Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35 NIV
I arrived at my church 15 minutes before the start of our Tuesday Morning Men’s Prayer Breakfast. As I walked into the dining room, the first man to greet me was Charlie. Charlie always got there early to set the tables and make the coffee. He greeted all who entered with the same enthusiasm. He shared these spiritual gifts while assisting the cooking teams on most of our men’s gatherings.
At 77, Charlie was a spry, funny, dedicated Christian and a mentor to many of us. He had participated in nearly every mission/outreach field the church sponsored. He was a prayer warrior for all activities from the children’s program to our contemporary worship band to our mission teams as they left on their diverse service projects. If you ran into Charlie anywhere, he was smiling and full of life…just ask all the children on the YMCA bus he drove before and after school.
This particular Tuesday morning, as Charlie and I took our normal seats beside each other to eat our Chick-Fil-A and donut, he started reminiscing about one of his favorite jobs during his working years: Bread Truck Driver. He recalled walking into the bread plant each morning and being nearly overcome by the delicious smell of fresh baked bread. He said the manager would always give him a couple loaves he could eat on his route. It was not uncommon for him to slice the loaves lengthwise, put a stick of butter on one half, put the other half back on, let the butter melt and chow down the rest of the day. Often, the manager would give him several personal loaves that he would give away on his route when he encountered folks who needed food. He spoke of the great people he met in the stores he serviced. As Charlie talked, I was transported back to the summer of 1960.
School was out for the summer and we kids, living in a very small town in mountains of West Virginia, spent the vast majority of our time playing outside. For a nine year old, the creeks, fields, forest and mountains provided plenty of entertainment with just the use of a little imagination. My parents ran an Esso gas station which, at that time, was the center of activity for most of the folks around there. With a pinball machine, pop (soda for you city folk), coffee and lotsa snack food, the place was always packed with locals telling their tales. One such guy was the Pepsi deliveryman whose son was my age and a good friend.
Twice during the summer, I was invited to ride in the Pepsi truck with my friend as his Dad serviced the ‘Mom and Pop’ grocery stores and gas stations throughout a 30-mile radius. Those were great days. At nearly each store, the owners would offer us ‘helpers’ sodas and home made treats which we would gratefully accept. Our sugar levels were peaked by the time we were done.
I watched as the Pepsi man interacted with each of his customers. He would walk in and greet them with joy and, occasionally, hugs. He would ask about their health and families before checking their supply needs. As he resupplied (letting us helpers carry in a few bottles to earn our treats), he would talk with the owners about their business and any concerns. He would have us look around to see if there were other kids that could use a drink or snack, and if so, he would provide them one. As we left each store, he would talk about the families with us. He loved his job and the people he served. And, it was obvious he was much more than a Pepsi man to them.
After the prayer breakfast, Charlie and I talked briefly about participating in an upcoming mission trip to an orphanage outside Monterrey, Mexico. He hoped to go and was trying to find a few folks from our church to join him on the team. I said it would be impossible for me but to keep me in the loop if the dates changed. With that, we said our goodbyes.
The next morning, I received a text from a good friend: Charlie had passed away that morning from a heart attack.
Charlie was a truck driver and proud of it. He also used his driving skills to deliver many a church group to their destinations during the 18 or so years I knew him. But during all his deliveries, Charlie delivered his amazing dose of spiritually. Compassion, empathy joy, humor, and honesty were Charlie’s forte. He would sing and laugh and tell stories; he was a Christ-centered man that took the love of his Maker to all who entered his sphere of influence—on the bus or in the hallways. Charlie loved all the people he served. And the people he served loved him, not just for his skill, but because he delivered the good news of ‘the Bread of Life’ to all he touched.
Christ called the common men to be His disciples. Today, we tend to look for ‘accredited’ folks to lead us, guide our discussions, develop our plans, or teach us. Yet so often, Christ chooses the bread truck driver or the Pepsi man to do His most important work—sharing His amazing grace to a hurting world. Are you willing and able to be a Charlie to all the folks you touch each day?
So long Charlie—I will miss your smile, your hug, and your song. I am certainly a better man in Christ because of my friendship with one devout bread truck driver.