Note: Howard Hendricks went to be with the Lord on Feb 20, 2013. This is part of a series of articles published in his honor.
In my own life, I can recall several of these profoundly influential figures who were strategically used by God to change the course of my life. The first was a man named Walt. Had it not been for Walt, I seriously doubt whether I would have ever become a follower of Jesus Christ.
I came from a broken home. My parents were separated before I was born, and neither one paid much attention to my spiritual condition. To put it bluntly, I could have lived, died, and gone to hell without anyone even bothering to care.
But Walt cared. He was part of a tiny church in my neighborhood that developed a passion to affect its community for Christ.
“Would You Like to Play Marbles?”
Walt’s passion was to reach nine-and ten-year-old boys like me with the gospel. I’ll never forget the Saturday morning I met him. I was sprawled out on a Philadelphia sidewalk playing marbles. Suddenly someone was standing beside me. I looked up to see this gangly guy towering over me—all six feet, four inches of him. My mouth sort of dropped open.
“Hey, son, how would you like to go to Sunday school?” he asked.
That was an unfortunate question. To my mind, anything that had the word “school” in it had to be bad news. So I shook my head no.
But Walt was just getting started. “How would you like to play marbles?” he asked, squatting down.
Now he was talking my language!
“Sure!” I replied, and quickly set up the game. As the best marble player on the block, I felt supremely confident that I could whip this challenger fairly easily.
Would you believe he beat me in every single game! In fact, he captured every marble I had. In the process, he captured my heart. I may have lost a game and a bit of pride that day, but I gained something infinitely more important—the friendship of a man who cared. A big man, an older man, a man who literally came down to my level by kneeling to play a game of marbles. From then on, wherever Walt was, that’s where I wanted to be.
A Ph.D. in Caring
Walt built into my life over the next several years in a way that marked me forever. He used to take me and the other boys in his Sunday school class hiking. I’ll never forget those times. He had a bad heart, and I’m sure we didn’t do it any good, running him all over the woods the way we did. But he didn’t seem to mind, because he cared. In fact, he was probably the first person to show me unconditional love.
He was also a model of faithfulness. I can’t remember a time that he ever showed up to his Sunday school class unprepared. Not that he was the most scintillating teacher in the world. In fact, he had almost no training for that. Vocationally, he worked in the tool and die trade. But he was for real, and he was also creative. He found ways to involve us boys in the learning process—an approach that made a lasting contribution to my own style of teaching.
Overall, Walt incarnated Christ for me. And not only for me, but for thirteen other boys in my neighborhood, nine of whom also came from broken homes. Remarkably, eleven of us went on to pursue careers as vocational Christian workers—which is ironic, given that Walt himself completed school only through the sixth grade. It just goes to show that a man doesn’t need a Ph.D. for God to use him to shape another man.
Hendricks, H., Hendricks, W., Howard, & William. (2009). As iron sharpens iron: Building character in a mentoring relationship. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.