The white frame country church beside the road had stood for almost 100 years and was the center of religious as well as social life for the people of the valley. About a dozen families worshiped there. One of the members of the rural church was ten-year-old Billy Jenkins, an average kid in a community of average families.
The story began just before Christmas one year. Pastor Lee, the leader of the church, suggested that the congregation think of a project the church could do as a whole to bring honor to the celebration of Jesus’ birth.
It didn’t take long for folks to speak up. Nearly everyone had an idea to share. Ben Johnson, the Men’s Sunday school teacher, thought the church should have a new podium. Mrs. Ima Lacy suggested painting the inside of the sanctuary a lovely shade of pink to brighten the interior. Betty Stevens and her cousin, Cora Sue Bevens, suggested cushions for the hard benches, upon which the members sat each week. There were other ideas, but these three were the ones everyone thought were the best. However, there was a big problem. The congregation of the small church did not have the money for such wonderful improvements. It would cost too much, so they would have to come up with another idea for the project.
The more Billy thought on the problem, the more he thought it should be God’s decision, not that of the members. Time was getting short; and Christmas would be the following week. So, he prayed, asking God to show the congregation what they should do.
The very next morning, while running an errand for his mother at the country store, Billy learned a new family had moved into the old Higgins home that had been vacant for years. Hoping that the family would have a boy near his age, Billy decided to stop by on his way home and meet the new folks.
Sure enough, there was a boy in the family just Billy’s age. It turned out that the Smith family had five children in all. The ten-year-old boy was named Tommy. Billy and Tommy liked each other immediately. Billy had to get on home right then but promised to come over the next afternoon to play.
When Billy arrived at the Smith home the next day, the family was just sitting down for lunch. Mrs. Smith greeted Billy at the door and said, “Have you had your lunch, Billy?”
“Yes, Ma’am,” answered Billy. “We ate early today.”
“Well, you may sit on the sofa until we finish our meal. Then Tommy can go outside and play with you.”
Billy sat down across the room from the table where the family was having their meal. He watched Mrs. Smith place one biscuit on each plate then pour a small amount of gravy over each before she sat down to eat. Billy had been in the homes of most of the folks in the valley and he never remembered seeing so little food on their plates. He noticed, too, that Mr. Smith was very thin and had a bad cough. A bottle of pills and a glass of water sat beside his plate.
Billy wondered if Tommy was still hungry when they went outside to play, but he didn’t think he should ask him. The boys had a grand time and Billy invited Tommy to come to his house sometime.
Billy’s mother was busy entertaining a friend when he got home that afternoon. Then he got busy helping his dad with the hogs, so he forgot all about telling his mother about his afternoon at the Smith home and how little food was on their table.
In the middle of Pastor Lee’s sermon the next morning, Billy suddenly had an idea for the church project. Pastor Lee had just said that Jesus wanted his people to be good and kind to others. Billy had listened carefully as Pastor Lee read from the Bible the words, “When ye do this for one of the least of these, ye do it for me.” Those words stuck in Billy’s mind.
As soon as services were over, Billy went to speak with the pastor about his idea. The pastor liked his idea and agreed that God could have spoken to Billy by way of the scripture. He said he would discuss the idea with the other members that evening.
That evening, the members voted unanimously to make Billy’s idea their project for Christmas. It was agreed that all would meet the following evening, Christmas Eve, at the church.
Just before dusk on the following day, the folks began arriving. Each family brought baskets and boxes of all sizes and shapes, filled with food items. No family in the congregation had a lot, but everyone gave from the heart. Some even gave items they had been saving for their own Christmas dinner. By the time the foodstuffs were all put together, everyone was surprised at the large quantity that had been gathered.
Pastor Lee was so proud of his congregation that he invited everyone to come with him and Billy as they delivered the food to the Smith family. The stars twinkled brightly, and a full moon brightened the landscape. It was so bright that headlights weren’t even needed as the caravan of vehicles made their way down the valley. When the line of old pickups and faded cars stopped at the Smith home, Billy and Pastor Lee led the way to the door. Billy knocked.
Mrs. Smith opened the door and said, “Why, hello, Billy. What are you doing out at this time of night?” It was then that she noticed that he was not alone.
Billy introduced Pastor Lee and said, “All these folks are from my church. We wanted to do something special for Jesus’ birthday. God told me to do something for your family, so we brought some food for you.”
“Well, bless your hearts,” Mrs. Smith said, as a tear slipped down her cheek. “Come on in out of the cold. I want to meet everyone and thank them personally.”
Soon the house was full to overflowing. Mrs. Smith told the crowd that her prayers had been answered that night. They had been having a hard time and were running low on food. She explained how her husband had become sick, lost his job when he could no longer work and the family forced out of their home when they could no longer pay the rent. Out of the kindness of his heart, Mr. Smith’s doctor had allowed them to move into the house where they were now living. He had wanted Mr. Smith in a drier climate and remembered the old family homestead his family had moved from years before.
Before the group departed from the Smith home that evening, the pastor prayed with the family and everyone joined together in singing Christmas carols. Billy was so pleased to see that the Christmas project had been a success. As they left that evening, the family thanked them over and over.
Within weeks, the Smith family had joined the congregation of the little white church. Mr. Smith was slowly regaining his health and had even taken a part-time job at the store. Billy seldom heard Mr. Smith cough anymore, and he was pleased to see the Smith children looking healthier.
One bright Sunday morning, as the congregation filed into the church for services, they were surprised to find that the inside walls of the sanctuary had been painted pale pink, a brand new podium was in place at the front of the sanctuary, and all the benches had cushions on them. When folks asked the pastor how this had come to be, he would only say that God worked in mysterious ways, his blessings to bestow.
Billy was the first to figure out the mystery a few weeks later. He recalled that every time he and Billy had played together at the Smith home recently, Mr. Smith had been working with wood, while Mrs. Smith had been busy at her sewing machine. He got around to asking Tommy one day what kind of work his dad used to do.
Tommy replied, “Dad used to build all kinds of furniture, and Mom did the upholstery work on sofas and chairs.”
Mr. and Mrs. Smith had done all the work inside the church. It had been their way of thanking the congregation for the food items; and it all came about because one person took the time to listen for God’s answer to his prayer.
Author - 2002 © By Jo Kreis