For some reason, I’ve been thinking about a man I knew when I was a child. The most contact I had with him was sitting with his daughter, my friend, Gwenneth, in the back seat of his pale green Austin A-40 sedan while he drove us to the beach. This kind family included me in their trips to Seaford, mostly on Boxing Day. I remember the ‘different’ things I enjoyed.
Mrs Long always had grated carrot and cheese in the salad she’d prepared for our picnic; that was new to me! And I noticed the tea-trees that grew in grotesque shapes between the road and the pale sand of the beach. I also learned a few new words and customs. One was ‘switch-backs’, the up and down hills we drove over. In the games we played on the way, I saw signposts I’d never noticed before. My friend picked out more of them because she was accustomed to it. My family didn’t have a car, so public transport was our usual travel mode. But that isn’t the main reason I remember Mr Long.
He ran a pharmacy in the row of shops that fronted the street beside the Mont Albert train station. He didn’t always come to the Sunday morning services at our Methodist Church because he opened his shop to dispense prescriptions for the sick. But I knew his heart was close to God. How did I know?
In those days, many people didn’t talk about their religious beliefs. Even now, it isn’t always easy to stand up for Christianity. Last year, a Councillor in our city suggested that it would be good to erect a nativity scene in the main street to remind us of the meaning of Christmas. Some people were pleased, others were vehemently against the idea. I read a letter to the Editor of the local paper where a lady angrily asked, ‘What’s Jesus got to do with Christmas?’
Fred Long had his own way of declaring his faith and providing comfort to his neighbours and the rest of the community. Above the subway that ran under the train lines, he used an advertising hoarding for it. Every week, this large, glass-covered frame contained a different Bible verse. There was no name on it, but we knew that Fred Long had specially selected each one and paid to have them printed and placed inside it. I can’t remember them all, but I know John 3:16 was included.
In the words of the old Authorised Version, this well-known verse read: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
If Jesus were speaking those same truths to a modern man, woman or child now, he might use words like these: This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no-one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. ~ The Message Bible.
Perhaps there are people reading this who might react like the lady who wrote to the newspaper and criticised our Council. Their purpose was to make sure everyone had the opportunity to hear about the exact reason for the life of Jesus. Please don’t miss the truth that he wants us all to know.
And let’s not forget people like Fred Long, an unassuming man who left his mark on my life, setting an example in passing on God’s truth. How many other lives were touched by his faithfulness?