11 Jun Do You Want To Go See Danford?

Hey John, You Want to Go See Danford?

“I don’t know Rick, Where’s Danford? Is it in Virginia? Is it far? Where?

Really, I’ve never heard of Danford?”

Rick was something of a mentor and big brother to me, just two years older on the calendar, but in my view many more in terms of leadership, intellect, and experience.

The summer before Rick had taken me on my first trip to the North from our high school hometown- Newport News, Virginia- the land of big ships. I imagined he had a new road trip adventure in mind, and I was keen to hear about it.

“John, Danford is not a place, he’s a old man.”

“O.K. So, why are we going to see him?”

“Danford is a poor old guy in downtown Newport News, John.  Basically, he has no family. He’s blind, half deaf, and in a wheelchair. I go to see him every week at least once, sometimes twice if I can. If I don’t go, he won’t get out of his apartment all week.”

So, Saturday morning at 9:00, OK.

That Saturday morning you would have guessed I was on my way to take the college boards.  I was apprehensive, uncertain what to expect, actually worried is the best description of my stance and attitude.  Driving into downtown I realized I had never been past the Newport News shipyard going past decrepit tenements, I had never seen anything like it in my end of town.  If you wanted to get to downtown you had to decide to come, and keep on coming to get right into the middle. It simply was a long way from my part of town. I felt nervous, but tried to make Rick think I was fine.

Walking up the steps into Danford’s house, I winced at the odor that greeted us and I asked Rick what was wrong.  Acrid urine and floor filth where a scurrying of cockroaches seemed very at home indeed. “Too many people here seldom take a real bath, no air-conditioning, and there’s really no housekeeping to speak of in this entire place. The contract here says they will change the sheets once a week. Altogether it makes this smell, don’t worry you’ll get used to it.

“Really. I will?”

“Sure”. Rick assured me.  “Come on, watch how I lift Danford into his wheelchair.”

“Hey, Big Boy how are you today?” Called Danford, “You bring someone with you today?”

“Yep, Danford, this is John.” Rick was fairly shouting to be heard by him.

As Rick wheeled Danford down the ramp out the front door, Danford began to whistle an old hymn, ‘Just a Closer Walk with Thee’ I think, and then followed that by humming “I Come to the Garden Alone”.  Thanks so much Big Boy for coming to see me today, and you too Johnny boy.  Danford didn’t know I was called Johnny as i was growing up.

Tears began to well up in my trying to be tough as nails, and cool, prepared for anything eyes.  I was not expecting to feel the spirit of God himself smack my heart and query deeply and call me, “Do you love me? Show your love to Danford Brown. He is one of my sheep.”

Several weeks later, after going to see Danford a few more times together, Rick asked, “So John will you visit and take Danford for his weekly walks when I leave for Duke the end of the month. You don’t have to, don’t feel pressured.  But, you do have to decide soon.”

“I’ll let you know this week.” I said, feeling really this was not something I was excited about doing. Well, at one level at least I was actually scared about all the parts of doing this. I mean this man was not my grandfather or uncle or even next door neighbor. He was a poor, old man, who I had just met, who generally, by all I knew, smelled of urine and really had no idea who I was. Still, I knew God loved Danford. Indeed, Danford loved Jesus in a pure and natural way I could not explain. He was destitute really, having very little to cling to of worth in this world.

Rick spoke those questioning words with his mouth to me, but Jesus continued to ring the words in my heart through the week following.

“You must decide.”  Actually, the thought of taking on such a responsibility and honor was daunting. But, yes… that was the only decision I felt I could make, if I was to follow Jesus. I had lots of excuses I thought sounded pretty good. They were all really true. Lots of study. Work. Wrestling practice. And my father had actually died just several months back, and I’m trying my best to move forward even in the midst of grief. My family and friends would agree.I really couldn’t commit to this. But, how could I deny to serve this dear man?  So, I said yes.

Yes, to my friend Rick, to Mr. Danford Brown, and yes to beginning to learn to serve Jesus, by serving and feeding His sheep.

In hindsight, that yes decision likely taught me to learn to say yes to Jesus, again and again. Not that it was the only answer to give, but one that I felt led to give more through the years as God showed me He wanted to use me as a channel of His love.

He wanted to show me Himself among many people I would have to “choose to be with”. There were more challenging decisions over the years as I learned to “follow Him”, but this one probably was among the most important decisions I ever made. In learning to say yes- even when trembling and uncertain about the circumstances and my ability- but saying yes, and trusting him to be at least- available.

To decide to serve His people, and those I never imagined or wanted to serve. To decide to follow Rick’s lead, and in doing so, follow Jesus too.

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