It was probably a sunny day in Florida when Billy saw them coming. Most days are sunny in Florida. Several people from a newly established Brethren church were canvassing the community to tell people about their church and to invite children to attend their Sunday school. They even promised to send a bus to pick him up. Life had not been easy for Billy. His home was a place of chaos and uncertainty on the best of days. The prospect of meeting new people, getting away from the mess at home and making new friends was really appealing. When the bus showed up, he got on and it changed his life forever. That little local church became a place of safety and certainty with just the kind of structure that he needed in his life. He attended every chance he got and looked forward to midweek services the way most kids thought about attending a major league baseball game. The children’s ministry leaders became surrogate family members and provided much needed guidance at a critical time in his life.
At the age of ten, Billy learned about a summer camp that was attended by children from several Brethren churches in the area and he wanted to attend. There was just one problem, he did not have the money. This was no problem for a kind woman in the church. She offered to provide him plants to sell in the neighborhood as a way of raising the needed funds. Billy quickly accepted the offer and earned the money he needed. At that camp, he heard the gospel preached in a way that made sense to his young heart and he made the decision to receive Christ as his savior and Lord. There would be no turning back. He would share his newly found faith as often as he could. Several years later, he joined the Navy and was so serious about his beliefs that he was nicknamed “preacher boy” and was asked to lead services on board the ship.
So, what happened at Billy’s home? He chose to share his new-found faith with his parents and siblings and deep seeds were planted. Despite this, things were still chaotic. Alcohol, poor life choices, poverty and daily dysfunctional relationships were the norm. The church remained the one positive constant in his life and rescued him from a life of tragedy. Though his father died at a young age, Billy was able to see his mother and several siblings eventually receive Christ as their savior and begin their own journey of faith. After the Navy, he attended Bible college, met his wife and began a career as a missionary that would last over forty years and impact people all over the world.
You never know what a small act of courage like inviting someone to church will do. That young boy became a Godly man as the result of a few people willing to take the risk of rejection. I will forever be grateful for their efforts. Billy is also my Dad and my spiritual hero. I call him Father and am truly blessed to be his son. He is living proof that God can and will rescue those He chooses even from the most difficult childhood experiences and the most dysfunctional homes.
In this age of internet connection and social media marketing, I am deeply challenged by the notion that one on one personal invitations are still the most important means of attracting people to attend church. What a risk worth taking. You never know what God will do with our feeble efforts to step outside of our comfort zones. Maybe we will meet the next Billy this week.