Bound in service, Lee was a willing slave
This weekend I attended a training session for the non-profit organisation that addresses child sexual abuse on the island. It is called SCARS (Saving Children And Revealing Secrets). There were several people from the community in attendance, and I met one of them briefly after the training was complete.
He was an older, black Bermudian man by the name of Winston Rawlins. Now, I believe it takes a person with compassion and strength to complete one of the SCARS trainings, and that is because they not only provide helpful information about how to be proactive in preventing child sex abuse, but also because those trainings tend to stir people up and call them to accountability.
Mr. Rawlins told me that he was part of the congregation at Emmanuel Baptist Church and that he had served as pastor there for about twenty years. I think it was at about that point that I started to take him in. Taking another person “in” is when you set aside everything else that is going on, time slows down, and you notice little things like the look in the other person’s eyes, they way they hold your gaze or intermittently look away, the tone and volume of their voice, and the energy and enthusiasm in their expression. When you take a person in, you include them into your own personal space, not just what they are saying, but also how they are saying it. They become part of the experience of being you in that moment. So, that is what I began to do with Pastor Rawlins.
I told him he reminded me of someone else. I had been part of a multiple staff at a Baptist church in California in which the pastor came straight out of seminary and then served there for forty years. His name was Lee Toms. Lee met his wife at a summer camp when he was 15 and she was 14; they corresponded and met again each summer at camp. They eventually married and had children, and when Lee first came to Sacramento to start that church, he had forty people in his missional congregation, and he and his family had to live for about 18 months in a converted chicken shack, next to a fence with a pig on the other side. His church grew through the years to about 2000 people, and Pastor Toms’ influence became felt internationally.
People like Winston Rawlins and Lee Toms are servants. They are not just do-gooders. They are bound in service, willing slaves. People like that consider themselves expendable in their service, dependent both upon God’s provision and God’s purpose. The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in the New Testament pointed to faith’s “hall of fame” and to people, servants in faith, who either believed and received a blessing or believed in spite of the fact that they did not receive the blessing. God has created some people for one kind of purpose, and He has created other people for another kind of purpose. God places people in positions of influence, and often God provides material resources for them to use in the exercise of their service to Him. That is why the Bible says that from whom much has been given much will be expected. The servant does not squander the master’s resources by indulging himself at the Master’s expense.
God also prepares His servants for the opportunities He places before them and the roles into which He places them. At one point in my life I had lost pretty much everything — my job, my career as a “professional Christian” in the ministry, my wife, and I could not see up and over the lip of that pit to imagine how I might survive. I met with Lee when he came up to where I was living at the time, and he told me, “It’s all part of the preparation of the servant.” He had a way of putting huge statements in succinct and well-chosen words.
You don’t have to be a professional Christian in order to be a servant of God. It may be that being a servant of God has no appeal at all, actually, but if there is something supremely heroic and admirable, something of utmost drama and supreme significance in it — something that makes all other pursuits in life, and earthly life itself pale by comparison — then to be commissioned to service by The Creator, the Author of Faith, and the Savior of humankind is the greatest adventure.
I can relate to people in dire circumstances, because God prepared me to do that. I grew up in an alcoholic home. I’ve been in the military during a time of war, and I have taken care of the psychoneurologically damaged because of combat. I have endured the infidelity of a wife, and I have single-parented three children while working at minimum wage. I have been in therapy. I’ve been homeless and despairing. I have gazed into the night sky, flooded with stars, and through my tears I have called out to God and asked, “Why?!!” I have shared with Him my desperate fear about what might become of me, and all I’ve gotten back in some of those moments is silence. It has all been the preparation of the servant, and that preparation never stops as long as the believer lives an earthly life.
To think that God loves me so much and values me so much that He would take notice of me, a microscopic speck of dirt in the universe, and nurture me over my years, keeping an eye on me, and working with me for a multitude of purposes is amazing.
Lee died in 2007. His wife, Lillian, had preceded him. He was 80 years old when he died. Officially he died of lymphoma, but that is not what killed him. In fact, it’s even wrong to speak of that event as something “killing” him. Nothing and nobody took Lee’s life; he gave it, and he gave it consistently for the overwhelming majority of his years. He was my pastor. He was my fellow servant. He was my spiritual brother. I imagine that when Lee emerged on the other side, like a butterfly coming out of its cocoon, he heard the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant …” I know that’s what I want to hear.