Tell Me A Story
Written by Pastor Eric Everhart
This past week I had the awesome opportunity to sit down with a good friend of mine and share a cup of coffee and a three-hour conversation. I got to hear the life story of a friend who has been through much, and understands and embraces the tangible love of God. Although my good friend was born 43 years before me, our time together and our friendship is a priceless gift of God.
Born in 1928, my good friend was brought into this world kicking and screaming. He was blessed to be raised in a beautiful Christian home filled with love. Although he was like any other young boy, covered in mud and always getting in trouble, he grew up in a family that lived out and taught the faith.
As a young boy, he would see the world through the eyes of the Great Depression. A time of poverty, job loss, and uncertainty. His family did not own a car and was not always sure where their next meal would come from. In spite of this, he assured me that, “God was with them through this time.” Patriotism was at an all time high, communities were closer than ever, and faith was the foundation of the family. FDR was president, the Empire State building was built, the Hoover Dam was opened, and the Star Spangled Banner was made our national anthem. At the age of 11, he witnessed the beginning of World War II. Still he was confident, “America was alive and well and God was still good during those times.”
In 1946, my friend would be drafted into the US Army. “I just wanted to drive those big trucks!” He found himself in Ft. Bliss Texas working on the German V2 rocket project and “driving those big trucks!” He was a long way from home but, “God was always with me.” After a short break in service and the start of the Korean War, my good friend enlisted once again in the US Army in 1950. He would be headed to Korea in February of 1951 but before deploying, in December of 1950, he briefly went home to marry his beautiful love, Edith. Without much of a honeymoon, he returned to Ft. Campbell Kentucky where he was whisked off to Korea. “God was always with me.”
On February 14th of 1951, he stepped off a plane from Japan and onto the grounds of Pusan, Korea. My buddy joined the 17th Field Artillery as a forward observer. He was responsible for running communications to and from the front lines. After some time there, he was asked to be the mail carrier. He brought letters and packages for the troops into the front lines. Many times he would not know where the units were and would spend a great deal of “dangerous” time driving around the front lines trying to locate the men who had mail. “The conditions were terrible! We were wet and muddy all the time, we didn’t have the equipment we needed, there was little or no communication, and they were even wearing socks as gloves. I always figured I was a Christian, but as we dealt with the conditions there I remember asking where God was. Why would he let me be in such a place of war and misery. Did God leave me?” My friend shared with me his doubts in faith, God, and any kind of truth. “I felt like he wasn’t there and I was alone.”
Then he shared with me about the time when he was delivering some packages to a unit on the front lines. While he was there, a truck pulled up to the camp and a man with a bright shiny cross on his uniform got out of the truck. He was carrying a portable organ in his hands. “What’s this all about?” he thought. It’s easy to lose track of dates and times when you are in combat and it was no different in his case. The day was Easter, and the chaplain had come to deliver a Resurrection message to the troops. “The chaplain delivered his message and I felt a tug at my heart. I will never forget, in the rain and mud of a combat zone, the chaplain played ‘Holy Holy Holy’ on that little organ. I looked up at the sun poking through the clouds and sang with all my heart. That day, Easter of 1951, I gave my life to Jesus Christ.” God met my buddy right in the middle of all that crap and he experienced the resurrected Christ! “I knew right away that God was with me and he would never leave me. I never saw another chaplain the whole time I was in Korea.”
In November of 1951, my friend would find his way back to Michigan and to the love of his life, “I would be forever changed.” He settled into “normal” life and he and his wife had 4 beautiful children. Their son Eric was diagnosed with MLD and required constant care. In 1986, at the age of 26, Eric passed away. Just one year later, his dear wife Edith was called home to the Lord, and a few months later he had to grieve the death of his father. “I felt as though God had left me once again. I turned my back on God and wanted nothing to do with the guy. This would be a very difficult time in my life.” He raised his remaining children on his own–not needing anything from the God who took his family away.
Many years after this difficult chapter of his life, he would meet “the chaplain” again during a powerful church service. My friend laid all of his anger and pain on the altar that day, and turned it all over to God. On his knees, he called out to his Lord for deliverance. “I felt a comfort and a sense of peace that could only come from God. God was still with me and had never left.”
On March 17th of 1990, St. Patrick’s Day, my friend eyed a beautiful lady from across the room. Approaching this beauty, he boldly stated, “I’m gonna marry you.” On December 27, 1991 my buddy Bill Smith would marry his new love, Barbara. “God sent her to me and I’m so thankful. God has always been with us.”
Just a couple years ago, I had the amazing privilege of escorting 90-year-old Mr. Bill to Washington DC on an Honors Flight. I was overwhelmed by the stories he told and the wisdom he shared with me as we flew into DC. Anyone who knows my good friend Bill knows he loves to talk. But, as we entered the sacred places of our capital, there were not many words spoken between us. We touched the names on the Vietnam memorial, the World War II memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. We shared a common bond together as brothers of combat, brothers in Christ, as we remembered those who had gone before us. We visited with respect, with pride, and with a great deal of sadness. Bill said, “That could have been us up there on that wall, but God was with us and he had different plans for our lives. Eric, let’s be sure to honor their lives by not wasting the time God has given us.” Amen, Bill.
During my recent visit, I asked Mr. Bill, “If you could give our young people one piece of advice, what would that be?” He thought for a second and said, “Don’t forget to love! Remember its power and its purpose. We need to love one another more today just as God has loved us. God is always with you, even in the hard times.”
My story has gotten long, and there are so many other stories I could share with you about this beautiful couple, but I will leave it up to you to visit them, have a cup of coffee, and hear them for yourself.
Thank you, Mr. Bill, for sharing your story with us. Thank you for your service to our country. Thank you for being a God-fearing man. Thank you for reminding us that life is hard sometimes, but that God is always there and that he loves us so much. And thank you, Mrs. Barbara, for putting up with Mr. Bill and for your continued faith! You are both dear to us all!
Brothers and sisters, what stories do you need to tell and what stories do you need to hear? Don’t hold back what God wants the world to hear. Don’t miss a chance to share your story or to listen to the stories of others. Share with your grandkids, your children, your friends, your family, and anyone that will listen about the way God has been present in your life and the love he has for his people…..God’s story, your story, just might change someone’s life! I know I have been forever changed by God’s story of his son Mr. Bill Smith.
“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” Revelation 12:11
One last story about Mr. Bill…
Our final stop on our trip to D.C. was to Arlington national cemetery to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Again, it was silent at the tomb, everyone so still. I was on the upper stairs overlooking the proceedings and Mr. Bill was seated along the ropes with many other veterans in wheelchairs. As the guard approached the area where the veterans were, the guard would drag his steel covered shoes on the concrete as he took each step. This scratching sound echoed through the amphitheater and was done to recognize the veterans sitting near the ropes. It is their way of saying, “We see you, brothers, and you have our respect.” Tears rolled down my face as Mr. Bill saluted the soldier with such sharpness and pride. I have been to Arlington several times in my life but this is one moment that will forever be seared in my mind and heart.
“It’s time to get back to Barbara, she is probably worried about me.” Mr. Bill was ready to go home, he had done and seen what he needed to. He sat quietly on the plane and even napped a bit, for it had been a long day. I was trying to process everything I had just experienced in such a short time. As we taxied into the airport Mr. Bill grabbed my arm and said, “Pastor E, thank you for being here with me, this is a day I will never forget, and I am so glad you were here with me. You know, I’m 90 years old Pastor! God has been so good to me, and I am so thankful for so much.”
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