Pete Dail told a personal story at Brotherhood in November that I believe is worth passing along. Brotherhood, in case you’re wondering, is what we call the monthly men’s breakfast at Vienna First Baptist Church. If you wake up hungry and don’t have plans, we meet on the second Sunday at 8 o’clock.
Several denominations are frequently represented and all others are welcome. If you’re in the undecided category that’s fine too. One of our renowned breakfast chefs is a dedicated Catholic. We enjoy fellowshipping with those wearing other labels and will put them to work if they’re willing.
Our gatherings have changed a lot due to COVID-19. In November we had 13 in attendance, which is less than half of the pre-corona crowd. Paper bags of wrapped sausage and biscuits have temporarily replaced the delicious buffet we were accustomed to.
Social distancing has spread us out instead of allowing us to congregate around full tables. Handshakes have been replaced by waves, nods, and fist bumps, a wise but less fulfilling greeting. There’s no one in the group I particularly care to hug, but I miss shaking hands. I’d love to share more about Brotherhood, but if I don’t quit rambling there won’t be enough space to tell Pete’s story.
Pete and his wife, Beverly, went to Cracker Barrel in Cordele with another couple. As they were eating, Pete noticed a young man staring at him. Pete discreetly glanced back several times, thinking it must be someone he should know. He and Beverly own a bed and breakfast, The Jewell of Vienna, so Pete thought the fellow may have been a guest at some point. The young man, however, didn’t seem at all familiar and his intense stare made Pete increasingly uncomfortable.
When the oddly behaving fellow finished his meal, he approached their table and politely explained. “I apologize for staring,” he said. “I realize this sounds peculiar, but you look almost identical to my late father.” Pete was surprised but quite relieved to hear his unexpected explanation.
“My father abandoned our family when I was three,” he continued. “I have no memory of him, but my mother kept an old picture of Dad in her Bible. She used to show it to me and tell me not to hold grudges, that he was still my father. I hope you’ll forgive me if I was rude, but seeing you reminded me of the man I never knew.”
With a heartrending smile the fellow then inquired, “Would it be asking too much to have someone take our picture together? I’d like a photo to show my mother.”
Pete agreed and the young man hailed a passing waitress to assist. “Thanks, Dad,” he said to Pete with a warm smile as the waitress returned his phone. He shook Pete’s hand firmly and walked away, struggling it seemed to hold back tears.
A few minutes later the waitress returned to their table. “Here you go, Dad,” she said while handing him a ticket. “Your sweet son said you insisted on paying. I’ll bet you’re a wonderful father.”
Pete hustled out the door and looked around the parking lot where he saw the young man hurriedly approaching his vehicle. As the car door closed Pete yanked it open and ordered him to get out. When he refused Pete grasped him by the arm. The young man jerked away then fell back across the seat and began kicking and shouting.
With a burst of adrenaline and a racing heart Pete grabbed one of the fellow’s legs and tried to pull him out of the car. “I don’t know what I was thinking by confronting that guy,” Pete shared with us in Brotherhood. “It was a very foolish thing to do. But I want you to understand that I pulled that young man’s leg as hard as I could, just like I’m pulling your legs now.”
After the scattered laughter of uncertainty subsided, Pete reminded our group that Jesus calls each of us to tell a different kind of story, one that’s true and important. Sharing the gospel story is often seen by Christians as optional or something best left to others. I wish I could claim to have learned that somewhere other than personal experience. The truth is I often look more for excuses than opportunities. I wait for the perfect time instead of using the time I have.
Witnessing about our faith can be intimidating. The fear of rejection is strong. But I was reminded at Brotherhood it’s not complicated. It doesn’t require a theology degree or holding an official position at church. All we need is our own personal experience of God’s grace and be willing to tell it. And that’s the reason I believe Pete’s story is worth passing along.