Pastor Steve Jenkins sat at his desk; oblivious to the tears that flowed freely as he prayed. What was he going to do? How was he going to tell the congregation one of their favourite sons was dying of AIDS?
Craig Richards, tall, good-looking, quiet, popular with everyone and a talented pianist had been attending Luton Community Church since he was a small boy, along with his two younger brothers and mother until she lost her battle with cancer when Craig was twenty.
In the eight years since Craig had announced he was Gay, Steve, the elders and people at the church who had known and loved him all his life had pleaded with him prayerfully and in tears and gently tried to show him the lifestyle he was living was not pleasing to God. Craig had argued that because he loved the Lord and his partner was also a Christian, it was okay. After all, they went to church, they prayed, they read their Bibles - what right did anyone have to say they were sinning?
When Craig had walked into the church office earlier that morning, Steve was shocked by his appearance. He was gaunt and pale. Sweat beaded his forehead and a painful cough confirmed Steve’s worst suspicions. They hadn’t seen Craig for almost two years, and he had avoided visiting his brothers and all his excuses seemed just that... excuses.
The one fear that had been at the back of everyone’s mind for the past eight years was now a reality. Steve had tried to get Craig’s promise that he would come to church the following Sunday, but had received only a vague “maybe” and “I’m not sure what I’m doing yet.”
As he continued to sit at his desk, Steve thought back over the years to when Craig was growing up. Everyone had been drawn to the polite boy who grew into a polite young man; children adored him, and mothers watched over and loved both he and his brothers as their mother’s condition worsened.
“What are you doing sitting here in the dark?”
He looked up in confusion and blinked his eyes at the sudden brightness as his wife switched on the light and he realised it was dark outside.
“Craig Richards came to see me today.”
His wife’s eyes lit up in delight. “We haven’t seen him for so long, how is he; is he coming back to our church?”
Steve closed his eyes as though in pain. “He has AIDS.”
His wife moved to his side and wrapped her arms around him. “Oh sweetheart, I’m so sorry, I know you’ve been worried about him.” She paused to stroke his hair. “How bad is he?”
“Pretty bad. I’ve never seen anyone so thin Sally; he looks like someone from a refugee camp. His hands were shaking, and he kept losing track of what he was saying,” Steve’s voice broke. “He told me he couldn’t remember how to play the piano anymore.”
By ten o’clock that night, the elders and members of the congregation who knew Craig had been told of his condition, and as one, they gathered for a night of prayer.
A week went by and then two with no contact from Craig. Then, the following Sunday, as Steve stood to bring the message, a familiar figure stood uncertainly in the doorway. Steve’s wife turned her head and moved quickly to Craig’s side, leading him to a seat where she sat with her arm around him. Some people stared curiously, but those who knew Craig smiled in welcome and more than one face was streaked with tears.
Steve’s message of grace and forgiveness was nothing less than God’s timing, and when the invitation for prayer was given, Craig struggled to his feet and with Sally’s help, shuffled to the front where he knelt at the altar and prayed and wept, surrounded by half the congregation.
The following Saturday night, every one turned up at the fellowship hall for supper to express their love and welcome Craig home. He seemed even weaker than the previous Sunday but seemed to gain strength and peace from their love. Halfway through the night, Craig asked Steve to help him to the piano. He sat quietly for a moment, and there was absolute silence as the first hesitant notes of Jesus Loves Me filled the air. By the time he had finished he was weeping with joy as he remembered the truth he had almost forgotten.
* Psalm 77:6
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