COLUMN: A bearer of hope at Christmas time

The pastor of Central Heights MB Church in Abbotsford shares a story about a memorable Christmas Eve in northern Ontario.

  • Dec. 21, 2011 7:00 a.m.

A Pastor’s Tale by Dr. Bruce Gordon

Late December in Northern Ontario is traditionally cold and snowy. With a bag full of groceries, my father and I would trudge through the snow on an unshovelled path to Percy’s tar-papered shack.

As a young boy, I greeted these visits with mixed emotions. Percy was a bit of a mystery to me and the local residents, and this December event always gave me an opportunity to see how he lived. Yet our time together was also disconcerting, since cleanliness was not one of his virtues. I was wary about where to sit and what to touch.

One Dec. 24 visit stands out in my mind. The night before, new snow had blanketed our valley, then the weather had turned clear and cold. Dad and I waded through knee-deep snowdrifts to reach Percy’s small shack, where a thin wisp of smoke climbed straight up from the chimney. Following our knock on the door, Percy gruffly welcomed us in. We entered a one-room house that had known better days. The air had a mixed smell of a hardwood fire in the stove and what my young nose called body odor.

Dad set the bag of groceries on a sticky, oilcloth-covered table near where Percy invited us to sit. Following a discreet inspection of the chair assigned to me, I carefully sat down, making certain that I did not touch that gross tablecloth.

Percy and Dad made small talk, discussing the recent turn in the weather, whether there would be enough wood to last the winter, and some other topics. I wasn’t paying much attention because I was too busy inspecting this old man’s living quarters.

After the topics had been well covered, Dad said, “Christmas is here again, Percy, and our family just wanted you to have a few groceries as our gift to you. You know, Percy, Christmas is important to us because of the birth of Christ.”

This particular year something strange happened. I watched a single tear slide down the face of an old man and into a thick bushy beard. He quickly brushed it away with a dirty hand as he mumbled thanks. As we rose to leave, Percy touched my father’s arm and said, “Don, you are a bearer of hope.”

That was to be our last December 24 with Percy because he died early the following year.

That scene will stay with me forever, for in a moment in a time on a Dec. 24. I was taught a great lesson: God softens grizzled old hearts through kind acts of His people.

Dr. Bruce Gordon is the transitional lead pastor at Central Heights MB Church.