Unknown Traveler: BR and the Train

My dad, Bill Duckworth, wrote this week's post. His previous blog entries are The Church At Waffle House and Staying the Course

I love riding trains: the whistle blowing, the engine revving, the rumble of vibrating tracks, and of course, the people.  Unknown but seen.  Some asleep, numbers reading, seatmates talking, ear buds everywhere, and a few employees preparing for the workday.  Riding a train to work everyday allows me to hear, see, and experience the stories of life.

A couple of years ago, I boarded my train and noticed a man across the aisle reading his Bible.  I reached into my backpack to retrieve my hymnal and opened it to my favorite John Newton song.  No, not the one about grace being amazing.  As anointed as that poem may be, Brother John’s “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” is what stirs my soul and I wanted to commit it to memory.  Then I heard the Bible reader say, “You are reading a hymnal on a train!  I have never seen that before. Do you go to church?” Looking up, I replied with a simple “Yes.” He looked down sadly at the floor and spoke something that I don’t ever remember hearing, “I wish I could go to church.” 

It took a moment for me to recover.  After all, this area has over 700 churches and I couldn’t process such a statement. “Why don’t you go to church?”  For the next fifteen minutes I was silent as he unwrapped his story.  

Lost his job – lost his home – homeless on the streets – lived ten days in a homeless shelter – found a new job – rented a room in a boarding house – found a second job – rented an apartment.  All of this was good, but 16-18 hours of work seven days a week leaves no time for church.

Over the next week, we talked until I asked, “Do you believe we can pray and ask our heavenly father to provide you with the desire of your heart to attend church?” No reply, just a quick nod of his head. So, we prayed but never discussed it again.  We simply rode a train together and supported each other as we discussed how the power of song overcomes the daily challenges of life and generates joy and peace in the midst of storms.

Then, he was gone. No longer on my route, I searched for him on other train cars with no success.  One year passed but no BR (my nickname for Bible Reader).  I had given up on ever “bumping” into him, but suddenly on a quiet Friday morning with only five other people riding in my car, there sat BR with a big smile.

“I was hoping to see you today.  This is my last train ride.  I got a new job.  It pays more than twice what I was making with the other jobs, and the schedule is 10-hours a day/4-days a week.  I joined a church, and the members are going to let me lead an outreach to the local community.  I was even able to buy a truck. I am so thankful.  I don’t know what else to say.”

All I could do was listen and think of our first meeting around “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.”  As we departed for the last time, I headed east to work and BR walked to an escalator for a northbound train to his new community of faith.  Suddenly, I shouted, “Wait, I don’t even know your name.” As he descended, I heard, “I don’t know yours either, but He knows ours.”

Jesus said, “Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven; a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.”
— Matthew 18:18-20 (The Message)

Hoping to see you on the train,

Bill Duckworth