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Rev. Dr. Roy Backus: Investing in others worth the effort

Rev. Dr. Roy Backus
Rev. Dr. Roy Backus

It’s amazing to be caught by God’s presence working in our lives.  

Too often, we don’t notice God’s hand in our relationships and experiences, but  I remember one special time. It was one of those rare times when I actually saw a person change in front of my eyes.

A few months earlier, I was asked to write a letter of reference for the husband of our next door neighbor. Her husband, a past substance abuser, jumped bail in Arizona six years earlier.  

They moved from place to place, as they felt the police catching up with them, but they were finally caught. During their time of flight, they worked hard to be constructive members of their neighborhoods, and they were excellent, loving neighbors to us.  

They rarely drew attention to themselves. Their son was one of our daughter’s best friends, and the kids’ days were spent going back and forth between our two houses.  

The state police arrested our neighbor and sent him back to Arizona for trial, so the reference request came to me. I wrote the letter, including information of our relationship with the family, our times together, their participation in the school parent association, their attendance with our congregation, and other details which I knew.  

I asked our neighbor to proofread my letter about her husband. She read the letter, and thanked me. She suggested one correction.  

He wasn’t her husband; he was her significant other. I made the correction and sent the letter.

Two months later, he returned to Iowa. Thankfully, the Arizona court worked out an arrangement with the Iowa police to allow our neighbor to return to Burlington and continue his life there.  

Upon his return, he came to visit and thank me for my help. We met in my study at the church. He apologized for not being up front with me, and then he told his story.  

It was quite a story, including drugs, alcohol, criminal behavior, arrests, time in Arizona jails, running from the law, and finding his new life. Throughout the story, he spoke of Alcoholics’ Anonymous and its help in his life.  

He followed the 12-Step program and was sober for many years, and he remains sober through the years following too.

I asked him about his AA sponsors and their commitment to him, to the program, and to life in general. He spoke of their unselfish and uncompromising approach to support him throughout his program. It was an inspiring conversation that I’ll never forget.

After all the honest conversation, I asked him a follow-up question. First, I reminded him of all the people who believed in him and helped him. He was thankful for them.  

Then, I asked the question, “Since so many people have helped you through your journey, how have you reinvested you life in others?”  

He looked at me with amazement and said, “What do you mean?”  

I added, “Your life story is meaningful and full of God’s grace working through other people, and you are thankful.  But have you thought of the people you could help by telling your story and sponsoring them?”  

He remained quiet and thoughtful. It was a totally new idea for him. I’m thankful he took the suggestion seriously and did begin showing gratefulness by helping others.

You know, I believe we all have graceful stories where others helped and are helping us. None of us make it alone. God places people, who see holy opportunities, to help us. The key for us is when we recognize our holy opportunity, our holy participation, our holy kinship, and our holy responsibility to invest in others.

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