The phone rang and I greeted a young pastor friend from Arlington, Virginia.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Studying,” I replied. “Nothing special.”
“Are you sitting down?”
“Your father just trusted Christ this evening.”
“He what? Youve got to be kidding!” I blurted out.
Such an inappropriate response grew out of long detours in our father-son journey. Ever since I received Christ as a boy my concern has been for the salvation of my family and loved ones. On repeated occasions I had broached the subject of the gospel with dad, but his response was less than excited.
My father has always been a very important person to me. Not that I approved of everything he said or did or that I imitated him consciously in any way. We werent really close friends, either. But he was important in my life because of the indirect impact he made upon me.
Dad was a military man. He had seen action around the world. During the periods when he was embroiled in battle, I would become very sensitive to his spiritual need. I and my family prayed for him, but at times Im afraid my faith sputtered. His response was always the same: Son, dont worry about me. Ill work it out with God (as if God could be manipulated like a Pentagon official).
God brought a man into my life, a man with a passion for men. His name was Butch Hardman. One day before we knew each other Butch was boarding a plane in Detroit when a friend handed him a cassette tape.
“Ever hear Hendricks? Heres a tape you should listen to.” On that tape I related my fathers spiritual need.
Butch listened and something about the anecdote reminded him of his own father with whom he had shared Christ shortly before he died. He began to pray for this unknown man, George Hendricks. Some months later Butch attended a pastors conference in Philadelphia where I was the speaker. He shook my hand afterward. That was the only time our paths crossed before a remarkable incident in Arlington.
Butch was driving the church bus down the street, having discharged all his passengers. He saw a man standing on the corner who reminded him uncannily of Howard Hendricks. Could it possibly be ? He backed up the bus, stopped, got off, and went over to the man.
“Are you by any chance Howard Hendricks father?”
It is easy to imagine the startled response. “Er-ah (I can envision my fathers critical once-over with his steely blue eyes) yeahyou a student of my son?”
“No, Im not, but he sure has helped me. Got time for a cup of coffee?”
That encounter began a friendship, skillfully engineered by the Spirit of God. Butch undoubtedly sensed dads hesitancy when he discovered he had met a preacher. For a long time Butch did not invite him to attend his church. He simply suggested that dad drop by the office for coffee. Patiently he endured dads cigars and his endless repertoire of war stories. Before long he also learned that dad had been diagnosed as having a terminal throat cancer.
Months later Butch was at his bedside. “Mr. Hendricks, Ill be leaving shortly for a Holy Land trip. Instead of my listening to you tonight, would you let me tell you a story?”
Butch had earned his hearing and he began simply to relate the interview of Jesus Christ with Nicodemus as recorded by the Apostle John. At the conclusion dad accepted Butchs invitation to receive Jesus Christ as his own personal Savior. Then dad got up out of bed, stood, and saluted with a smile. “Now Im under a new Commander-in-Chief!” That night Butch called Dallas.
The last time I saw dad alive I could not believe he was the same man I had known. His frame was wasted, but his spirit was more virile than I had ever known.
In accordance with dads specific provision in his will, Butch Hardman conducted the crisp military funeral in Arlington cemetery where the gospel of Jesus Christ was presented to the small group of family and military attendants. As the guns saluted their final farewell, I knew God had vindicated forty-two years of prayer.