We don’t normally treat visitors with such suspicion, but Ken was a portrait of menace. Dressed totally in black, his arms and face covered in crude self-inflicted tattoos, his studded trench coat made him look like a Goth vampire. And some of our congregation weren’t keen on giving blood. His rage was further confirmed by his tattooed knuckles. On one hand, a single word that began with ‘f’ and ended with ‘k’ was scrawled. And on the other, to complete the abusive greeting, was the word ‘you’! That was Ken’s lifelong message.
As an angry drug abuser who had spent more than half of his life in jail, he was infamous in the community, his face permanently twisted into a snarl. He only came to the service because someone dared him to attend. “You’re so horrible, you should try church,” they said. Hardly a warm evangelistic strategy, but it worked.
Ken sat at the back, absolutely determined to be unmoved, and later confessed that in his living memory, he had never, ever cried. Who knows what horrible childhood traumas had smitten his tear ducts with a lifelong drought?
But then little Marge Sample showed up. Silver-haired, elderly, and Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas with a smile that could light up a room, diminutive Marge was on duty as a member of the welcome team that morning. She boldly strolled over to where Ken was sitting, his arms folded defiantly. “Hello!” she chirped. “I’m Marge. I don’t believe we’ve met?” She rested her hand lightly on his studded shoulder.
Marge was somewhat taken aback by Ken’s immediate, violent response. Burying his face in his hands, he suddenly exploded into loud wailing. This was no penitent whimper: he howled. Heads turned nervously.
Ken sobbed his way into the kingdom that day. The emotional dam burst was triggered, quite simply, because no one had been warm and welcoming to him for a very, very long time. A simple gesture of kindness unlocked a man who had been imprisoned by hate for decades. Ken started to attend church, and his enthusiasm in worship initially caused a few raised eyebrows. When he raised his hands in praise, people three rows back got a rather unexpected message from those lifted knuckles. Eventually, he decided to have that lettering removed by laser surgery. A doctor in the church volunteered his time, and we took an offering to cover the other costs. The amount that was needed was the exact final total of the offering, another small miracle. Standing in the baptismal tank with his hands still encased in post operation plastic bags, he thanked the congregation. His face beaming, he held up those hands. “Now the outside matches the inside,” he said. “I’m clean.” Ken’s life was totally transformed, and his conversion stuck. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to change everything.
Regular readers of Premier Christianity magazine might remember that last month, I introduced you to Larry, a hairdresser in our church who has a remarkable welcoming gift. Now, in mentioning Marge, you might be tempted to fear that I’m on a mission to profile the entire congregation, which I’m not.
It’s just that sweet Marge passed away last night, her sparkling eyes now just a memory, at least for the time being. But she’s living proof that small acts of kindness can trigger a revolution. And who knows? Perhaps, last night, when she found herself in the presence of a heavenly welcoming committee, another someone with hands wounded, not by hate, but by love, stepped forward with a smile.
Jeff Lucas is teaching pastor at Timberline Church, Colorado. He is an international speaker, author and broadcaster Follow Jeff @jeffreylucas