When I was young, my parents had a housekeeper, Elouise, who had worked for members of our family for many years. She used to predict that my brother Doug would become a “preacher boy”, and that I would become a doctor. Well, she got that one backwards; because Doug became the doc, and I became the “preacher boy”. And all this happened before our youngest brother, Ken, was even born. But when she fell and injured her back one winter, the doctors told her she must quit working, and rather than lose the income from our family, Elouise’s husband Hugh came to work for us. He had been a porter on the railroad for many, many years and in the evenings made extra money cleaning Pullman cars. For those of you too young to know it, Pullman cars are overnight accommodations for people who travel by rail, and I am sure that cleaning them throughout the night was no easy task for Hugh. But I never heard him complain.
As a child, and I am sure that it was a sign of the times, Hugh and Elouise called me Master Scott; and I loved both of them. They were great folks and the fact that they were black, and we were white, never entered our young minds. Whenever my brother Doug and I outgrew our clothes, Hugh or Elouise would take them home for their grandchildren, and as we entered my teen years, Hugh actually took our old clothes for himself. Such a humble, God fearing man! And Elouise, when she could no longer work, became a pastor, and eventually had her own small church.
Well, one day, when I was in my mid-teens, Hugh asked “Mrs. Toussaint” for a ride home. Now this was the late 1960’s, and frankly, Hugh usually took the bus home when Elouise could not pick him up. I told Mom that it was unsafe for her to drive Hugh, but that I would go with her, and Hugh promised that we would be safe in his neighborhood. I still remember that it was around 108th & S. Prairie, on the south side of Chicago, in a very dangerous neighborhood, at least for white people. Of course, Mom and I were both a little apprehensive as we drove Hugh home, and finally arrived at a very small, white, frame house – in fact, probably the smallest house I had ever seen! As Hugh thanked us, and got ready to get out, he invited us in. Now this was really something. I did not want to get out of the car – for several reasons. I was worried about my mother and me being attacked; and I thought our car would get stolen. And even though Hugh said we would be safe, what could a sixty five year old man do against young hoodlums who were bent on hurting us?
Well, we went in, and there was Elouise, ready to greet us with food and big hugs. We didn’t understand at first, but then we got it. For Hugh and Elouise announced that they had just moved into this house; and at the age of 65, it was the first house they had ever lived in! And they went on to let us know that without our family’s work for all those years, they would never have been blessed with being able to have a house of their own. I was stunned – to work an entire life to have the ability to buy a tiny home, with a large mortgage, and a staircase to the second floor not more than 18″ wide. And yes, we went upstairs and saw the entire place.
And then, the final touch. They let us know that they would not feel right having anyone in the house until “The Toussaint’s” went through the house first. After all, they continued, they would never had been able to get the house without Mom and Dad providing work for them for the past twenty years! I will never forget the look on my mother’s face as everyone began to cry. It was one of the first times in my life that I saw two worlds collide – after all these years, I had no idea how hard Hugh and Elouise had worked for what little they had. And they were thrilled.
So, my encouragement tonight is short and simple. God knows our needs and blesses us when we give as well as when we receive. And we can make a difference in the lives of people who cross our paths every day; because try as we might, we may have no idea what their life is really like. I pray that you will have the courage to accept the challenge that you can make a difference. I certainly learned that lesson from my parents; and from Hugh and Elouise. And the verse this evening – also short and simple. The one I remember hanging on the dining room wall in Hugh and Elouise’s new house – from Joshua 24:15, “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”
I think that says it all…..