The Essence of Faith
The freshly painted clapboard church sat near a small creek, its white purity glorified by the neatly trimmed hedges surrounding it and the smell of newly mowed grass. The four big oak trees on the church property added a symmetrical elegance to the pastoral scene. Four Oaks Baptist Church, lined up in a photographer’s lens or portrayed on the painter’s canvas, would present a nostalgic and peaceful essence of faith and Americana.
It was a special Sunday morning with clear skies and a happy sun washed all that it touched with spring freshness and sparkle. There were few cars parked along the country lane as most of the congregation and visitors came on foot to Four Oaks, and today the numbers in attendance would break all records… It was indeed a very special Sunday. One member of the congregation had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Jimmy Chadwick was fourteen years old when he was baptized in the Four Oaks Baptist Church. He attended elementary and high school in the county school system, played his basketball and football here, married his homecoming queen sweetheart in this prosaic place of worship. Jimmy worked on his family’s farm, plowed fields for barley, wheat, hoed the endless corn rows, and worked on the side for the county’s agricultural cooperative. Jimmy sowed some of his personal oats, played some petty pranks and even tried at times some bitter brews of John Barleycorn. In the total tally of Jimmy Chadwick he was a happy kid, a generous, kind adult, and a near-wholesome human being.
Jimmy Chadwick’s real claim to county fame came not on a football field or basketball court at home but on dreary sand and scrub in the distant country of Afghanistan. Jimmy, a marine, was stationed in Helmand Province at a USMC installation where aircraft hangars housed Harrier Jets. One quiet and sweltering night, a group of Taliban fighters dressed in US military uniforms penetrated the perimeter of the camp, killed two US service men, and destroyed a number of Harrier jets with explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. With only his pistol, Jimmy led an attack against the infiltrators and eventually all of the insurgents were either killed or captured.
By the time the Sunday service began, The Four Oaks Baptist Church was filled beyond its capacity for seating. The walls were lined with the simple and sweet inhabitants of the Four Oaks hamlet plus residents of the other nearby settlements. A virtual silence fell upon all those congregated there. Only occasional sobs and soft moans were heard. The preacher stepped to the pulpit and spoke:
Today we welcome home one of our own, Jimmy Chadwick, a young fellow we knew as a freckle-faced kid pulling the pigtails of giggling girls, a handsome lad always with a smile and the rough hard hands of a farm worker. We knew him as the young fellow who usually got the touchdown to win us a football game or a final-second dunk to win the basketball game. We knew Jimmy as a prankster, a devoted son, an honest and good man… So, welcome home, Jimmy. We love you and we are proud of you.
Let me just say that here in this little corner of the world our simple ways will not match the world’s big cities’ glamour and glare, their hectic ways and their belief systems that vary from our own. We hear and read about those who don’t believe in God and in the man, Jesus, who came among us, gave us some spiritual wisdom to live by, and died a cruel death for our sins. Today we see the book of Revelations coming to pass: we have wars and rumors of wars; we have the atrocities of history repeating themselves; we have nuclear weaponry that can annihilate civilization; we have miracle machines that can do so much good but can also wreak havoc upon us; we have enough people enraged by the Satan that runs loose inside of them who are too eager to smite their brothers and sisters; we seem not to have enough time to help and provide for those who truly need our help… We live in a perilous time, a time when a man, woman, and child can only deal with the darkness of the world with the hallowed light of faith. If not faith, if not a belief that transcends these ugly truths, that these mountains we gaze upon, these prairies, these oceans, seas, and desert are there by another’s hand and not our own… If not faith, what can we conclude from the pendulum swings of our lives? That we live but for the folly of a piece of gold and the dark pleasures that can only in the end seduce and leave us wantonly scarred? If not faith, why is there the warmth of sunshine? Why the evening stars upon which to wish? Why the meticulous nine months ritual of our births? Why the love and unity of family upon which to persevere?
Today, here in our little corner of the world, we welcome home our heroic son and brother who went to a foreign land because his nation called upon him, a man who wore his faith proudly and served his country with courage and valor.
May the sobs and tears of this congregation convey not only the sadness of his passing but a joyful recognition of our faith that Jimmy Chadwick has truly gone Home.
Let us pray…
Flash fiction by Billy Ray Chitwood – From my Archives
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