In 1955, my grandfather penned the following account at the end of a book he wrote for a Bresee Church in Pasadena, California, once a flagship church for the Nazarene denomination.
My grandfather was a very successful businessman, retiring at a young age to spend time with my brother and me after our family breakup. Yet amid his many business affairs, he made time to lead Bresee Churches large Sunday School program.
Trying to make an important point with his Sunday school teachers before the new year kicked off, he shared the following personal story. When I read it by chance a few years ago, I was greatly moved, for I never knew this story about my grandfather.
“On November 1, 1925, at one o’clock, I was on duty at the Magnolia Petroleum Company in Beaumont, Texas. The telephone rang, and on the other end of the line was my younger brother, who told me that Luis, our older brother, and another man were missing from a hunting trip they had gone on. He wondered if I could join in searching for the two of them. (In those days, there were no search and rescue teams, everyone was pretty much on their own)
All I remember saying was, ‘I am leaving right now, where can I meet up with you,’ for I loved my older brother very much. As I arrived at the campsite where the other hunters were, only one of them knew the marsh area where Luis and the other man could have gotten lost. So, I said to my younger brother, ‘Stay here, and I will go out with this man and find our brother. Pray that he is still alive.’ And so, we went off into the marsh, which was a quagmire of filthy water, reeds, and thickets, which came up to our waists as we trudged through it. It was difficult, to say the least, to make much progress, but I was determined my brother was not going to die.
Meanwhile, what had happened to Luis, is that both he and his other hunting partner got cut off and separated from the rest of the group and had lost their way. They tried shooting their guns off in the air to be heard and located, but both guns jammed and became useless. While trying to make their way, Luis and his partner went further in the wrong direction, ending up deeper in the wet and muddy marsh. They were exhausted and tried to sleep when night fell but found this impossible standing in water up to their armpits. Finally, when morning came, Luis could see better and discovered they had been going in the wrong direction, but when he turned to his hunting partner to tell him, he had somehow died during the night. It could have been his heart or just the bite of a venomous snake, which were everywhere.
Nevertheless, he was dead. According to Luis’ account, he tried to carry his partner for a mile or two but finally ran out of energy and could go no further. Luis then placed their two guns into the marshy ground and placed his friends’ shoulders and head on top of them so that he could be found later. He was eventually found when others on horseback saw and retrieved his body. Luis continued on but was so beat that he could hardly make it much further, thinking that his own life was also about to come to an end.
On my end, as I walked deeper into the marsh, mile after mile, and hour after hour, and regularly yelling out at the top of my lungs, ‘Luis, where are you? Luis, where are you?’ Then I heard a small faint voice off in the distance; it came from Luis, who was trying to yell back as best he could. ‘I am here, I am here, oh brother, I am here!’
When I pushed on toward him, I could hardly recognize Luis, for his face was so swollen due to all of his mosquito bites. However, I immediately embraced him, picked Luis up, and carried him back to camp. The other man with me also helped in bringing him. On the way back, Luis kept saying over and over again, ‘I knew you would come and save me; I just knew you would.’
After telling this story to the Sunday School teachers, I ended by saying, ‘I loved my brother and would have done anything to save him.’ Perhaps in your teaching this year, you might have the same feeling of love and commitment toward the children you will be serving at Sunday School each week. And maybe, just maybe, you might visit them in their homes, helping them invite their friends to your class. If just one of those found Christ by your extra efforts, wouldn’t that be worth it. Like my brother Luis, who was lost but then was found.
The Sunday school teachers responded, and more came to Sunday school than ever before.”
Before I end this story about my grandfather and what he shared with his Sunday School teachers, I happened to be with my grandfather when Luis died years later. He had a stroke, which put him in a wheelchair for several months and then in the hospital. As my grandfather visited Luis one last time, he held his hand as he passed away. It was a precious time.
Many years after that, while at school in seminary, a message came to me while in class, “Your grandfather does not have long to live; you need to come as soon as possible.” He had been in the hospital for several days. I arrived at my grandfather’s bedside, much like he was with Luis. He was delirious, for his cancer had gotten to his brain. But when I took his hand and said to him, “Grandfather, I am praying for you,” he came out of his delirium to say, “Prayer, yes, prayer is the answer, Kent.” Then he passed away to be with the Lord.
“Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!” Luke 15:6