Thursday, July 7, 2011

Eternal Moment #1: The Man from London in the Middle of a Cornfield

Part one of our new story series, "Eternal Moments ..."

June 1985.
Peoria, Illinois.

I am 20.

My parents, who are Salvation Army officers (ministers), are on a one-year special assignment. They're in charge of something called an "International Youth Congress." During my entire sophomore year of college, they've been assigned to Peoria, Illinois, where they are preparing for the onslaught of 5,000 kids ages 13 to 24 from every part of the globe.

The "Congress" is to be held in July at Western Illinois University in Macomb, Illinois.

Until now, I've never been to this part of the country. The first thing that strikes me are the cornfields.

Corn. Corn. Corn.

Every road is lined with corn stalks.

There are no trees.

There is no grass.

There are no lakes.

There are no rivers.

There is only corn, row upon row of corn, as far as the eye can see.

I feel hemmed in and depressed.

It doesn't help that my summer job is to work in a warehouse for The Salvation Army, sorting cast-off clothing that people "donate" to the poor. I work in what I call a "dungeon," -- a basement rank with gasoline fumes and stinking hot from lack of ventilation. I spend eight hours a day doing nothing but sorting rags from garments that might be worn on a human body. When I come home, I rush to the shower to wash off the day's grime.

I know that I will get one week of reprieve from this drudgery, during the International Youth Congress. For that one week, I will be with other students my age. That thought keeps me going.

While my parents prepare and while I slave for my college tuition, we occasionally have visitors. These are Salvation Army officers from other countries, who travel to Illinois because they have an organizational hand in the Congress. Usually they pass in and out of my parents' office without me seeing them.

But today is different.

Today, I come home from my horrible job to hear laughter in the kitchen. I'm used to hearing the sound of my father's laughter ... but another man is laughing, too.

I poke my head into a room of sublime warmth -- not warmth from the summer heat, mind you, but congenial warmth emanating from our visitor.

His eyebrows rise when he sees me, and my father introduces me. I desire nothing more than to race to the shower, but something in this man's expression stops me. He isn't just someone filling up space or making polite remarks to pass time. He's genuinely interested in all of us.

I slowly approach the table and sit, listening to the friendly cadence of his British accent, mesmerized by his gentle tone, calmed by his presence.

You know ... the most interesting thing about this encounter ... is that I don't even remember this person's name. I don't remember his face. I don't remember exactly what he said. I can't tell you anything about him except that he was from London and was there for the business of the International Congress.

But I can tell you one thing:

The encounter with him had an eternal impact on me.


Something in me needed -- desperately needed -- a reminder of what it means to be joyful.

This humble man wasn't anyone who would stand out on the street. He wasn't a movie star with a hoard of paparazzi or a skilled athlete signing autographs. He didn't wear anything flashy, and he wasn't necessarily charming in the way you'd think a man would charm a 20-year-old co-ed.

He was just a vessel.

He was so filled with God's Spirit that he emanated joy and peace.

He didn't fill the time with grandiose philosophy or expository analyses of complex Scripture. He wasn't impressive or gregarious.

He just spoke quietly, earnestly, asking questions about each person and sharing small stories about his life at home and his own family. He just brought to the table the offering of himself -- a genuine interest in knowing others and in being known himself.

And there was one last thing he did before he left for his hotel room.

He shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said:

"If we never meet again in this life, we shall share again like this in Heaven."

Then he left.

I looked at the clock. It seemed as if he'd only been in our kitchen for a few minutes, but about four hours had passed. Time had gone by in a blink. And I yearned for another eternal moment -- another moment in which I could share so sincerely with another believer.

That man taught me a valuable lesson that night. The time we spend with others, even if we never see them again in this life, should be viewed as an eternal moment.

Do we bring Jesus to the table with our own actions, words, thoughts?

And when we leave the presence of others, do they feel that sense of eternal peace?

The man from London came to a cornfield ... and left me feeling as if I'd been standing in Heaven itself.

Tune in for Eternal Moment #2: "The Angel at Death's Bedside."

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