Howard Shealy was a kind old man. His eyes, blue-gray in color, would twinkle every time he smiled. His smile would light up any room, and it enhanced his rounded face as it peeked through his white curly beard.
Howard had been retired for quite some time. He lived in a quiet neighborhood with his wife, Esther, of 57 years. They had 5 children and 9 grandchildren. He was a simple man and enjoyed every minute of life. They had enough money to live on but there were little extras.
There was a park a couple of blocks from Howard’s house. After his retirement, three or four times a week, Howard and his wife would walk to the park and watch the children play on the playground. They would reminisce of the years when they were rasing their own children. One day Howard had an idea, his wife agreed and they began making preparations.
Howard began to bring popcorn in little bags to pass out to the children. As he passed out the popcorn, he would tell them about Jesus and how He had died on the cross to take away their sins, so they could go to heaven. Inside every bag, he placed a little book that explained it more. Over the next ten years, he had passed out thousands of bags of popcorn. Many children, and adults, came to know Jesus as their Saviour through Howard’s “popcorn” ministry. Every day the children would wait anxiously for “The Popcorn Man” as they affectionately called him.
He never passed up an opportunity to share how God could take care of any situation. About a year after starting his ministry, Howard saw a boy of 17 sitting on a bench by himself, he went over to offer a bag of popcorn to the young man.
“Hello, fine sir, might I interest you in a bag of freshly popped popcorn?” Howard offered a bag with a wink and a smile.
“Sure” the boy said, obviously troubled.
“What’s you name, son? I’m Howard or as the children call me ‘The Popcorn Man’.” Howard offered his hand.
Slowly shaking Howard’s hand, “Travis.”
“Do you mind if I sit with you a while?” making himself comfortable on the bench. “I can’t help but notice you’re looking a little down. Care to talk to an old man about your troubles?”
Travis did share his troubles with Howard, for some reason he felt that he could trust him. Travis would come to the park everyday he knew The Popcorn Man was going to be there. Howard became a mentor to this troubled boy and they shared together for many years.
In the past year Howard’s health began to fail. His trips to the park became less frequent. The children all missed The Popcorn Man and colored cards for him. The news of his death was a sad day for all.
At his funeral service, there was standing room only. The church was packed with the children, some now adults, who loved The Popcorn Man, several spoke at the service about how his popcorn ministry had changed their lives.
Travis, now a pastor, took the pulpit. He began with tears in his eyes, he echoed the feelings of the others. He, too, had his life changed by Howard’s kindness and willingness to share Jesus.
“I was a troubled teen but Howard saw me as a person. We met many times over the past years and he helped me see that Jesus loved me, even when I thought no one else did.
“As I was preparing for today, I thought about Howard and his popcorn ministry.” he paused and smiled thoughtfully. “I realized that Howard was like a kernel of popcorn. Inside every kernel there is water that when heated becomes vapor and bursts out of it’s shell. That’s how I see Howard, he was so on fire for Jesus that it just burst out of him, it couldn’t be contained. Howard didn’t have a lot to offer humanly speaking, but he had a heart for God and he gave it freely. May we all , who have been touched by this man, burn with the same passion for Jesus.”
The next day, Travis went to the park with bags of popcorn and passed them out to a new generation of children, many of which never knew Howard. Travis felt it a privilege to carry on Howard’s vision for the “popcorn ministry.”
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