Gary is good at telling stories and finding hope in the cracks and crevices of life. A few weeks ago, over lunch, he told me an incredibly redemptive story – even in the midst of deep darkness and severe pain. It was so good, in fact, I encouraged him to write it down.
This is not the first time I’ve asked Gary to do this. A while ago I included a story of how he and some friends hosted a wedding for a homeless couple who attended his church.
Gary has given me permission to share his story here:
It’s difficult to know what any one encounter will ever mean. Some people pass through our lives quite quickly and we might be tempted to brush off our response to them as insignificant. But sometimes God pulls back the curtain and reminds us that heavenly things are swirling all around us. The summer of 2012 started with a very insignificant event here at Redemption Church of Bristol. Since then, God has been writing a marvelous story.
For the summer of 2012, we decided to try a house church model here at Redemption. Instead of our standard liturgical service at a local church, we would meet in my living room on Sunday evenings for an informal service, followed by an open-invite barbecue and pool party. And while I was preparing for week one of summer worship, I got a phone call from a guy named Steve.
I had been trying to sell my old dryer on Craigslist for some time, so when Steve said he and his friend Brian could come pick it up on Sunday night at 7:30, I agreed, even though this was right in the middle of our scheduled barbecue. I thought, “You can get a dryer out of a house and on a truck in 10 minutes. This shouldn’t really be a problem.”
So our first service went well and as we were enjoying food together, Steve and Brian showed up to pick up the dryer. They were both friendly guys and so I asked, “We just pulled some hot dogs off the grill. You guys want a hot dog?” They accepted. 3 hours later, we were still hanging out, having talked about hot dogs, houses, jobs, God, life, and everything in between. Brian turned out to be a Christian, but also someone who admitted some deep struggles in life. Yet he was eager and joyful to talk about God and overflowing with encouragement for us. Steve, on the other hand, was a secular Jewish guy, who suddenly realized he was in the middle of a church and started making sarcastic comments about how God was going to strike him down. Finally, at about 10:30 pm, we called it a night. We exchanged handshakes and hugs and wondered whether we would ever see these guys again.
The following Saturday morning, I received a phone call from a woman named Sarah. Sarah and her husband, Bob, were very close friends of Brian’s. They had basically adopted him and walked with him through all his struggles. Sarah was calling to let me know that on the previous Sunday, she had been praying for Brian, specifically, that he would meet someone who could connect him to God. She let me know that on Tuesday, she had talked to Brian and he had gone on and on about Redemption and how blessed he was to have been with us. And she let me know, quite sadly, that on that Thursday, after a series of terrible things had happened, Brian took his own life. Sarah wanted to pass on Brian’s words about Redemption, and she also wanted to ask if her whole family could come to be with us that Sunday night.
They came. And our little living room church service suddenly contained a full family, complete with three teenagers. We prayed together. We cried together. They told us stories about Brian and we shared how blessed we had been by him. And then we hung out. We shared food. It was one of the kids’ birthdays and so we had cake. The kids played games with us. Sarah, having a background of abuse herself, sat and talked with our homeless friends for several hours. And amazingly, Steve, our secular Jewish friend, came back as well. The family asked me to help at the funeral and I gladly obliged, sharing the hope and comfort of Christ.
If that had been the end of it, it already would have been a beautiful story. But it keeps going. Steve has come to church every week since. Two weeks ago, he opened a Bible for the first time in his life. This upcoming week, he is bringing the meal and several friends for our barbecue, including Brian’s son. He still makes sarcastic comments about being the Jewish guy, but from what we can tell, he loves being with us. Meanwhile, Bob was in charge of cleaning out Brian’s apartment. He decided to give the furniture to one of our homeless friends, who recently moved into an apartment.
There are few things in life darker than suicide and we have been charged to mourn with those who mourn. And yet, grace is so big that beauty can emerge from something even this dark. Hope, healing, and new life are being born out of tragedy. And all because I offered a hot dog to a stranger. As the book of Hebrews reminds us, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”