by Major Abe Tamayo
When we were commissioned 30 years ago, my wife and I were appointed to the corps in Garden City, Kan., a small industrial community with beef feedlots and processing plants in the southwest corner of the state.
The building was new and needed programs to complete its purpose. Our first Sunday, the congregation included two older sisters, a young mother and her five children. Realizing the level of work entrusted to us, we adopted the slogan: “God loves you and so do I!” Everyone agreed whenever we’d meet, we’d greet each other with this blessing, and beginning the next Sunday we’d print it on the worship bulletin.
On Monday when I arrived at the corps, a little boy playing on a rickety wooden playground ran up to me yelling, “Hey mister, can you read?” He was filthy and spoke with an impediment.
“Before I answer tell me what’s your name?” I asked.
“Miguel. What is your name?”
“You may call me lieutenant.”
He tried but couldn’t say lieutenant, so I suggested “L.T.”
“Okay, but can you read?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, smiling.
“What does this say?” he inquired, handing me a bulletin insert inadvertently dropped by someone after worship.
“God loves you and so do I,” I read.
“You love me, L.T.?” he asked with sincere eyes.
I replied, “Yes, Miguel, I love you.”
Over the year we became friends as Miguel played in the corps community center. Our encounters continued until one day when I heard foul language from our thrift store which was separated from our office space only by partitions. Going to investigate, I saw Miguel’s mother berate him, ordering him home. His face was streaked with tears. In comforting him, I pulled out a business card and penned my home number on the back. “Miguel, if you need me, call me, okay?” He nodded. But he never came to the corps again.
Over the next five years, I prayed for him daily, sometimes weeping, wondering and worrying what had become of him.
Eventually we received orders to move. Packing, cleaning and prepping for our move, the month flew by and our farewell Sunday arrived. Wanting to leave a few groceries for the new officers, my wife got me to go with her to the store and even had me, in full uniform, push a cart with a loud squeaky wheel. Suddenly we heard, “L.T!” There stood Miguel, five years older and smiling. He ran to hug me tightly; he smelled good and had clear speech.
“Miguel, where have you been? What happened to you?” I asked. He shared how his father had divorced his mother, remarried and won custody of him. He was now living in a good Christian home. In that moment he couldn’t have been more beautiful.
When I told him we were moving, he smiled and pulled out my tattered, filthy business card he’d kept with him all those years and handed it back to me. I felt like God was reassuring me he’d be ok. As I looked up, he was leaving.
“Miguel!” I yelled. He, along with everyone else, looked at me. “Miguel, remember God loves you.” Smiling, he pointed his finger at me, acknowledging that I did, too, before running out the door.
Do it again, God, I prayed. Do it again.