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FIRST-PERSON: A quiet influence

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Over the past 15 years as a fulltime freelance writer, one of the most meaningful stories I’ve ever written was a relatively short obituary, a story many would rank insignificant in the grand scale of world events.

Written for the Western Recorder, Kentucky’s state Baptist newspaper, it concerned a man in a rural county south of Lexington, Ky. Though I doubt many people outside his native area knew him, he was a shining example of Christianity.

Since several years have passed and I didn’t keep a copy of the story, it would take some digging to find his name. Still, it remains uppermost in my mind — primarily because of the many people who described this man’s willingness to help anyone, down to giving away his last dollar.

At the funeral home, a line several blocks long lined up in the rain to pay their last respects. I could envision God smiling and saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”

I had a similar experience recently at the visitation for our daughter, Cheryl, who died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at 46. (Actually, she was my stepdaughter, but after 26 years of marriage I never used “step.”)

The outpouring of visitors reminded me of that story about that fairly anonymous man. About 230 people signed the guest book; the funeral director said an average of one-third never sign it, which yields over 300 names.

Since those numbers included many couples, it’s easy to estimate more than 400 people came. But as it is with church functions, the numbers are nothing compared to the spirit that was present.

According to our son-in-law, seven teenagers who showed up had accepted Christ as their Savior because of Cheryl’s Sunday School teaching. Scores of extended family and old friends came to share condolences, the line often spilling onto the sidewalk.

When I went to get a drink of water for our son-in-law and youngest daughter, she asked, “Where are all these people coming from? They just keep coming and coming.”

A country housewife from West Virginia, Cheryl never worked outside the home. Yet her winsome manner, cheerful demeanor and helpful ways obviously touched hundreds of people.

At a gathering after the service an extended family member told me what an impact all of us had made on him. Coming from a major city, he remarked that he had never known a family that didn’t drink alcohol.

That gave me a chance to explain that he didn’t know us when we did drink. Not only did that give me the opportunity to share about the change that Christ had made in our lives, but he was receptive to my witness.

This also gave me a fresh insight into how our actions had affected him, and a reminder that we are often having an effect on others when we don’t even realize it.

Then, when our son-in-law returned to work, he had a chance to tell a female co-worker how on the night of Cheryl’s death, he and their two sons held hands in her room and prayed, thanking God for all the years they had together. The woman, who said she would be angry over such a tragedy, was flabbergasted.

Naturally, I would give back all these memories to have our daughter alive again. At the moment, the promise of seeing her in heaven doesn’t erase the pain of separation that makes tears well up in our eyes.

Still, we can be grateful for that promise and the impact of her quiet witness. For me, Cheryl symbolizes the preciousness of God’s children. No matter how anonymous we may feel, each of us touches others through our faithfulness, encouragement and love.
Ken Walker has been a regular contributor to Baptist Press since 1994.

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  • Ken Walker