Bruce Lewis has been cutting my hair for the better part of 20 years. I look forward to my monthly trip to Bruce’s barber shop because of the stories. Bruce has a gift for storytelling. On my last visit he told me the story of a friend of his that recently passed away, his name was Bernard.
Bernard was born and raised in Richmond and had a tough childhood. He lost his dad at an early age and grew up without a father figure in his life. Somehow Bernard found his way into Pinehurst Baptist Church. The church had a softball team and Bernard loved playing ball. In order to play you had to attend church at least twice a month. So, Bernard attended church and he played ball.
The softball team was coached by Bethel’s own Bruce Lewis. Even though Bruce was only a few years older than most of the guys on the team, a number of the players looked up to Bruce as a father figure or mentor. Christ worked through that Church and through Bruce and somewhere along the way Bernard accepted the Lord into his life.
After high school Bernard was shipped off to Vietnam where he was critically wounded. He actually flat-lined on the operating table, but doctors were able to resuscitate him. Bernard’s wounds healed and he returned to Richmond where he got married and worked for Wonder Bread until he retired.
As the years ticked by, Bernard immersed himself in his family and career and he lost touch with his church and his old ball coach, until recently. In August of 2019 Bernard’s wife Diana called Bruce. She said, “Bernard’s got stage 4 kidney cancer and time is short. He’s calling some important people in his life to tell them goodbye.” Diana put Bernard on the phone and he was reunited with Bruce after many years.
It was during the phone call that Bruce had an idea. He said, “Bernard, let me get some of the old ball players together and we’ll meet for lunch, would that be okay?” That was fine. That group met once a month for lunch for the last year. Then Bruce encouraged Bernard and Diana to go to Myrtle Beach with him and his wife Shirley and their group of friends from Pinehurst. They accepted and they all had a wonderful time away.
As time passed Bernard looked forward to those monthly lunches, but recently the cancer took its toll and in late July Bruce got another phone call from Diana. She said, “If you want to visit Bernard again, you may want to come soon.” Bruce rearranged his schedule, called a friend and they got to Bernard’s house on a Tuesday afternoon around 1:30. They stayed until 2:45 visiting, laughing and joking, then when it was time to leave Bruce suggested they pray. They held hands and prayed and Bruce said, “It was a sacred moment. I know the Lord was present and after we prayed, I told him I loved him and we left.” Bruce got another phone call at 4:30 that afternoon saying that Bernard had passed away. Bruce said, “It was like Bernard was waiting for us to come and have that prayer and say goodbye. The Lord just ordained the whole thing.”
I want to affirm that the Lord was present. When Bruce told me this story, he had tears in his eyes and the story brought tears to my eyes. Where there are tears, there is usually something behind those tears, and in this case, it was love. Since God is love, I know God was present when Bruce prayed for Bernard and when Bruce told me the story.
I want to take you back to a critical moment in the story. When Diana called to say that Bernard just wanted to say goodbye, Bruce could have said, “Well Bernard, I’m sorry for all you’re going through. God bless you. It’s been a real pleasure knowing you. You’ve meant a lot to me and I’m proud of the man you’ve become. I’ll see you in heaven one day.” That would have been just fine, but Bruce didn’t say that, he went one better. Bruce got on the phone and called the old softball team and he arranged those lunches and he arranged the trip to Myrtle Beach.
For the last year of Bernard’s life there was a considerable amount of light in his life because of Christ working through Bruce. Bruce’s efforts made a difference in Bernard’s life, in Diana’s life, and for Bruce himself. Bruce said he was blessed to be reunited with Bernard after all those years. All of this is possible because Bruce invited Bernard to be a part of the softball team, invited him to those lunches and invited him to Myrtle Beach. Those invitations turned out to be invitations to participate in God’s Kingdom.
I’ve found that when we open our lives up to others and extend grace and hospitality, God often shows up. I believe Shirley Lewis would agree. She served Bethel for many years as our Care Team Coordinator and she has made a huge difference in the lives of many people as she has visited our homebound folks, often bringing them books, meals, and other treats. Shirley told me, “Don’t think about doing something, get up and do it! You can think about taking someone a pot of soup, or you can get up and make the soup and take it to someone.”
I’m grateful for Bruce and Shirley and their ministry of care and compassion and for the time they take to reach out to others. Let’s take a page out of the Lewis’ book and invite people into our lives. When we do, I suspect we will find that we have actually invited them to participate in God’s Kingdom and for that we’ll all be blessed. May God bless Bruce and Shirley Lewis and may God bless Bethel Baptist Church.