It’s Wednesday as I write this and we are returning to our normal routine after the incredible buzz we always get after three days at Baptist Assembly, or the Gathering, as we now know it.
It’s hard not be be inspired by great speakers, by the stories from those out in the mission field both here and overseas, by the palpable presence of God. But as I continue to reflect on the exciting weekend just gone, I realise something is wrong.
Jack isn’t here. It’s Wednesday and Jack is always here. Jack is a bloke from our church who comes around 10.30am every Wednesday to stuff Four Square flyers into our community newspaper. But not today.
I ring his cell phone. No answer. A friend from church calls asking for Fran. Coincidentally the caller is Jack’s neighbour. “Can you look over your fence and see if Jack is there?” I ask her.
She does. His car isn’t there. But it’s Wednesday, he’s always here on Wednesday. Where is he? I’m getting slightly worried.
Then Jack arrives, as usual on his pushbike. He’s puffed and very apologetic. He has forgotten it’s Wednesday and instead he has been in Howick handing out Scripture verses to people in the main street – a task he usually does on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I’m relieved. The day has returned to its normal Wednesday routine. Before Jack starts his paper-stuffing, he tells me about his adventures in Howick, as he often does.
Once again he has had trouble with people who take offence at him handing out his Scripture verses. Jack is doing nothing wrong. Council bylaws allow him to hand out flyers provided he isn’t causing an obstruction or hassling anyone. He isn’t.
But he is doing God’s work and inevitably there is opposition. People tell him he isn’t allowed to do it, it’s against the law, it’s against council bylaws. They threaten to call the police. Today the police did actually turn up and talk to Jack. They wanted to know how much longer he was going to be, and warned him not to hassle people. Then they left again.
It’s a familiar story that Jack has told me several times before. Most of the people he meets accept his Scriptures. Some are grateful, some are Christians who congratulate him on what he is doing. But inevitably some are not and are greatly offended.
Jack is visibly upset about the women who confronted him today. And why wouldn’t he be? I know I would – but them I’m too chicken to hand out Scriptures on the main street to start with. Jack will be there again tomorrow handing out his verses, and again next week. That’s what God has called him to do.
To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Jack. I know he lives alone and owns an old car that causes him no end of trouble. Occasionally he alludes to a difficult background and a hard life but doesn’t volunteer much information. I don’t pry.
What I do know is he is now a follower of Jesus. He sits quietly in the back pews of church every Sunday, he reads his Bible, and goes to a home group. He always turns up on time to stuff our papers. He says he loves the job and is grateful to us for letting him do it. I’m grateful we have someone who so willingly does a tedious job Fran and I would otherwise have to do ourselves.
Occasionally we talk. The conversations are simple – the weather, what happened at church last Sunday, Jack’s adventures in Howick, what’s happening at home group.
You won’t see Jack at the Gathering. He’s a back pew battler, one, I suspect, of thousands throughout our churches. They are people who faithfully occupy the back pews of our churches each Sunday.
They go through their week advancing the Kingdom of God an inch at a time. They will never be in the overseas mission field. They will never deliver a sermon. They won’t be in church leadership. But you might see them parking cars, helping at Mainly Music, mowing a neighbour’s lawn, perhaps babysitting the neighbour’s children while the mum is at hospital.
The theme of this year’s Gathering was “Incarnation.” I’m not sure Jack would be too interested in getting into a discussion on what that means. But I do know he is a follower of Jesus and that Jesus tells him to get out there and spread the Gospel. So he does.
I love hearing stories at the Gathering, discussing the great issues facing our churches, hearing from wonderful speakers, reflecting on what we are hearing from God.
But it is Jack who is my hero and my inspiration. I just hope he doesn’t read this: He’d be incredibly embarrassed.
– Duncan Pardon