I am writing this blog with the prayer that my words can do justice to this story.
Yesterday, traveling through Billings, Montana, my husband and I stopped for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. We were both tired from travel and ashamedly somewhat caught up in ourselves. As we walked toward the store, there was a van parked directly in front of the entrance. It caught our attention as it had signage on it that said remember Pearl Harbor- ALL OVER IT! We were a little grouchy about it being parked in a non-parking spot.
We walked inside and requested a table for two. The hostess seated us right beside an elderly gentleman wearing a suit with a tie displaying the American Flag and a cane that was also red, white and blue. I whispered to my husband that I bet that the van that we saw belonged to this man. I began to wonder about his story. Everyone seemed to know him. As he started to get up from his chair to leave, I noticed it seemed to take some effort. I felt that I should offer to assist him but at the same time did not want to offend his obvious independence. I was really intrigued by him.
As he started walking by, he stopped at our table. He introduced himself and shared his story. He was the last living member of the B-17 Flying Fortress. He was one of six original Army Air Corpsmen. His plane was hit by Japanese fire at Pearl Harbor, forcing him to crash land at Hickham Field. He was the only survivor. He flew in both the Pacific and European theatres. He was been presumed dead after a crash on the European front. His family was notified. Four and a half weeks later he woke up in a Russian hospital. He said God had a purpose in mind for his life. He found it hard to believe that God could use him considering what his life had been but he was willing.
At the age of fourteen, he jumped on a train in Sheridan, Wyoming, and after a long ride ended up in Chicago. Tired and hungry with no money, sitting on a curb he was approached by a man that asked if he would like a meal. Mr. Wade said he perked right up. “Yes sir. I sure would.” He had just been taken under the wing of Baby Face Nelson, a famous mobster of the time. He told of how he was given a ring that had a fine needle. When he touched a woman’s cheek, she would pass out and they would carry her away to be sold. Each woman he delivered made him $20,000 and he made over 2 million in just over two years. I was fascinated. I could have listened to him for endless hours. The stories he shared were riveting.
He has refused the Purple Heart because he says he is just a person. More specifically, he is quite quick to tell you that he is simply a sinner saved by grace. My husband and I both had tears and smiles at the same time. Unexplainable emotion.
Mr. Wade gave us both candy and a photo card as he explained that he spends his days traveling the world delivering speeches and witnessing for God. He has written numerous books and gives them away to people that he encounters. How very blessed I was to have encountered him on that day. He said he had a book for me and that he would go to his car and return with it. I offered to accompany him to his car so that he would not have to take any unnecessary steps. I excused myself from breakfast with my husband and began my walk with this humble servant of God. As we exited the restaurant, he spoke to everyone in our path. Everyone seemed to know him and love him. When we got to his car, he told me that Cracker Barrel had given him his very own spot. I began to feel ashamed as if he heard our previous grumblings. Mr. Wade and I stood and talked for a bit more before he opened his vehicle to select the book just for me. “Which one do I want to give you? Ahh, this one!” He opened it up and began showing me the pages. I felt a chill. You see as part of my renewed effort to make God the priority of my life, I have committed to non-negotiable time spent reading, studying and praying. Just a few days prior to this not so chance meeting, I prayed that God would show me a way to REALLY study and know his word. I even mentioned a book. One that HE would have me read and focus on, something that would conquer the haphazard way I have been doing it. I wanted to be better at it. Now here in my hands, I was holding a book presented to me by this man – 365 life affirming daily devotions with scripture references.
I hugged Mr. Wade and felt as if I could have just as easily been hugging God in that very moment. God was clearly present in a big and bold way.
I will never forget that moment. Mr. Wade and I had no idea we would meet that day or that God would use him to hand deliver a book that I had prayed for just a few days earlier.
Suddenly it was not just a book. It was me praying. God listening. God answering. God being present. It was a reassurance that God cares about me. He cares about us – all things pertaining to us, regardless of size. It was a moment bigger than the moment.
God used a 97-year old man, former mobster, that became sold out for Christ to touch me in Cracker Barrel in Billings, Montana. Modern day disciple.
Faith on fire.
* Al Wade’s story is currently being made into a movie due out in the next two to three years.
Until next time,