When we are seen together in the evening service, often one of us is asked a question. "Barry, how did you meet Thomas?" or "How do you know Pastor York, Tom?" Thomas is new to our church, so it is an honest question. But it probably is also due to the fact that in some ways we are different. He's in his late 60's, fairly short, nice and portly, with a head full of gray, bristly hair and a grizzled face, usually wearing the same blue shirt; I'm the middle-aged, taller, bald guy with a more modest paunch wearing my wife-pressed shirt with my wife-selected tie.
So how did I meet my new friend?
Three months ago I was heading into a session meeting one night when I saw Thomas standing on the street, looking at the church sign. When I said hi and asked if he needed anything, he started asking about whether we had evening services. As any pastor knows, this is a very unusual request for help! As our evening service schedule was entering into a confusing period, with special services in different buildings, I did the best I could to explain then we parted company. Several days later, he came back to the church and asked our secretary for me by name (I have learned that, unlike me, Thomas never forgets a name). We spoke on the phone and made arrangements, and over these weeks I (or some friends when I am not in town) pick Thomas up for the service. He is always faithfully there waiting.
I have learned some things about Thomas over these weeks. He is child-like and lived with his parents until they died. Some distant relatives house him now, but from the looks of the house and guarded comments he makes things are not the best there. He catches a church bus and attends a Baptist church in the morning. Matter of fact, bus riding is a big part of his life. With the free pass he gets being a senior citizen, he spends his days riding the bus system throughout the area. He loves Jesus, and when a preacher makes a gospel point he gives a thumbs up sign. If the point really encourages him, he gives two thumbs up and smiles at me. He was nervous when he first came to our church, but now he eagerly seeks out those who have greeted him in the past. Our trips to and from church are filled with him recalling the names of the people he met and commenting on their kindness. He loves fellowship events, having attended a church picnic recently and spending the Fourth of July with some of us from church. When people ask him if he enjoyed worship or an activity such as these, he always says with a big smile, "From the beginning to the end."
I have also learned some things **_from _**Thomas. He never speaks ill of the church. On our rides, he always ask a gospel-oriented question about the service. He is hungry to see people and have fellowship with them. He does not notice social status but simply delights in the smallest acts of kindness. Perhaps most importantly, the greater truth is not that he needed a friend like me, but I needed a friend like him.
Some times, when I am about to drop Thomas off, he slows me down and asks if we can just sit a little longer and talk. I must confess my rush to get to other things caused me to chafe a bit at these requests at first. But the last time, as he opened up about an issue in his life, a peacefulness came over me as we prayed together. As he got out of the car, I realized how the Lord had blessed me in my time with Thomas. From the beginning to the end.