Her name was Dorothy. I guess I should say her name is Dorothy. Because based on what I read from the Word of God, Dorothy still is. Actually, every one of us is and always will be. “Everyone lives forever somewhere.” Someone said this, and I have trolled the internet trying to connect the sentence to its author, but I haven’t found a definitive answer. But the Bible is consistent in its teaching about the everlasting-ness of our lives.
In John 5:28-29, Jesus said, “…For the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear [the Son’s] voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”
So, Dorothy is, and I am so happy to believe that she is part of that resurrection of life that Christ spoke about in John 5. And, I think about Dorothy whenever I feel lackadaisical and, perhaps, a bit cynical about evangelism.
Not Ashamed, Just Reluctant
I do read and say, and sometimes sing, the words, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” Still, I have to say that I am often timid and reluctant in expressing the faith that I hold so dear. But then Dorothy comes to my mind and heart. This woman resided in a nursing facility in the center of Baltimore, on Falls Road right across the street from Western High School.
For several years, I led a Thursday morning outreach program with the aim to evangelize women in the various housing projects throughout Baltimore City. Those projects were all imploded one year and the residents were scattered about. One of the women of the projects was Eva, a woman we often brought to church until she went from the 13th floor at the Lafayette Courts tower to this clean and bright place of care.
We met Dorothy when we started to visit Eva at her new home.
Dorothy was a grizzled old Baltimorean caught in the throes of dementia. The care workers wheeled her out into the common area of the facility to keep an eye on her and to give her some interaction with people.There's no courage to summon or program to work up. We walk and talk with people. Click To Tweet
Dorothy did not like us — us being me and Lois, a longtime saint, a onetime missionary to the Philippines, a pastor’s wife, and the mother of pastors. Lois believed the best always and her grandmotherly way broke through many a hard heart wherever we went — to the projects or to this nursing home.
Lois accompanied me every Thursday to this home and we did this for almost seven years. For most of those years, we would greet Dorothy and get a bitter, angry retort — “Who are you? Stop talking to me. No, I don’t want to have a nice day.” The care workers told us that Dorothy wasn’t like this all the time. We heard them, but “nasty” Dorothy was the only Dorothy we saw for a long, long time.
One December morning, a DJ was at this home, playing music for a Christmas party of sorts. He put on a Frank Sinatra tune — “It Had to be You.” I stood outside the room, Bible under my arm, listening and singing along — with Dorothy. When the song ended, she spoke to me, “Do you like to sing?”
“Nice” Dorothy was here and now she was engaged and alert.
“Yes, I like to sing,” I told her.
“I like to sing, too,” she said.
“Is that a Bible you have there? Are you a minister or something?” she asked.
“Yes, I am a pastor and I visit Eva from our church,” I said.
“I went to church a couple times when I younger, but I didn’t have too much time for it. Too busy,” she told me.
By this time, Lois was with me. Together, we brought Dorothy to the place where she could understand that God loved her and wanted to be part of her life. Dorothy prayed with us and thanked us and started to sing again.
That was it. Was it real? Did she really believe?
The next week we visited again and Dorothy was there as always. Her dementia was back and she couldn’t remember us, but rather than spit out something salty, she just smiled and said, “You have a nice day.” Even the care workers were aware and made note that Dorothy was different.
Broken and Thankful
That Christmas season came and went, and we returned to the nursing home in the new year. Dorothy, however, was missing from her usual spot. She was gone, she had died the week after Christmas.
“Dorothy’s not with us anymore, and we’re sad about it — she seemed to enjoy those last weeks,” we were told. “She really was different at the end.”
I looked at Lois, and we were so broken and so thankful
This was a moment of clarity. God did this. What came into me then was a sense of real fulfillment. It was the joy of the harvest. The purpose of God works through us and it is remarkable and awesome and eternal. We paid visits, said our prayers, shared our faith, and Dorothy happened.
I believe Christ has many of these moments waiting for us. He sends us and we go. That’s it, I think. There’s no courage to summon, or program to work up. We walk and talk with people and the Spirit opens hearts to His message. Maybe our heart doesn’t seem to be in it some days. Maybe we’re very distracted by details of life. Still, we go and the ministry of Christ advances just as it always has — by His design and in His timing.
For more about the grace of sharing our faith, check out this message from Greater Grace pastor Thomas Schaller.