Good Ol’ Henry

Isn’t it funny how the mind works? While I was reading this morning – the evangelism section of Disciple’s Path – I remembered something I haven’t thought of in years! I remembered how a man, a grown man, a preacher, who hardly knew me at the time, came to my defense and showed me the love of Christ by his actions. 

It was 1983 and I had just finished my freshman year at Birmingham-Southern College. I was the first-year “Outdoor Resource Person” for the Elementary Camping program at Camp Sumatanga. I got the job after only serving as a counselor one time. I was chosen over a long-time volunteer (let’s call him “Bob”). Bob had served as a counselor several times over probably two summers. He did not like the fact that I was hired and he wasn’t (putting it mildly). 

For my entire first summer, Bob managed to volunteer for 5 of the 6 camps we offered. It was easier then. All he had to do was call up the director for the week and ask if he could come. Nobody would say “no” to a free volunteer! 

He was present on the first hike I ever led, making sure he reminded others that he knew the trail and the customs of camp (like the stories we told along the way) better than I did. He was present at camp-outs, reminding me and others that he would do things differently. After awhile he started flaunting the rules; most notably on the morning he decided to skip breakfast, buy a Coke from the vending machine and go back to bed, leaving his campers in the charge of his co-counselor. 

Granted, Danny, the Coordinator (our boss) talked to him and used his influence to try to change his behavior. But there was no changing Bob. His mission was to make me miserable (and the whole staff in the process) because I took his job. 

Then, at the end of the 5th week, in rode Good Ol’ Henry! Henry Golson was the preacher in charge of what we then called the Conference Council on Ministries. Elementary Camping was just a small part of his whole job; though if you’d have asked us, we would have said we were the most important part of his huge job. Danny had complained to Henry about Bob, and tried to tell future directors that he was causing a problem, but somehow “bad penny Bob” kept showing up! 

At the end of week five, Henry came to camp from his office in Birmingham. After the “Family Olympics” (an afternoon of games, water, sweat, and fun!), Henry told Bob – face-to-face – that he was not allowed to return to as a counselor – ever! 

Sounds like a mundane decision for Good Ol’ Henry, but it was huge for me! This man, this important man, came all the way from Birmingham to relieve me (and the staff) of our suffering! I think I must have felt like “The Woman at the Well.” She had been oppressed and persecuted by people in her village. Good Ol’ Henry’s actions were “living water” to me, that brought me into a new relationship with myself and my people. If Henry was taking up for me, then I must have been worthy of the job! Bob could just go suck on his improperly acquired vending-machine Coke!

I don’t recall, up to that point in my life, many adults defending me in such a way. Maybe I didn’t need to be defended before then. Thirty-three years later, I can still see right where we were all sitting, feel the heat of the summer day, and smell the fresh-cut grass of the field. It was a big deal to 19-year-old Earl!

That’s evangelism! Henry lived out the gospel before us. He showed us grace; he performed an act of love. Bob probably didn’t experience it as love, though I’d like to think that adult Bob, wherever he is, sees it differently now. 

That’s the way Jesus works! Good Ol’ Henry was just doing his job, being faithful to his calling. God used Henry’s faithfulness to bring the Good News to a tired camp staff and one beleaguered teenaged boy. 

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