Spending an hour with Sam and Sadie was a privilege that few people get to enjoy. To be in the presence of a relative stranger who stepped up and spoke up for Jesus to a late loved one is most likely not a common experience. At the end of my visit I got a photograph taken. As I crouched on the floor in front of Sam’s chair he laid his hand on my shoulder. Afterwards, reflecting with no small amount of emotion on the meeting, I realised that his hand has been there right throughout my life. The moment that he reached out with Jesus to my Dad his impact and importance to my own story was sealed.
Leading another person to faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is one of the greatest privileges that a Christian can enjoy. More often than not this kind of moment represents the maturing of many hours of prayer, of consistent witness and unconditional friendship, of feelings of inadequacy and fear in bearing testimony. To be present or instrumental in such a step of faith being taken leaves an indelible mark on both parties involved.
Seeing the long term impact of such a step, however, is often obscured from our view. Friends move from our city or our circle, the current of life carries us downstream from one another and, while we rejoice in the moment of salvation, we seldom see the momentum that such faith in Jesus brings to families and communities.
My father came to faith in a classroom in Newtownards Technical College in the late 1950s. As a 17 year old he had enjoyed little gospel privilege in his background, and had never before heard a clear explanation of what becoming a Christian meant. His geography and economics teacher, Sam Doherty, had established a Scripture Union in the college and on one fateful afternoon, standing beside one of the desks, he led my Dad to Jesus. Apart from on one occasion that I know of, my Dad never spent any time with Sam once he finished college.
That was approximately twenty years before my birth, but my Dad’s story resonated through my childhood, as did the almost legendary name of Sam Doherty. At the age of 62 my Dad died after a brief battle with cancer. I was 26 years old. At my Dad’s funeral service Sam Doherty’s name was mentioned with gratitude for his clear and courageous witness, the name of a relative stranger making it in to a brief eulogy.
For me, that was it. The only times I heard Sam Doherty’s name in the intervening years was with reference to his significant ministry with CEF – such mentions always tugging a little on my heart at how he had been used by God in my Dad’s story.
Then, in November of last year, I got to spend an hour with Sam and his wife Sadie in their home. The emotional and spiritual impact of that meeting with two people in their 90s is hard to sufficiently quantify, but there are three abiding impressions which could be useful for me and for others as we think about sharing our faith.
Immediate Faithfulness and Ultimate Usefulness go Hand in Hand
Sam Doherty came to faith from a background of resolute commitment to an evolutionary explanation for the universe. Hot on the heels of his own conversion he was advised by the man who led him to Jesus that he now had a job to do for Jesus. Sam taught in Newtownards Technical College, cycling in from his home 7 miles away, and then cycling a further 8 miles to Comber one day per week. In his own words, the teaching came second to his witness for the Lord.