In 1993 I was living in LeMars, Iowa, population 9,000 and the home of Wells Blue Bunny Ice Cream. It was the biggest town I’d ever lived in. It had an all-night grocery store and a McDonald’s so I thought it was the big time.
You can imagine that when in August of that year God moved me to Phoenix, Arizona to attend seminary that it was quite an adjustment. Out of some two million people living there at the time I knew only four. It didn’t take long before I was missing my family and friends in a major way.
It took several months of visiting churches before God pointed me to First Baptist-Tempe. In December just before Christmas I was invited for dinner at the home of Chet and Rosie Farrington who were long time members there.
After a delicious meal, Rosie said to me, “Todd, there’s something here you might be interested in.” She reached out and pulled a small plaque off the wall. It looked old and it had a Bible verse on it. Nice, I thought. I like old things that have character.
“Look on the back”, she said.
I turned it over. A list of signatures. And the names…”Hey, I know all these people!”
“That’s the plaque the Men’s Brotherhood of First Baptist Church in Swea City, Iowa gave to Chet in January of 1956 just before we moved to Arizona.”
Swea City, Iowa is my hometown. And First Baptist Church is where I grew up from the week I was born. On the list of names are the signatures of my great grandfather, both my grandfathers, a great uncle, and many of my neighbors growing up.
What I hadn’t known in moving to this big city was that before I was so much as a twinkle in my parents’ eyes, Chet and Rosie had lived across the field from my grandparents and attended my home church.
To see those names and the familiar signatures of my family members in this new and lonely place was like water in the desert. It was a connection. A reminder of my heritage. That I come from somewhere. And most important, that the God who grew me up in Iowa was with me in Arizona.
That plaque didn’t just happen. Back in 1956, someone in the First Baptist Church thought it would be a nice gesture to give Chet Farrington something to remember them by as he moved away to the big city. 37 years later that person’s thoughtfulness encouraged another guy who had moved away to the big city.
Friends, when we extend kindness to others we never know how far it reaches. Or who it touches. Across the miles and across generations. Let’s be purposeful in our kindness and intentional in our encouragement.
That’s a legacy we can gladly sign our name to.
Todd A. Thompson – August 29, 2011