The morning that I took Robert to the Men’s Bible Study might have looked like a regular early-morning gathering of church men, but I think that was the morning God was playing chess in our midst. And He had just made a killer move.
Wes, the real estate broker, the standoffish guy in the corner who was there simply because he had agreed to attend church as a way of fulfilling a condition made by the woman he wanted to marry, began to sweat. And he didn’t stop until his clothes were literally drenched through.
As Wes was leaving the Bible study, we noticed him, dressed in a three-piece suit, and looking like he had just stepped out of a shower. Suddenly we were all concerned that he was having a heart attack. “Yeah, I’m fine,” he said like he just wanted out of there. “I just need to get going.”
Wes went home and sat shaken to the core by what he had just seen in Robert: A guy who was dying saying that he had absolutely no fear, but instead was filled with love and excitement. Wes, himself a former street gang member who hated all the Mexican gangs, had looked at Robert with irritation when he saw him walk in the room—latent hate from the past. So, there was no reason that Wes should have been reached by Robert or feeling so on the verge of an emotional meltdown. Besides, Wes was an atheist ever since his beloved mother had died. And he was, in no way, passive about his beliefs. There was no God. Impossible. Ridiculous. Only idiots believe such a thing.
There was no God. Impossible. Ridiculous. Only idiots believe such a thing.
And yet his heart felt beaten up.
A few days later, we all got word that Robert had been hospitalized and was spiraling fast. It hit Wes hard. He was dumbfounded that Robert had been so close to death and still made the trip to the Bible study that morning to talk to a bunch of guys he didn’t even know. He could’ve died on the ride over! he thought. It drove him crazy. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t work. He called the pastor of the church, John, and suggested we, all the guys from the Bible study, go see Robert. It was a bold move.
As we all arrived at the hospital, Wes had a lot on his mind—he had the furrowed brow of a man looking for answers. We entered Robert’s hospital room to see Robert lying withered and small on his bed. He wore the color of a man in the last stretch of life. No one knows what to say at times like these, so mostly we just didn’t. Pastor John spoke a few words of encouragement, and we all did our best to lend our voices to the sentiments John was offering. I’m sure Robert appreciated it. He just didn’t need it. Robert, having refused all pain meds because he was, “done with drugs,” began to testify to the love of Jesus. And then, with each man deeply moved and broken, Robert opened his mouth and began to sing songs of praise. At that point, all any of us could muster was the sound of our sniffling noses—there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. As Robert sang, he swallowed and grimaced hard under the excruciating pain as his body continued to break down inch by inch before our eyes. Even so, Robert, at times, smiled that smile.
As he continued to talk, he told us that he had been spending his evenings, after his 10-12 hour shifts for my company, going out into the streets to tell the drug dealers and the prostitutes about Jesus. He would even bring them home to his house to try to minister and get them back on their feet. Even with his body breaking down, he didn’t take to the comfort of his wife’s arms. He felt he belonged out in the pain of the streets.
To Wes, nothing made sense. Right before his eyes, a man was passing away—and becoming new—at the same moment. Wes left the hospital that night feeling like his world had flipped upside down. He sensed that everything worth living for was something he knew nothing about.
Right before his eyes, a man was passing away—and becoming new—at the same moment.
A few days later, we all received word that Robert had died. My wife and I held each other with heavy hearts. We missed our friend.
The memorial service for Robert was held the following weekend in a little chapel. My wife and I arrived to see guys from work, along with Wes, and a section of menacing-looking Mexican guys sitting together, headbands on and sunglasses drawn. It looked like they were ready to rumble. “This should be interesting,” I thought. “If we all get out of here alive.”
As friends and family stood to eulogize Robert, a large gangbanger stood and got in line to speak. All eyes went to him, and the tension rose. As he stepped up and took the microphone, his homies erupted. “Yeah, tell ‘em, man!” they yelled, clapping hands and whooping it up. The whole chapel seemed to go on high alert. The banger turned around and stared down the audience. The place went cold. “Robert killed my brother in a drug deal,” he said in a thick, intimidating accent. Everyone did a collective gulp. “When he got out of prison, I heard he was standing on a box in the park—preaching. So I walked up to Robert, and there was a crowd listening to him. I decided to wait until he was finished, so that way, when I pulled out my piece and blew him away, everybody would see that his God couldn’t protect him from me. So I waited, and I listened.”
Every person there went silent. “And when he was finished,” he said as everybody braced themselves, “I gave my life to Jesus Christ. And I forgave Robert.”
The section of gangbangers erupted again, cheering and clapping. They were all believers—another testimony to the faithfulness of my friend, Robert.
Wes broke down right then and there and cried like a baby. He didn’t understand it, but he knew he wanted it. The power of forgiveness was undeniable. Wes was now all in. I wonder if he had any inkling of what was about to happen in and through him—the kind of impact he would have.
But of course, he didn’t. That’s the beauty of a life lived with Jesus. When I thought my little company was nothing more than a way of making a living, it turned out that on the day we added Robert to the payroll, God was using my little company to change many, many lives.