“Old man Clark is down at the courthouse passing out C-notes like candy. You better get down there or you’ll miss out.” Deputy Matt Nowlin snapped a crisp bill in front of my face.
“What? You took money off that old man? Hand it over, you should know better than to participate in his foolishness.” I took the bill from my crestfallen deputy and inspected it.
Looked real enough. Could anyone actually use it with John 3:16 written all over it in permanent marker? The headache inducing, fresh marker scent stung the inside of my nose.
“You can give that one back if you want, but he’s already passed out a stack of ‘em to anyone passing by. I don’t see why…” Matt started.
“If you can take money from that crazy old guy and sleep at night, you’re not the man I thought you were.” Better go see about it. A week didn’t pass without at least one call complaining about him preaching on the courthouse square. I’d not received a single call today, but then I guess free money trumps the gospel.
“Mr. Clark, just what are you up to today?” I found him sitting on a bench in the shade.
“Celebratin’ my birthday. C-notes for the big 100.” He laughed as he spoke and slapped his leg.
He’d grown so eccentric over the years that he barely resembled the man I knew as my junior high Sunday school teacher.
“You’ve turned a hundred years old? Well, congratulations!” I took off my hat and shook his hand. “Now I hate to dampen the celebration, but this bill I took from my deputy looks real. You can’t be giving away money like this.” As far as I knew, he wasn’t wealthy. A hundred years or no, he had to have bills to pay.
“Why not? Doc says I’ve got a couple months left at best. Can’t get the folks to listen to my preachin’, so I thought a little monetary motivation might do the trick. I told them I’d be here tomorrow, too. Gonna blow it all for Jesus, Johnny.” His eyes sparkled.
“Yes, sir, they’ll be here with their aunts and uncles, cousins and neighbors. I’m afraid you won’t be able to accommodate everyone with more C-notes.”
“Didn’t say I would, just said I’d be here. Hee, hee, hee.” He threw his head back and chuckled.
I failed to find it funny. Things could get ugly if people showed up expecting a handout and there wasn’t one to be had.
Truth is I envied him. I’d never been comfortable sharing my faith. Not that I’d ever stand on the street corner, but a man should be able to talk about the Lord.
The courthouse square was packed like the fourth of July the next day. A little anger surged inside me as I watched some of the same people who regularly called my office complaining, now lining up for free money.
The summer sun began to glisten on the skin of the waiting crowd. Perspiration slid down the side of my face. Where was Mr. Clark?
My deputy made his way through the crowd. “Sheriff, I’m afraid I have some bad news. The old man passed away this morning. They found this note in his hand.” He thrust a yellowed piece of notebook paper toward me.
I recognized my own fourth grade chicken scratch in an assignment he’d given our class years ago. I’d written a paragraph each about what my life was before I learned about Jesus, how I came to know Him as my personal Savior, and then how my life changed afterward.
I turned the paper over. Looping cursive encouraged me in fresh magic marker. “You can do it Johnny, I don’t think I’m gonna make it. Don’t let me down.”
“He’s not coming, he died last night,” Matt said to the crowd. A collective gasp rippled through the gathering.
“But he wanted me to read you something.” I looked down at my note from Mr. Clark, but the heat and my crumbling nerves made the words wave before my eyes. Somehow I managed to read my fourth grade testimony, word for word. My rubber legs could barely stand. I even ended with “Signed, Johnny Martin.”
Astonished townsfolk stared in disbelief. I made a beeline to my office.
A handful of C-notes appeared in the offering the next Sunday. Pastor asked me to speak to the fourth grade class.
I believe I will.
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