The sign hung at a right angle to the store front. In some type of script the sign said, Agape Station Love in Action. Al remembered enough Greek to know the word for love. The entire front of the building was windowed. From about three feet from the sidewalk to over eight feet high, the windows stretched for fifty feet or more. Within seconds the message covered front windows captured Al.
All the messages appeared to be done in white shoe polish. Some were done well while others looked like they had been done by children. One message glared at him, “My end was my beginning.” He gazed at the length of the window and thought that there must have been close to a hundred messages. Some were, Jesus Saved Me, Jesus Loves Me and You, Repent or Die, and God used this place to save my life. A few were done in a nice straight line and others trailed off towards the bottom of the window.
Friday, June 8, 2018
During the night, when sleep restores the body and soul, the cries of an infant haunted Al. Past midnight the infant cries were comingled with a little innocent girl, running with her arms outstretched, vanishing just a few steps in front of him. Near daybreak, soaked in sweat, he woke again and felt that his mind, sanity, and life were vanishing, just like the child in the red mist.
He checked out of the motel around eleven and continued his mindless journey. He needed the protection of a blank mind and cold heart. He couldn’t allow himself even one thought of Sarah and his lost child. Just outside of Harrisburg he found an old four-story hotel stuck between the freeway and an industrial park.
As Al pushed open the dirty salt eaten door the old man at the front desk looked right at him. The hotel rate sheet hung behind the old man. Al reached into his front pocket, pulling out some bills, and said, “I’ll pay for a week.” The old man grabbed the cash. As he did Al noticed his fingers stained a raunchy yellow and brown from unfiltered cigarettes. The raunchy colors of his fingers were a close match for the color of his shirt and the stubble on his face. “Suppose you really don’t need a receipt, do ya?” the words coming out of the old man like a belch.
“Can you tell me where the nearest party store is?” Al asked. “Yea,” the old man answered, “You can get your booze at a place a couple of blocks away, near an empty warehouse. Yea empty, just like everything around this god forsaken place.” “Thanks,” Al said, and turned on the grimy floor and went out the door.
Al found the party store just as the old man said. The shelves were mostly bare except for booze and wine. As Al cradled three bottles of his faithful friend one slipped and the bottles bounced against each other. The man behind the counter could have been the twin of the old man at the hotel. His stubble was peppered with gray. His sky blue shirt was missing a button at the top and his t-shirt was stretched down and frayed.
“Ya’ need anything else?” asked the old man. Al answered, “No, this is it. Thanks, just tell me how much.” The answer back was unexpected, “Nope, this isn’t all you need. But expect that’ll come later. Give me twenty bucks for the three bottles and we are even.” With the old man’s comment swimming in his head, Al reached into his shirt pocket. Pulling out a tangle of bills he stripped a twenty out of the mess, put it on the counter and headed out the door. With the door open Al heard the old man, “Expect I’ll be seeing you again.”