Everybody has those special people who gently nudge you into a direction that you may not want to go, but they see something inside you that you might not see yourself. Although, there are many people who have guided me on my journey of faith and ministry that I am deeply indebted to. There are two men that helped me as I began that journey. The Bible refers to them as pastors, bishops and elders, I called them Herschel and Charlie Mae. These two men were the elders of the Atlas Church of Christ, when I obeyed the Gospel. They were the first men I came to know as elders. As a kid I had always known them as the two men who stood up front on the opposite sides of the auditorium during the invitation song, waiting on any soul to help and to serve. They were some of the first two men that shook my hand and hugged my neck when I decided to become a Christian. Little did I know, that these men would mean so much to today.
From a very early age my brother and I were taught a work ethic by our father. He was always looking for ways to introduce us to responsibility and hard work. Summers were hot and thick, but around our small corner of the world that meant hay hauling season. Being at church on Sunday provided some of the men at church a prime opportunity to scope out their potential victims (Ahemm!!), I mean employees. I had the privilege to haul hay for Herschel and Charlie Mae on numerous occasions. The work was hot and nasty and the pay was decent, but the education I received from these men was much more valuable than any check that could have been written. As I worked for these men, I got to see them outside of the normal element of church. I was allowed in their living rooms, their dinner table and every farmers castle, their barns. I got to watch how they treated me as well as the other teenage boys, how they treated their wives Bessie and Geneva, and how they appreciated their families. But I also got to witness some other unexpected things; how they were generous, always paying me more than I deserved. I witnessed how they would forgive me when I didn’t do exactly as they said and teach me if I did not understand. I was praised when I did something good, but I was scolded when I did something other than good. I got to see them laugh, tell jokes and understand the importance of drinking a cold glass of lemonade under a big shade tree. At church I knew them as our leaders, but now I knew them as Herschel and Charlie Mae. I saw real men, living out real examples for me to follow. That’s it… did you catch it….for me to follow; before I realized it these men were leading me; shepherding me…steering me in a direction that I needed to go, I will never forget my first meeting with them, when I asked them for help in attending International Bible College, when I asked them if they would allow me the opportunity to stand in the pulpit and deliver a message from the word of God. I never received anything but praise and encouragement from these two men. These men were not just my elders, they made me feel like part of their family. When I got into Bible classes in college, I would hear a few of the students complaining about their elders. How they were difficult to work with or they were just old men who didn’t understand. I would just smile and tell them about my Herschel and Charlie Mae. These truly are great men of God, who took their responsibility of leading me very seriously., Paul writes to a young Timothy about the qualifications for elders, too bad Paul didn’t have this picture to show Timothy; It might have made it a little easier on him.
Tonight I walked into a church building for the funeral visitation for Brother Herschel. I didn’t see tears… not a one. I saw several members of my Atlas family laughing and talking about how happy they were he was at peace and in Paradise. But I also saw something else, down beside the casket there was Herschel’s family, but seated with the family to greet visitors was Charlie Mae and his wife Geneva. As I made my way to pay my respects to the family and to view the body, I was greeted by one of his sons who told me how proud Hershel was of me and how I turned out. When I hugged Charlie and Geneva they too expressed how proud they were of me. There they were Herschel and Charlie still leading me, still encouraging me, still shepherding me. Thank you Hershel and Charlie for showing me Jesus within your lives. I am forever indebted to you for your example, your leadership and your encouragement. I look forward to sharing my memories of our time together with my children as I take the lessons you taught so well and put them into practice. If I can be half the man that you were and are….then I will consider my mission accomplished.