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A Horrible Stench – an Amazing Lesson

March 2, 2014

I’d like to thank you for reading this blog and passing word about it to others.  When I first began writing this journal, I had no idea how far these little stories could travel.  I have received responses from Japan, Germany, England, and some Latin American countries – it’s a humbling yet exciting experience to see that word can travel so far.

James is a pretty cut-and-dried book of the Scriptures.  The half-brother of Jesus minced no words when it came to getting into the face of the Believer and daring them to put action to what they believe in Christ.  Among these great teachings is a blunt challenge found in the first chapter:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.

Sammy was a student who would have been a good buddy to ol’ James, because he activated his faith almost every day that I knew him.  Sammy was a thirteen-year-old Hispanic pupil of mine who took his Christianity beyond the classroom – helping, encouraging, sweeping, serving, cleaning.  He had a laugh like a diesel horn and yet a sense of mechanics so serious that he successfully replaced the water pump on my car.  His brand of humor was a combination of David Letterman, Jerry Lewis and Bill Murray.  He had an intense side that showed itself in the form of a scowl so deep that his eyebrow nearly hid his eyes.

Simply put,  Sammy loved to serve.

It wasn’t for the social aspect, not so he could josh with the guys and flirt with the girls – no, not for that.  Often he would serve by himself.  It wasn’t for reward, because I can’t recall any time that he received any recognition or tangible reward for what he did.

I had received a message that one of my elderly neighbors, Mr. Limb, was having a mechanical problem with something in his apartment, and could I come over?  He was a retired British gentleman in his late eighties and fearful of his landlord, so I was his contact for anything short of a kitchen fire.

imageSammy was at my apartment, delivering some school supplies.  “I’ve got to go, Sam,” I said, hanging up the phone.  “Mr. Limb’s got a problem with his thermostat, and he wants me to take a look at it.”

“Can I go with you?” asked Sammy.

“Sure,” I responded.  “He’s right next door.  Let’s go take a look.”

We were at Mr. Limb’s apartment within the minute, and he answered the door immediately.  “I do wish you’d take a look at the heat in here.  It seems to have gone barmy.” The place was extremely hot.

“Wow, it’s stifling in here,” muttered Sammy, “and what’s that smell? ”

Mr. Limb had turned and gone to the back room.  The heat and the smell were overpowering.  “I’ll take a look at that thermostat,” I said, covering my nose with my shirt, “and you see if you can find out where that odor is coming from.”

“Right,” he said, covering his face and heading to the next room.  I pulled off the cover of the thermostat and thankfully found that a coil had stuck.  The room was – I kid you not – registering in the high 80s, and this was late spring.  I’m not mechanically inclined, so I was thankful that this was an easy repair.  I was already streaming with sweat and trying not to gag from the stench.

“Um, Pastor Zock,, you better come here,” said Sammy.  He was in the center of the front room, standing over a small white plastic trash can.   I came over to him and took a look.  The plastic trash can was half-full of bloody urine.

“Mr. Limb, is this your, er, waste?” I asked, stepping away and covering my nose.

“Yes, yes, of course it is,” he called nonchalantly.  “I often get too knackered to go all the way to the loo, so there you are, a convenient place.”

“B-but, your urine is bloody,” I said.

“So it is,” was all he would say.

“Listen, I’m going to get a doctor on the phone, sir,” I said.  “You have coverage, you told me.  Where is your phone?”

“In the kitchen area,” said Mr. Limb, waving to the area. “If you want a bite to eat, be my guest.”

“Sammy,” I said as I stepped toward the kitchen, “I’m going to call first…”

I turned and saw Sammy lugging the unwieldy trash container of blood-filled urine out of the front door.  Some of it spilled on him but no matter – he was taking it out the door while trying  his best not to throw up.  I could hardly believe what I was seeing.

Nor could I believe what I saw when I turned the corner and entered the kitchen area.

Mr. Limb had been receiving ready-made dinners from Meals on Wheels for over a year, each coming in an aluminum-covered rectangular box.  He had mentioned to me before that he couldn’t stand them, wanting only tea and toast. I had not taken him literally, but now I could.

Lined along the wall, stacked dozens high, were over a hundred of these food-filled containers, partially opened and rotting.  Some were fairly bursting with maggots.  Mold was everywhere. “Mr. Limb! ” I cried.  The stench was even worse than the front room.

“I told you I couldn’t stand those daft people and their meals!” he shouted back.

I stepped back in wonder, trying to take in this horrible scene.  Sammy bumped next to me with no hesitation.

“Guess I have some cleaning to do,” he said simply.  “You make the call and I’ll get this done.”

While I dialed the doctor and left a message, Sammy trekked back and forth to the dumpster.  I joined him in the massive cleanup and never heard a complaint or a snide remark about the condition of the apartment.

We finished, washed up and said our good-byes, with me thinking this is the Christian condition.  This is the Lord’s faith worked out, right here in front of me, by a thirteen year old who walks his faith out in measured steps.

Here is an example of the student teaching the teacher.

I loved it.

I’ll always love this kind of instruction.

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4 Comments
  1. Wow. Sammy is likely someone God points to and says, “Look! There’s someone who shows that he knows Jesus!” Congratulations on knowing someone like this. 🙂

  2. I agree heartily, my friend. God put Sammy in my life to teach me a servant’s heart. It is good to know after all these years he is still serving God, nowadays in full-time ministry in California.

  3. Administration, service, discernment are my gifts. Most churches I’ve been in want the first 2 and label the third as trouble! 😬

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