In his forties, the older man invested time in a small boy who didn't fit a typical mould.
Their families lived on the same street in the town--one family gospel hall, the other pentecostal--a common faith, but expressed in very different ways.
The little boy questioned authority and rules that made no sense to him. This resulted in anger, frustration and frequent punishment from an adult world in a generation that expected children to be respectfully obedient and meekly silent. He would not be silenced or broken; not an easy child to raise, but one in whom God had planted seeds of tenacity, leadership and determination.
Mr. Atkinson had no axe to grind; made no demands of submission. He talked to the boy man to man, treating him with respect, offering friendship and companionship.
Perhaps in the boy, Mr. Atkinson saw the boy he had been. He had a colourful past, growing up in poverty and in a rough neighbourhood. He and his friends had once broken into a shoe shop and distributed the shoes to people that needed them. The police caught the boys, but when they found out what had become of the stolen shoes, they weren't charged.
The little shoe thief became a man who loved God and had a passion to let others know about him. During the week he worked in an alloy factory, where the pounding noise cost him his hearing. Every Saturday he would push a cart filled with tracts, books and records for sale, up to Redditch market. The boy, Paul, loved to go with him.
On the way the man would talk to the boy about Bible prophesy, explaining that the Jesus who came 2000 years ago, was coming again. He told the boy of the signs in the world that his coming could not be far away. The boy listened and learned. His own father, a pentecostal minister, was also convinced of the near return of Jesus; this was one thing they agreed on.
The boy looked after the wagon and took care of sales while Mr. Atkinson handed out tracts and talked to people in the market. He would also take books and records to his own church, for people who had ordered them.
Over the years Mr. Atkinson never failed to send us a Christmas card, until; only two years ago, after a fall, when he gave it up. He was 93. We miss the cards, which would always contain a smattering of tracts, and end with the greeting,"Maranatha!" ("The Lord comes!") in an increasingly quavery hand.
One of the things Paul wanted to do while we were in England, was to look up his old friend. So we drove to his house where he still lives alone, a widower now, at 95.
In the window, in front of the neat white lace trimmed curtains, was an oblong white sign with blue lettering, that proclaimed, "Maranatha." Before we left, he put his hand on Paul's shoulder and prayed. Although some of the words were hard for us to follow, we knew that they were understood in heaven and felt that we had been given a very special blessing. His investment in a small child helped form the man I love; someone who grew to also look forward to Jesus' return, and who loves to invest in children.
I wonder, readers, who influenced you as a child and how?