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Memories of a Father’s Evangelism Legacy

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My Dad was a master at making the most of common moments. For instance, I will never forget the lesson he taught me as part of Christmas 1968. In case you are wondering, I was only seven years old!

As I remember it, my Mom had been very ill with a near fatal kidney disease. In turn, my Dad was working an extra job at Western Auto to try to pay off nearly $30,000 in medical debts. It was Christmas Eve, and I just happened to be at the store when I was called to the stockroom. Dad instructed me to load up our car with a large stack of toys he had secured from the stockroom.

A short time later, I rode with Dad back home … still wondering about the toys. As we pulled into our subdivision, Dad took a different route and ended up at a house on the street behind ours. I will never forget the look on our neighbor's face when Dad went to the door and informed this newly-divorced mother, who was impoverished with no hope of purchasing toys for her three kids that Christmas is very real, and yes, God really does hear our prayers!

To tell the truth, I had almost as much fun unloading those toys as I did opening mine the next morning! I know one thing for sure: I can't remember what I received, but I will never forget what we gave! That lesson has stuck with me until this day.

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Like most kids, I often thought my Dad was old-fashioned and out of step with the times. I have come to realize that he didn't care about the times — he cared about people! It was as if he and God had an agreement. Dad would love and serve them, and eventually, God would change them.

It was a tremendous understatement to say that Dad viewed things differently than most people. For instance, who else would grow six hundred tomato plants? That has to sound crazy to the average person.

That is, until you saw his magic at work. Once the tomatoes began to come in, Dad went to every ballpark and public arena he could and invited people over to our house. In the end, he was merely creating opportunities for ministry.

Yes — that's right! Dad walked many miles through his garden picking tomatoes and okra for free, while at the same time sharing about more important issues related to faith and life. He even delivered boxes of tomatoes to local vegetable stands for no charge, knowing they would sell his bounty for a profit, just for the opportunity to share about more important issues exemplifying Christ's love in practical ways.

My Dad went to be with Christ in 2002. I am still deeply touched by the response of the local community. Hundreds of friends lined up for over nine hours just to tell stories about how John Wheeler impacted their lives through living out an authentic faith. I never knew that he regularly paid electric bills, supplied rent, and provided groceries for hurting families.

You see, Dad wasn't flashy, just faithful. To him, God was never a celestial Santa Clause who was supposed to provide his every want. On the contrary, like Christ, Dad loved God's most precious creation — people. He once told me that if I made a new friend every week, when I died, I would easily be the wealthiest man in the world!

Oddly enough, even Dad's passing became the answer to a prayer. My wife and I had been praying for two specific family members to come to Christ for over ten years. We had tried everything — then Dad entered the scene. During his last eighteen months, he shared breakfast with this couple almost every morning. Like always, he actively loved them and demonstrated a risen Christ through a smile, laughter, and genuine compassion.

This seventy-year-old couple wept openly not wanting to leave the funeral home. In the end, the exclamation point of Dad's life came two days after he was buried when we had the privilege of seeing this couple receive Christ! I remember them saying at the time, "There was something different about your Dad." Indeed there was!

As a father, my greatest desire is to pass this same authentic faith and love for souls on to my children. In turn, I challenge all dads to do the same. And remember: don't ever underestimate the power of common moments to impact the Kingdom. This is where legacies are born.

Reprinted with permission from OnMission magazine.