SOLDIER JOE GOES HOME
by Charles Robey
(Over a hundred years ago, in the city of London, a young preacher carried the message of the Gospel to the poor, the down and out and the oppressed people of London. As a result of his ministry, he formed a little group of people called the Hallelujah Band, in which they would stand on street corners and preach the Gospel.
This new style of preaching quickly reached the main stream clergy. As a result, this new found preacher was called before a conference of religious leaders, who gave him a challenge, "William Booth, will you go where we tell you to go? If you do not go where we tell you to go, you will be banned from the church."
Sitting in the balcony was Booth’s wife, Catherine. She suddenly stood up and shouted, “William, say, ‘No, never!’” And he said, “No.” That affirmed "No" changed the course of history in Great Britain, and in many other parts of the world forever, as Booth founded the Salvation Army, which has given help for both body and soul wherever it has gone.)
Here we have a fiction earthly parable with a heavenly meaning. Soldier Joe, as everyone would call him, was proud to be an active soldier in Salvation Army or "God's Army", as he would so proudly quote. Although retired and living in his twilight years, he remained a witness for Jesus Christ, until the day he went home to be with his heavenly Father.
"And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home". (Luke 1:23)
You see, a Christian never retires from witnessing for the Lord, as the scripture declares,
" But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).
You see, a Christian never retires from witnessing for the Lord, as the scripture declares.
Soldier Joe was a colorful old character. No one knew exactly how old he was. To quote Joe, “He was older than dirt and twice as gritty.” And, he was loved by all, especially the staff and customers of the Haven of Rest Nursing Home.
I first met Soldier Joe one spring afternoon. It was as if by divine nature that I had a flat tire in front of the Haven. And, I will never forget this first meeting. Soldier Joe ran off the nursing home front porch as if he was training for the Olympics. The first thing Joe said was, “Step aside Sonny, I’ll take care of that.” Joe insisted on helping me change my flat tire that day. What should have taken thirty minutes took over an hour, with Joe’s help. That was the first of our many meetings.
Over the next few months I came to know Soldier Joe pretty well, and we became very close friends. One bright Sunday afternoon I just happened to drive by the nursing home. Joe was sitting on the porch dressed in a unique looking uniform with a shiny ‘S’ on each collar. Again, as if by divine intervention, I found myself on the porch talking with Soldier Joe. “What are you wearing, Joe?” I asked.
“Well Sonny, that’s my uniform. I am just waiting on the bus to take me to my church.” Joe then said he was a member of The Salvation Army, God's Army.
I thought it strange what Joe said that day, but it didn’t sink in until later when Joe again invited me to church. Yes, I agreed and picked Joe up to take him to church. What a unique group of soldiers. All were wearing the same military type uniforms as Soldier Joe. Why, the woman even wore unique old fashioned bonnets.
The service started rather strangely as the leader stood up and announced a knee drill. The soldiers responded by kneeling to pray. They started bringing various people’s names before God and asked that their needs be met. Soldier Joe even requested an unspoken prayer request. Obviously, not being familiar with church, I just remained quiet so as to not disturb the soldiers as they prayed.
The entire group joined in as if by divine direction, singing and clapping as they sang. Some of the women even played tambourines while one of the gentlemen kept time with the music by beating an old base drum. At one point in the service the preacher stood up and shouted, “Fire a Volley”, and all the soldiers responded by loudly shouting out “Amen and Hallelujah.”
I thought it very strange when the preacher started to preach. He looked straight back at me and talked as if he had known me all my life. “Joe?” I asked, “Does this preacher know me?”
Joe just smiled and replied, “I would understand what the preacher meant by and by.”
I just let it go since Joe’s answer seemed to be like all the other canned church talk I’d heard. As the service ended, one of the soldiers grabbed a flag and another soldier grabbed the old base drum. The two started marching around the room followed by a number of the other soldiers singing and praising God. What a strange song they were singing.
“The Salvation Army has a right to beat the drum.
The tambourine, the banjo, to make the Devil run.
Come join our army and get the Gospel Gun.
And shoot it at the Devil, if you want to see him run.”
Well, time passed on and Joe and I seemed to go our separate ways, until one Sunday afternoon I was passing by the nursing home when lo and behold, you guessed it, I had another flat tire. Only this time, I had no jack. My only thought was to borrow the nursing home phone and get help. As I passed through the front lobby, I knew instantly something was wrong.
I approached the nursing station, and overheard Joe’s name. I stopped in my tracks. “What’s wrong?” I asked. Suddenly, a man dressed in the same type of uniform as Joe wore gently placed his hand on my shoulder.
“Joe’s not here,” the man exclaimed. Then he stated that Joe had been, “Promoted to Glory.”
Before the fellow soldier could explain his remark, he just handed me an envelope. I could tell it was from Joe. I would have known Joe’s shaky handwriting anywhere. I just quietly walked over to a nearby bench so as to not to disturb the others and opened the envelope. It was as if an angel appeared out of nowhere when Joe's unreadable handwriting became very clear. The note said;
"Sonny, just a note to tell you how much you have blessed me. I can never physically repay you for being a part of this old man's life but my God can. Just trust in Him." Joe's note then ended with a scripture verse,
"For by Grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Also stuck between the envelope and the hand scribbled note was another piece of paper bearing what appeared to be some sort of affirmation,
“While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end!” (William Booth)
Joe’s unspoken prayers were surely answered that day. I am now serving the living God in my little county Church. And, oh yes, about that flat tire. Well, God’s grace is sufficient for any need even a flat tire. Amen.
And he hath said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my power is made perfect in weakness".(2 Corinthians 12;9)